3 Oct 2012 0 Share

BIG SKY WIRE is a regular Coastalwatch column produced by Michele Lockwood & Andrew Kidman. This week, Michele Lockwood speaks to writer and Surf Culture connoisseur Steve Barilotti about his documentary on legendary artist Rick Griffin.

It was at the Surfer Magazine House on the North Shore in ’95, when I first met Steve Barilotti or “Barlo,” as he is more affectionately known. My then-boyfriend and I were given the green light to hole up at the Surfer House for a few days before the contest started. But when we turned up, the current inhabitants were non-too-pleased to share their prime real estate with us blow-ins and were quick to let us know it. “We’ll just need to crash on the floor for a couple nights. We won’t get in the way,” we assured them. But there was zero Aloha coming from these guys. That is until we met Barlo, he was Editor-at-Large for Surfer at the time and he welcomed us with his warm gap-toothed smile. He showed us around, lent us boards and pointed us in the direction of cheap plate lunch. Needless to say we’ve been friends ever since.

Barlo’s newest project is a documentary film on legendary artist, Rick Griffin. Griffin’s name might not ring a bell for many but his images no doubt will. This project is a grass-roots effort and to get it off the ground Barlo has launched a Kickstarter Campaign. It is an opportunity for the average punter to support the making of a film. Have a look here.

CW: Tell us about your journey as a surfer, writer and filmmaker.

SB: By accident of birth I was born 60 miles inland in Ontario, Southern California but managed salmon-style to migrate to the coast by high school. The triggering epiphany was a basement screening of Endless Summer by the nuns at the local school when I was ten. After that I figured school and team sports were no longer relevant to my life path.

Once in Santa Barbara, mid 1970s, I subsisted on blind hope, bad boards, surf magazines and low-grade marijuana. Spent a year crewing on a family yacht in Hawaii and the South Pacific and began ticking off the boxes laid down by Mike Hynson and company over a decade earlier. Before I sailed off I sent a letter to Steve Pezman, publisher of Surfer Magazine, offering my services as a correspondent and first-contact surf scout.

By the time I was beached back in San Diego a year later I’d still not heard back. Spent the better part of the next decade shuttling between university false starts and low-paying office jobs until grafting a newly minted journalism degree with a persistent surf addiction. I went to work as a junior editor for Steve Pezman at Surfer Magazine who chuckled wickedly when I told him of my letter ten years’ previous. In a case of the classic Devil’s Bargain I was given a job writing about surfing but little time to actually ride waves between editing and fighting deadlines. Two years, one divorce and a post-Gulf-War recession later I found myself a freelancer with no excuses. I hit the road for the next 15 years, ticking off the list and then some. In 2004 I began working on documentary films. The artifact suits me... I love sharing films with friends.

Who is Rick Griffin and what makes him so significant to surf culture?

The official catch phrase is “The Most Influential Artist You Never Heard Of.” But seriously, I’m not being flip. Griffin was Surfer’sfirst illustrator after John Severson starting in the second issue, 1960. As a 16-year-old surfer and cartoonist, Griffin created “Murphy” (note to Aussies: NOT Murphy The Surfy), the young, eternally stoked, eternally misunderstood face of surfers during surfing’s post-WWII boom era. In 1963, at age 19, Griffin suffered a horrific life-changing accident while hitchhiking up to San Francisco to catch a freighter to Australia. While in a morphine coma and not expected to live, Griffin saw fantastic apocalyptic visions that he would later channel into his art.

After the accident, Griffin and his art morphed radically along with the sweeping social changes happening in mid 60s America. Griffin became aware of the fantastic street art filtering down from the San Francisco psychedelic music scene. He had to be part of it and in 1966, just prior to the Summer Of Love, he migrated up to San Francisco to be with this girlfriend, later wife, Ida who was also an artist. Over the next four years Griffin created a succession of posters and band art for all the legendary acts playing at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms—The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Santana and many others. When he returned to surfing and Southern California in late 1969, he brought the counterculture back with him. Murphy morphed into a psychedelic demi-god and the face of surfing would never be the same.

Explain how your Griffin obsession first began.

I first became aware of Griffin’s work through Zap underground comix in the early 70s. His comics, as opposed to the others that leaned towards scathing satire, graphic violence and outright porn were highly surreal and non-linear… true “head comics”. Later, as a surfer, I would see his posters for Pacific Vibrations and Five Summer Stories at the local movie houses or tacked to telephone poles. Years later when I went to work for Surfer and began researching early issues, the penny dropped – the guy who’d drawn Murphy was the same artist who’d created the ‘Gathering Of The Tribes’ poster which kicked off the Summer of Love. And he also drew that trippy day-glow peyote Indian poster in my friend’s secret black-light closet! Anyway, both Rick and I are Californians, surfers, and contributed to Surfer Magazine. He’s like the supremely cool big brother I never had.

What influence had Griffin had on modern pop and mainstream culture?

Every time you pass a magazine rack check out the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Rick did the original logo for publisher Jann Wenner in 1968. He got $150. But my main thesis is that surfing wasn’t part of counterculture, it WAS counterculture. And surfers were a significant agent of change as they carried their boards and psychedelics up and down Pacific Coast Highway looking for waves. Griffin, a surfer and an artist, provided the critical signposts. All the Ground Zero movements that Griffin created art for — surfing, psychedelic rock, underground comix, even his surreal Christian art he did for the Calvary Chapel — have become huge post-modern tribes and industries.

What can we look forward to in this documentary?

The wholly disputed truth. It’s been said that no two people ever met the same Rick Griffin. Rick’s Rashomon effect is what hooked me as a surf historian and storyteller. This idea of a modern-day shamanistic trickster and changeling working to bring a cosmic awareness to our delusional existence in the Matrix is fascinating to me. Plus, I love a rebel.

Tell us about animating Griffin’s legendary 1971 surf cartoon “Tales From The Tube”.

 I’m working with Professor Terry Lamb and a team of top student animators from Cal State Fullerton to bring Rick’s legendary 1971 ‘Tales From The Tube’ to life in 2D and 3D. ‘Tales’ was Rick’s overlooked masterpiece as a surf cartoonist and in the span of four pages he created the most surreal, metaphysical and stoking surf art ever. Rick drew in a highly cinematic style that cries out for animation. This is a first, and the young animators, most of whom weren’t even born when Rick died in 1991, are in love with Rick’s art and characters. My friend John Clark who is a surfer and a lead animator at Sony Imageworks is acting as advisor. John helped create those amazing waves you see in “Surf’s Up.” This is going to be SO cool.

You’ve got a Kickstarter Campaign. How does that work?

Basically, this is your chance to be part of this film on some level. You help to manifest it by bringing something cool to the party whether it be cash, art, photos, footage or stories. I’m working on the Stone Soup model. I’ll provide the pot, you bring something tasty to toss in. I get to be the cook. That work?

Pledge and check out some cool artifacts and hidden bonuses on Kickstarter. Click around…drink the Koolaid…enjoy!

For more from Big Sky Wire click the link: Coastalwatch |Coastalwatch Plus

Tags: Big Sky Wire , Michele Lockwood , Rick Griffin , Steve Barilotti (create Alert from these tags)

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