Some words on BG-105
Rick Griffin's "Eyeball."
By Eric King
It is quite possible that the most widely known image in Rock 'n' Roll is Rick Griffin's "Eyeball," Bill Graham number 105, done for a 1968 concert by Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and Albert King. This image has been found painted on tribal buffalo skulls in the jungles of Thailand, printed on T-shirts in the Chilean desert and tattooed on Japanese punks in Osaka. It would not be surprising if it eventually wound up as a sticker on a space suit on the moon. Unfortunately until now there has been no recognition of its actual symbology by the general public and more than a little denial of its intended meaning by the circle of people who knew him and who should have known his ideas on this topic. This is a great loss because this is not simply a trademark logo like the Rolling Stones' "Lips" or the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper." This is one of the most profoundly important works of graphic art created in the last half of the twentieth century, the masterwork of a genius.
If there is anything which characterized the hippie culture of the sixties, it was the conflict between the two basic forms of love, the love of the spirit and the love of the flesh. Every hippie I ever spoke with aspired to reach a higher spiritual plane than that offered by the materialistic culture of the late 1950's and early 1960's, and virtually every last one of them, myself included (I occasionally spoke to myself), sought to begin this quest for spiritual love by loving one's neighbor...in the fleshly sense. It was also considered quite a good idea that this carnal ecstasy be enhanced by the consumption of a wide variety of licit and illicit pharmaceuticals.
Eventually more than a few people began to consider the possibility that there might be some conflict between the love of the spirit and the love of the body. Rick Griffin was among them. While most of the people who experienced this internal struggle spent years agonizing over it privately eating themselves alive or publicly bothering anyone willing to listen, Rick managed to turn his inner turmoil into great art.
Rick's answer to this duality was Jesus, but he did not go directly to fundamentalist Christianity. First Rick saw indulgence in the corporeal as sin and knew he had indulged. Drugs or no drugs, Rick was a visionary and a mystic, and then sometime after coming to believe he had sinned, he saw the "Eyeball." Yes, Rick was from the Southern California surfing community, and, yes, he was familiar with the flying eyeball logo/signature of the pinstriper von Dutch, but that eyeball was a friendly, pleasant fellow, and there were occasions when Rick used this image in his art. But the BG-105 eyeball is neither friendly nor pleasant. It is Rick's vision of the all-seeing eye of God the father, the Old Testament "jealous and angry God" before whom Rick felt we are all wanting, all guilty, all unworthy sinners doomed to burn forever on a lake of fire. Rick saw this flaming eye in the sky that he believed saw everything and forgave nothing, this eye bearing the "memento mori" skull in its terrifying claw, and he sought something to intermediate between him and that awful eye. What Rick found was the vision of Jesus which he portrayed quite frequently in his art, for example, the beatific "Oracle" cover.
This essay is not about saying Rick was right or wrong, that fundamentalist Christianity is the final truth or merely part of a distraction in the quest for true spirituality. It is about recognizing that Rick thought it was the truth and created the "Eyeball" with the specific intent of warning us about what he believed was our fate if we did not accept Jesus as our personal savior as he had. Talking about the "Eyeball" without talking about this is like talking about Michaelangelo's Sistine ceiling or Bach's B minor mass without mentioning Christianity. It can be done, but it is dishonest.
Rick saw visions all the time, the great majority like Family Dog number 101, "The Source," were wonderfully biophilic, but BG-105 was not. It was horrifying for him, and it is the sign of his greatness as an artist that he was able to capture this horrifying vision on paper and show it to us, communicate the depths of his desolation about it so we can understand what his feelings were at that most dark and barren instant when it came to him. To call the "Eyeball" anything less is to deny Rick the recognition of his true brilliance. Many have undergone this dark night of the soul, and many have sought to capture it in art, but few have succeeded with anything approaching the power with which Rick depicted for us this, the nadir of human experience.
Copyright Eric King 1996
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