Until mid-2021, I did not know the art and design (or the warmhearted and singularly generous character) of Rick Griffith, the author of today’s headline. Therefore, I did not know about the expressive mission he took on using his letterpress practice as a tool for producing philosophically rooted graphic design and typography that co-mingle image, text and life’s existential concerns with unbridled passions. Moreover, I had never laid eyes on the man. When I finally did it seemed I was standing (sitting on Zoom, as it were) before a great sage preparing to share wisdom from his judicial bench. You see, when Rick Zooms he does so sitting behind a printer’s table, surrounded by the machines and materials that from the 15th century on have altered the way humans have communicated. If this sounds a bit hyperbolic, or even mystical, I assure you that Rick Griffith is quite down to earth, centered and centering, as anyone can attest who watched as he planned and hosted the past two AIGA national conferences.
I was introduced to Rick when he agreed to contribute to PRINT. We had decided to have new, novel and courageously experimental voices appear in our rotation of essays and news. My colleague Debbie Millman suggested Rick should be recruited. On our preliminary Zoom meeting, I was at sea but nonetheless smitten by his erudition on the spot. He had created a wealth of graphic/textual material that fit snugly into the loose niche that I call the designer as author + entrepreneur. Through his work he was speaking out on issues of race and culture. He had been exploring the nuances of visual and verbal language(s) for decades, only I was either too insulated in the echo chamber of New York (where Rick had lived and worked for a decade; he’s now alternately in Denver and Lisbon) or the victim of self-confounding myopic vision to have been aware of his eye-opening wisdom. But Rick’s a designer I wish I knew when I was formulating my various and sundry ideas about design as a viable and worthy life practice. In Rick’s words and deeds I see pragmatic yet idealistic possibilities—in other words, I see a leader.
If this post rambles a bit, I admit to being under the influence of a very powerful anesthetic for surgery I had early last week. Only now, six days later, is the fog beginning to lift somewhat and when I awoke from my zombie-like state, there was a package waiting for me from MATTER, the studio/experiment Rick founded in 1999. When Rick and I were beginning to get to know each other, I was plowing through layers of pain that ultimately culminated in last week’s surgery. When I recently put myself together, I did not want to waste anymore self-indulgent time, so my first email was to him. I asked him to tell me more about MATTER.
“MATTER,” he explained, “is where I work on projects like BLACK ASTRONAUT RESEARCH PROJECT (BLARP) or the various things I make, like EVERYTHING IS COMPLICATED, a collection of print, collages and manifesti.
“MATTER is currently also a bookstore in Denver, and we are working on our extension north of Lisbon in Portugal. We have two points of interest broadly stated, fiction and nonfiction works written for and by Black, Queer and Women intellectuals.”
I requested permission to show a few of his pieces here. The following are excerpts from “All the Black Bodies,” a portion of the 86 collages, a compilation of over 20+ years of collaging that represent his cultural journey and underscore his motto: MAKE. THINGS. BE RELEVANT.