The sport of surfing continues to be one of the major pat times for most Hawaiians. There are very few given days that you cannot stop at the shore line and catch a few big barrel waves. But did you know that this love affair with the waves has become a worldwide fascination? You might be surprised to know that Tokyo has become one of the newest surfing destinations on the planet. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Japanese and many other Asian families are drawn to Hawaii.
We are all obsessed with the mystery and unpredictability of the ocean. If you visit Tokyo you might be taken backby the many people in wetsuits clutching surfboards on pedal cruiser bikes through the torii, the stone gates that lead from Kamakura’s main street on to Yuigahama beach. The scene at the beach is straight out of the book of surfing clichés as enthusiasts with sun-reddened faces and broad shoulders, wearing Wayfarers and board shorts, swap stories in the parking lot. Yet there is something quintessentially Japanese about it: a row of sandals has been carefully left at the edge of the beach, and unlike their carefree Californian and Australian counterparts, Japanese surfers carry portable showers, foot towels, and plastic coat hangers on which to dry their wet suits.
This surfing craze has now only heightened awareness of upcoming Hawaiian local surf artists. Today there is a whole genre of surf art. It’s usually illustration-based and characterized by a mixture of psychedelic, surrealist, punk and comic book-derived influences.
To understand the development of surf art, you need to understand the development of the surfboard. While today the surfboard is inextricably linked to images of California in the 1960s, it is by no means an American invention. Surf culture originated in Polynesia and came to the US by way of Hawaii. The light, shiny, colorful surfboard that we know today is fundamentally a product of material technologies developed during the years surrounding World War II. Styrofoam and, later, polyurethane foam made for an unprecedentedly light board body, which would be weighted with strips of balsa or redwood. Then, the whole board would be encased in a thin coating of smooth, shiny fiberglass that could be endlessly polished.
Technology has had a huge impact not only upon surfboards themselves, but their decorative components. Using cutting edge polyester resin pigments, designers completely reinvented the look of the surfboard by introducing bright colors and graphics applied directly to the plastic core and then sealed in beneath the fiberglass.
A group of Los Angeles painters and sculptors represented by the famed Ferus Gallery (among them Billy Al Bengston, Ken Price and Robert Irwin) saw new opportunities for their own art in the space age plastics, resins and other polymers that surf culture—of which they were themselves a part—had embraced. Bengston famously created paintings that he actually polished, like a surfboard or motorcycle, to a state of impeccable shine. These surf artists showed how surfing design could be transmuted into other spheres, and that the culture and attitude could inform any number of creative activities.
Today we have quite a few artists that are incredibly hot in Hawaii but throughout the world. I thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce you to just a few of them.
One of the coolest and most authentic artists of today’s surf art community is Nick Wells or “Welzie”. Oahu’s North Shore artist Nick Wells spreads aloha with his surf-inspired works. As a young boy in Santa Cruz, Welzie retreated into the blank pages of his sketchbook, experimenting with lines, shapes and colors and finding solace in the images he brought to life. In 2008, Wells and surfboard shaper Carl Olsen started Two Crows Surfboards, a collaboration mashing surfboards and freestyle art. At Olsen’s suggestion, he began signing his pieces “Welzie.” Today, Welzie is most recognized for his one-of-a-kind original resin creations that are fabricated just like surfboards in the Two Crows workshop, but using wood instead of foam. Each piece is covered with fiberglass and laminated with white resin to create a textured canvas, then painted with a mixture of pigments and resin, sealed with another layer of resin and finished off with a final drawing. Visually composed of an abstract, freestyle background overlaid with graphic pop art images, his art embodies a yin-yang. It’s also important to know, he has a big heart. I now consider him a friend and some of the things he does for kids is pretty awesome. He’s the artist behind the shark mural at Banzai Skate Park, which he spontaneously painted in part to cover up graffiti. During surf trips, he delivers art kits to kids with limited resources in places like Baja and Sayulita, Mexico. Nick recently completed a special piece for our collection that includes Marty and myself as little fish. Can you guess which one is me? Check him out at www.welzieart.com.
I can’t discuss surf art without mentioning Kauai resident Heather Brown. She is perhaps the hottest ticket in the world of Hawaiian modern surf art. Inspired by her love for the sea, nature, popular surf breaks, and the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands, Heather Brown brings to life some of the most coveted works of art for our generation. After working as a boat captain and dive master to put herself through the Bachelors of Fine Arts program at The University of Hawaii gave Heather Brown the perfect vantage point to fill her head with the beautiful imagery of the Hawaiian Islands.
Brown has been coined the “Godmother of Modern Surf Art” by the Los Angeles Times. Heather Brown’s art has become a benchmark in the global surf art market, finding its way into collector’s homes around the world. Throughout Heather Brown’s career she’s been named “Best Artist In Hawaii” for four consecutive years, and chosen as Rip Curl’s “Artist of the Search” for the past five years now garnering her own clothing line “Heather Brown for Rip Curl.” She has created art for The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, Jack Johnson’s Kōkua Festival, The Surfrider Foundation and many more as well as opening up Heather Brown Galleries in Tokyo, and Osaka Japan. She continues to work with numerous non-profits around the world, always keeping “giving back” extremely close to her heart. Check her out at www.heatherbrownart.com
You might recognize the name Kim Sielbeck from the likes of Pepsi and British brand Propercorn, which allowed her to catch the eyes of major London agency JSR, with whom she recently signed. The illustrator, painter, and surface designer recently departed NYC to relocate to the Oahu where she once called home in her youth. Known for her tropical island of kawaii cats, puppies and Hawaiian vibes Kim can find inspiration in the day today paradise that is her own. She clearly one to watch, and an artist bringing her sunny, vibrant style to all corners of the world. We recently completed a commissioned piece for Christian our pup’s tenth birthday and it is fantastic.
Lastly, Karen Obuhanych or ktoart was raised in California where she enjoyed the outdoors, sports and doing anything creative. Inspired by annual trips to Hawaii, where her father grew up, Karen moved to Oahu to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting. Karen currently resides on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is the simple element of happiness that drives Karen Obuhanych and her artwork. Nature presents little gifts of joy in amazing compositions and brilliant color every day. Karen strives to capture these moments in each painting. My team at Tiffany & Co. commissioned a painting for our wedding in 2015 and it is one that we will cherish forever. She is located at www.ktoart.com
There are so many artists and free spirits on our islands. This week I only had room for a few in my blog but, I promise to keep you posted on the many more. Do yourself a favor and check out the art scene the next time you visit our islands. As you can see, it really has made an impact world-wide.
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