If you are a surfer, you know the feeling ─ sliding down smooth, blue liquid, gathering the energy of the wave in your body, stroking the smooth, radiant face of the wave with your hand as you lean into your turn, like a knife slicing through soft butter. Watching as the wave gathers itself before you, rushing up, over and in front of you in a translucent crystal tunnel. Hearing both the deep silence of the ocean and the cascading wave as you enter an aquamarine sanctuary where time seems to slow down and space condenses around you. The ocean and the wave creating a fleeting reality all their own, separate and distinct from everything else, an exquisite indescribable feeling of perfection. One of life’s ultimate highs.
Fortunately for us all, this transcendent experience, along with the essence and energy of the ocean can be captured and expressed through art. Like the waves they capture in timeless perfection, much of this surf art can be found, quite unexpectedly, on your way to and from the beach. A perfect aquamarine wave peeling along a beachfront sidewalk, a left and right peak rising before you, as you ascend the stairs from the beach, or a magical, mysto-wave, sea-wall mosaic, glistening like blue sapphire in the mid-day sun. Like the culture they represent, this art is a free and natural expression of the elemental nature of the ocean and surfing itself.
While the setting for this story is Laguna Beach, in Southern California, as every beach-goer can attest, surf art is as much a part of coastal towns worldwide as are the waves and surfing.
Anyone who has ever been to the beach knows that one perfect day at the ocean is a memory that will last a lifetime. More than 3,000 years ago the people of Peru chronicled this perfection with the first bas-reliefs of surfers. Since that time surf culture and surf art have arrived at every shore, and beyond, and are now a shared experience worldwide. This is a story about sharing that experience through art.
I keep doing my best not to lose sight of nature. I want to aim at similarity, a profound similarity which is more real that reality, thus becoming surrealist.
— Pablo Picasso
Francisca “Quisco” Zobeck
I was always an artist (in spirit), since early, early childhood, or since I remember, whatever came first. When I discovered Laguna Beach, I experienced for the first time what other artists had done to express the beauty in their surf art murals. Inspired by their varied visions and the life-as-art which is emblematic of Laguna Beach itself, I felt the need to express my own enthusiastic response to this stimulus. You must understand that coming from Chile, the freedom to just “be” on the sand everywhere, with others equally enjoying its majesty and power without being arrested was indescribable.
While I do not surf, on water … since a child I was surrounded by those who enjoyed the energy of surfing. In the earliest years there were only a few, two or three possibly who actually surfed in my country. So from the earliest time, when surfing began its popularity, I was a part of this emerging culture. The gypsy in me was simpatico with the gypsy in those who wandered looking for the ultimate in the new waves. I was one of the gang, a small posse of friends, but a posse looking for the suspect opportunity. Hang ten, anyone? One of the places we discovered was a very special beach for surfing in the South of Chile near a place called Buchupureo – three months living in a tent on the sand, in a recent (at that time) discovery of a perfect wave beach, with a handful of surf devotees.
My mother, Luz Montt, was my first inspiration. She was the embodiment of color. Her names means light which as you know is the complete spectrum of all perceivable colors and some imperceptible ones as well. Part of me feels she was a gift to Chile. As a beach girl herself she was the first ever in Chile to wear a Bikini, and was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for it – their loss for sure. She enlivened every place she walked. The architect and artist Patricia Rubio is the source of my mosaic inspiration. I remember like yesterday, I arrived at her home, where she was working on her living room floor mural which took two years to complete, and I said teach me.
In my work, color is everything. Hey, I’m a colorful girl. Deep blues remind me of my personal southern Chilean Pacific Ocean home. The aquas, of my experience in the Caribbean with its transparency. White, the crest of the waves, anywhere there is water. Earth colors are the contrast which provide the yin and yang. Ocean energy is what I try to capture. The earth is mostly water; our bodies are equally mostly water. An organism is either living in water or living because of it. I attempt to capture this essence, a part of all things, so that those who can appreciate my work can also feel in touch with this same essence.
The best description I can think of for my mosaics is a solid kaleidoscope. They represent a way for my soul’s expression. In every work the elements represent different things. I generally work with only four elements ─ tiles, (ceramic and glass), stones, and colorful mirrors. In all life, light is the most difficult to capture, especially the light of spirit. This is my humble quest, in working with such hard elements to grab the ever changing light conditions, conveying to the observer the work as a living thing.
My art reflects my deep understanding of the sky, wind and sea. I was a weather forecaster for many years and developed not only an understanding of, but a deep love for and affinity with the forces of nature. Although I have only been painting since the year 2000, my interest in clouds, cloud formations, and the ever changing conditions of the sea and sky have enabled me to capture the essence of these forces in my art.
Early on I received some very sage advice, and that was to just paint what you see, and that is pretty much what I do. I don’t think about what I am painting; I just paint what I see. My style is raw but refreshing, at least that is what people tell me. They also tell me that they buy my work because they find serenity in it. I hope that is true, that people come away with a feeling of serenity from my art. While I do mostly seascapes and landscapes, some years back, I did a painting of Laird Hamilton on his famous wave at Teahupoo in Tahiti. Laird saw the painting and was all stoked and said ─ Man I got to have that ─ so I gave it to him.
My surf art comes from my being around waves all my life. I have surfed in Tahiti, in South Africa at Jeffries Bay, and caught incredible waves in Europe, Central America, Hawaii, and Mexico. The first time I ever went surfing was July 20, 1960 at Doheny State Beach in Southern California. I remember it like it was yesterday. I have been hooked on surfing ever since. From that day to the present I am filled with so many great surf memories. Surfing Petacalco with my friends Pat Tobin, Pierre Michel and Greg Weaver. Riding waves with then surf champion Tom Curren, and just recently surfing Malibu at a solid six feet, and being stoked for days. That is the inspiration for my art.
Salvador Dali said that every brush stroke creates reality. That is the guiding philosophy for my work. To me, art is beauty of grace, and beauty of form. It comes out of contemplation. My art is visionary and consciousness based.
Art is part of the healing process. The colors in my work are a healing life force. Just like music, my art emanates energy to all around. I started in high school copying Murphy the Surfer waves from Surfer Magazine onto my school binder. I then progressed to drawings of George Harrison and Jim Morrison and then moved into visionary art working with an air brush. I now work primarily with brush and oils.
Much of my work is based on the waves that I have surfed and the perfect tube rides that I have experienced while riding my Dewey Webber Performer at places like Rincon, and Thalia Street and Oak Street in Laguna Beach. So for me, surfing has had a huge influence on my art, as have two of the greatest surf artists, the legendary Rick Griffin and Bill Ogden. The Visionary Artist, Gilbert Williams has also been a big inspiration for my work. I have loved surfing and the ocean since early childhood, so it comes as no surprise to me that surfing and surf culture are now a worldwide phenomenon. I knew this in 1973 when I sketched a futuristic surf park while sitting in the Colony Kitchen Coffee Shop in Laguna Beach. Surfing is and always will be one of life’s purest peak experiences.
Loren Shaw Hellige
My goal is to bring people joy through my art. The reason I do this is because I love people. I love to create beautiful environments that make people feel at peace. I want to share with everyone the same peace, joy, love and possibility that I experience when I am at the ocean. One of my practices is to sit at the water’s edge and to look far out to sea and ride a wave in with my prayers and special intentions. My prayers and special intentions ride the ocean swell all the way to the shore, up the sand, and back out to the ocean with my gratefulness for the completion of my prayer, intention or special request. Watching as my prayers come to me on the waves and watching as they are fulfilled and carried back out to sea.
I create murals in communities across the United States. With each project I aim to share joy, love and peace with the people who experience my work. I feel that my art brings transformation, beauty and meaning to each community. One of my projects is the ongoing creation of murals at the Laguna Riviera Hotel in Laguna Beach. Each summer for the past twelve years I have had the opportunity to create an environment of beauty at the Laguna Riviera. Another one of my projects was a mural for the city of Davenport, Iowa in honor of Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke, one of the great Jazz musicians of the 1920s, and composer of the Jazz Instrumental Davenport Blues. In memory of Bix, I created a musical mural 25 feet high and an entire city block long. Bix looks out upon his hometown with the entire musical score of Davenport Blues behind him.
My art is inspired by all of God’s creation. Each person I meet and everything I see and experience inspires my art. I live art. I am art. Art is my heartbeat.
Ryan Sherwood Gourley
My art is an expression of the California surf culture. When people see my work, often times their response is – How Cool Is This? That is what I aim for, to capture and share the surf experience through my art. I have been a surfer and an artist all my life. I moved to Laguna Beach in 1968 and have been living here and exhibiting my art in the Sawdust Festival and around town ever since.
My home surf breaks are North Reef at Saint Anns Drive and Thalia Street Reef. One of my projects is a memorial surf garden that looks out to sea above North Reef. The garden includes a number of waves painted on the walls of the stairwell. In front of the walls we have planted cactus to represent surfers riding the waves. When you are out in the surf looking up you really get a sense of the surf garden. The garden is a living surf break, in perpetuity, a living memorial that pays tribute to the surfers who have gone before us and who have helped to define and share surf culture and a love of the ocean. Like surfing, my art is deeply in touch with the healing elements of nature. Anyone who has ever experienced surfing knows that if you go surfing, the connection with nature and the healing energy of the ocean renew and refresh your body, mind and spirit. Surfing is the ultimate nature therapy.
Story and Accompanying Photos by Joe Prickitt