Surfers express themselves in several ways. Sometimes they use their surfboards as a media support. I’ve always asked myself of what drives this inspiration? The easiest answer might be performance or appreciation for the object.
Mandala Custom Shapes based in San Francisco, is a place where surf and art meet, it’s surrounded by a creative environment and talented people. We can see boards decorated by Alex Kopps, Nathaniel Russell, Thomas Campbell and many others; these are some of my favorites.
So, I asked Manuel C. Caro, shaper under Mandala label, to open a window to Fish Brotherhood and tell us what is his interpretation, why people have this approach to surfing and surfboards?
Manuel Caro says:
“I guess the art board collaborations came together without much thought in the beginning. I was living close to Alex Kopps around the time I started shaping, so we were hanging out and surfing together a bit. He lives in a pretty sketchy part of Oakland and you can see some of that refined grittyness is his work. His boards never have any open wounds really, since he likes to fill any kind of pressure ding with bondo and add Alex-esque artifacts to them, so his boards become pieces of art themselves---just a reflection of its owner.
I think that's the big thing that's attracted me to the surfboard as an art object. Surfboards can be mirrors of their owners/creators/decorators. You can tell a little bit about someone from the board they're carrying down to the beach, and if they've decorated it themselves there's a bit of totemic power there. I believe there's a certain amount of energy that is added to the board once it's been decorated.
Cultures in the Pacific Northwest were nomadic and had combined art with their every day tools and possessions. Each object had designs on it which told a story or added some protective power to it. There were rules to the shapes and spatial relationships of the designs to one another. Over time, the object and the art had become one, and had transformed from custom into culture. I see this happening in the whole design renaissance in surfing. It's gone from little kids with sharpies drawing on their boards .
The whole art board collaboration thing has come pretty naturally for Mandala. Most everyone I know is a talented artist, so everyone I know seems to decorate their boards a bit. It was just a matter of time for the colabs to go from a few boards to over a dozen now. I've been lucky to work with Thomas Campbell on some airbrushed boards in the past, although it's almost impossible to get him to do any more with all the work he has going with his new movie, "The Present." Tyler Warren's working on a stubbie down in Dana Point. David Muller just dropped off a rare 5'7" Wil Jobson Bat-tail Twinzer with a drawing of a huge flower on the bottom. Rich Pavel's nephew Bennett is painting one of my Pavel quads. I'm planning to meet up with Pablo Ugartetxea in Portugal this summer at the Fish Fry so he can paint a board...it all just keeps on going.
What we get to see is functional sculpture elevated to functional art ~Manuel.”
Said that, definitely I see a totemic power going on, people tend to decorate their objects to bring good fortune, protection or as a way of expression. Portuguese fishermen have the tradition of painting their boats, with bright colors and eyes on the prows, highly suggestive of the Phoenicians, supposedly with the magical power to prevent the occurrence of storms. Some of them are very creative and add a little bit of themselves, which make it even more interesting.
In a surf sense, as per my understanding, it seems like art on surfboards might be related to a different understanding of what is a quiver. Surfers that want to keep the boards longer, collect differenting designs... tend to decorate their own boards.
Glad to see all these collaborations going on, Pablo Ugartetxea is a great artist, he'll do a great job and Manuel will be stoked. Hopefully presenting us with nice images in his blog.
Photos courtesy of Manuel Caro:
1)Manuel Caro holdind a stubbie blank with a art work by Nat Russell
2,3)Mandala, Alex Kopps collaboration. 5'10" quad fish
4,5)Mandala, Lana Porcello collaboration. 5'11" stub
Mandala Custom Shapes
The Swallow Tail Society