Matt Beard graduated from Humboldt State in 1998 where he majored in art. Although he has never had a proper full time job, lucky guy, he considers both art and surfing wonderful problems to have and stopped trying to quit either of them years ago. His personal artwork reflects on the state of the entire California coast and tends to make surfers happy. And…yes, he does have a big ol’ gritty beard.
How did you first get stared in art and painting? Was it a love at first sight type of thing? Or something that you had to develop over time?
It’s always been there since I was a kid. But when Rick Griffin passed away I was a sixteen year old anything-but-artist, and seeing his work in the tributes in the surf mags really turned me on to the idea that art could go anywhere you wanted to take it. I’d never really connected art with freedom before, but Griffin’s work really blew my mind like that. I jumped in headfirst with some strange stuff. Everything was very graphic, very detail oriented, and in my mind completely meaningless. Just shock-value stuff. It was fun to see folks try to make sense of it, but the joke’s on me cause now I look back at that stuff and can see exactly what I was going through at the time. Turns out they were very personal also. Kind of creating my own mythology in a psychedelic blender, no drugs involved just my own psychosis. Then by the age of 25 or so, I began to be troubled with the idea of creating beauty and light. I knew that darkness and tortured visions were easy. Distorting truth is always easy cause there is no wrong way to do it, but telling the truth is another story. But truth, beauty, light? Foreign elements to my art process all of them. Around the time I was wrestling with this, I saw an exhibit of early 1900’s California impressionists like William Wendt, and they did for me what Griffin had so long ago. For the next few years, I only painted outdoors from life, occasionally finishing in the studio and rebuilding my entire approach to art in the process.
How would you describe the style of your art?
I always struggle to pinpoint my style with words. All the terms exist to label art after it’s done, but in the making of art there is such freedom. I don’t think an artist decides to be a “this” artist or a “that” artist. It they are true to their art and who they are, they’ll usually end up with something a bit tough to nail down in words. That said, I’m sure those who know all the fancy art terms would probably just call my art “decorative crap”. But I tend to disagree.
What do you feel that sets you apart from other artists?
My beard. Seriously though, I don’t know if there is anything, I’m just doing my thing. If I knew, though, I’d do more of it!
And what mediums do you work most in?
I paint with acrylics for the fast dry time, it allows the process to be more intuitive for me where oils are too cerebral for me, like a chess-match. Fun in their own way, but not what I’m after. I do a lot of drawing also, just any old pen that throws black ink. I stay pretty busy with graphic arts also so RGB pixels have become a pretty common medium these days as well.
What does your creative process entail in your landscape work? Are you painting live? Taking photos and painting later? What materials are you using?
Shoot first, ask questions later. That’s pretty much it. Sometimes it’s almost a drive by, just shooting out the window of my van, but usually I’ll get out and explore all the vantage points I can get to and fire off piles of poorly shot digital photographs. Sometimes I’ll get some shots from the water for a different perspective. I’ll keep an eye out for anything that evokes a story or seems to resonate with a theme beyond the surf, but most often those don’t really emerge until I sit down and study the shots. Usually it takes elements from several shots to compose a piece that really starts to capture a place. Sometimes there are things that really define the experience of being at a certain place that physically could not be shown in a single frame from any angle photographically but with a painting you have a lot of freedom to bend the image to that experience, whereas photographs alone tend to force us to bend the memory of our experiences to fit the images. The balance is finding how far I can bend spatial reality to fit experiential reality without the average viewer realizing just what kind of shenanigans I’ve been playing.
Why do photographers and painters always shoot/paint surf spots “going off”? Does anyone ever shoot/paint a flat day at Rincon?
That’s funny, cause it’s so rare for me to have decent surf in my reference photos. Seems like when the surf is flat I’ll roll up to a dozen different breaks in a day and come away with all sorts of material. It’s just easier that way. No dilemma about whether to go surf or not. No disgruntled local folk bothering me about photographing their spot when it’s good. Good surf brings all sorts of complications, I find it’s better to just go surf when it’s good.
In your process, it seems as though your pieces contain many layers. Why is creating depth through layers important to your process?
There’s a few reasons. One is just the fun of seeing the interplay of light within the painting itself. Another is that I believe in creating not just an image, but a beautiful object as well, so the surface and layers and transparency all contribute to an awareness of surface so that the finished piece is a beautiful object regardless of what’s painted on it. In a world of easy reproductions, I want my original paintings to have an unreproducible quality about them. Also the process itself has taken on some sort of personal meaning that seems right to me. The layers aren’t just painting the image, after working the image for awhile, I’ll splatter it with coffee, muddy water, spray paint on top of the pooling water, just throw the works at the piece so it never takes on too much polish. I want my finished piece to come through as something beautiful that’s been forged through trials, cause it keeps them honest. I don’t want to gloss over imperfections. I hope people can relate with my art, and just like when a person is too perfect in appearance, speech, or whatever, they seem fake, it’s the same with art I reckon.
Where do you look for inspiration for your next piece?
I tend to work in terms of large scale projects, so my next piece will likely fit into some bigger picture, where the inspiration may be a bit more conceptual. A good example would be my landscape art. While each one is inspired by the place being represented, that alone would not have motivated the painting. The driving inspiration there is the idea of what the land represents to people. What stories does it tell about us? Being a surfer, I tend to see it through that lens, but each piece is really just a chapter or paragraph in a much larger story, that we all share, live in, and write on a daily basis. I think that’s important for me. I’m not trying to write the story in my landscape work, I’m just attempting to read our collective story out loud. I suppose as a surfer, I am guilty of glossing over some of it to get to the parts with good waves.
If you weren’t involved in surfing, do you think you’d still be on this artistic path?
Surfing has been a huge part of my life, why would it not influence and shape my art? That said, I don’t make art because of surfing. My wife and I just had our 3rd kid so these day I often make art instead of surfing. Without surfing I guess I’d be making art about throwing rocks or something. Landscapes full of rocks perfect for throwing, that somehow tell a bigger story… or something like that.
Tell us a little about The Board Art Benefit you are setting up at Sacred Craft this year in Del Mar, CA. What is it all about? Who is involved? And what can people expect to find?
The idea behind the Board Art Benefit was to get a bunch of great artists together at Sacred Craft, doing live art on surfboards, and donating the boards to SurfAid International. The boards will be auctioned by SurfAid at a later date. Many of the artists partnered with some amazing shapers and board builders for their boards, which really took the event to much higher level. The event itself will feature each of these artists working live on their boards (about half at any given time). When they aren’t busy painting, they’ll be there to meet folks and heckle the other artists. Many will also have original art, prints, and other items for sale as well. The live artists and shapers include:
Phil Roberts & Gerry Lopez
Rick Rietveld & Jed Noll
Damian Fulton & Tyler Hatzikian
Erik Abel & Robert Weiner
Wade Koniakowsky & Mike Hynson
Spencer Reynolds & Jeff “Doc” Lausch
Matt Beard & Yohei Shiraishi
Robb Havassy & Rusty Preisendorfer
Drew Brophy & Ron House
Heather Ritts & Firewire
Tyler Warren & Firewire
Ron Croci & John Birchim
Norm Daniels & Firewire
How did this Board Art Benefit project come about, and what are you hoping for in doing so?
I’ve been involved with Sacred Craft as an artist since 2008, and Scott Bass has always been great about reaching out and involving artists in what is first, foremost, and almost solely a surfboard event. I was asked to organize a few artists for the Art Grotto at Santa Cruz, so that was my first crack at helping put an event together. I also did some art for SurfAid’s Shapers 4 Humantiy event at Santa Cruz as well, and seeing some of the world’s leading shapers come out and shape boards live for SurfAid is what got me thinking, “why not involve the surfboard in the art event, this is Sacred Craft after all, right?” The folks at SurfAid were into it and very supportive from the start, which really helped give it the backing it needed to get off the ground. I’m stoked to be working with them as they have a proven track record of doing some really great things for folks who really need it. Stuff that as an artist trying to get by, I don’t have the skills or time or funds to go and help with myself. Kids living instead of dying. Think about that! I want to be part of that sort of thing, and this was an opportunity for me to really help out. What am I hoping for? I’m hoping this truly helps SurfAid continue to further the work they are already doing in the field. Beyond that, I’m looking forward to a beer or three after this thing is over.