Artist Interview: Able Brown

Able Brown is not your typical surf artist by any means. With a strong name like Able, you better believe this guy is capable of more then just adding some paint and ink to a piece of paper. While keeping his traditional art (painting and drawings) simple, his art extends beyond the canvas. Able also spends his time as a New York City park ranger (yes…there are park rangers in NYC), stand up comedian, and avid body surfer. After catching wind of Able’s background, we figured we ought to find out a bit more about this interesting character….

You have a very unique name. There must be a story behind “Able”?

The name Able was inherited from my Grandfather who was a Massachusetts Fisherman and Professional Featherweight Boxer. His nickname was “Able” after Able-bodied seaman, so it was decided I should be given it for real. I like the name, though, I remain a pretty poor fisherman, poor as in not fishing often, unless my keys count. I spend too much gawd dam time looking for my keys……

What is your art background? How’d you get involved in the various avenue of art (drawing, painting, photography, and comedy)? And where might people recognize your art from?

I have been making art as long as most people have. Since the muscles in the hands began contracting. It is one of the first things that we as humans do by ourselves. Draw and paint. Most people treat it like skin that is shed, and some very lucky people make art the rest of their lives. I think I got really into art after watching “The Search for Animal Chin” because after seeing that, I felt a strong urge to make and design my own fingerboard, which really got me back into painting and drawing everyday again. Visiting the Bishop Museum when I was 20 and 3 times since then has also had a big effect on me. My art can be seen inside the pages of Oxford American magazine, Arthur magazine (RIP) Faesthetic and inside Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s shiny “Summer in the Southeast.”

You have a very distinct style, lots of animals and a bit of an unsophisticated look. How would you describe your style? And where do you draw your inspiration for your art?

I would describe my style as contemporary humorous pictographs. I am in tribe that should not allow me the use of such tools, but they do, and I often embarrass them. My art is inspired by numerous things; animals, oceans, found lists, vistas without roads, the work of David Kolin, a contemporary artist from Vanuatu, street art from Panama, Jean Dubuffet, musics from the Bushman, Cricket Raspet’s Polaroids, Paul Klee, Casey Farnums’ paintings, That recent BBC doc, Human Planet, musics from the Beamer Brothers, Annie Pootoogook and Pitseolak, two amazing Inuit artists, Robert Popper, the musics of Bonny Billy, musics by Los Destellos, The Moai on Rapa Nui, I could go on for a bit so, I’m gonna pull out of this glide now……

Talk about being a park ranger in Brooklyn. Where in Brooklyn do they necessitate park rangers? What drew you to that job?

Currently, I am a Park Ranger in Rockaway beach, helping monitor and protect three threatened species; the American Oystercatcher, the Least Tern and the Piping Plover. A staff of 5 people, a electricity free cinder block shack, and a pickup truck that looks like it was used in Iraq, are used in setting up and monitoring 50 blocks of uninhabited beach in Far Rockaway. Everyday, I wake up early get on the A train and get the handplane in some waves if there is swell (cursed Atlantic!) then go to work, which right now, is watching baby birds enter this earth. It is an amazing thing to be standing on the shoreline in a city that has 9 million people in it, and see only birds, dunes and ocean. I have seen Pilot Whales, Spotted Dolphins, a refrigerator full of bullet holes, pleated khakis, and a giant dildo in the rack line, but rarely a person.

Park Rangers are probably most needed in Urban areas because the majority of the youth in NYC have such limited interactions with Nature, and even though it is an urban froth we live in here, there is Nature around. My job as a Ranger is mostly education and recreation. You can come on a Bird Walk with us (we will show you Great Horned Owls and Cooper’s Hawks that live in NYC) or kayak with us in Bayswater park and paddle right under the planes departing and arriving at JFK. There is actually a lot more park land in the five boroughs than most people seem to know, and we are a major stop over for migrating birds, so we always get some of those amazing birds who make their winter home in South and Central America.

What drew me to this job was the fact that if I am inside a building too long, then I am not doing my job. I have difficulty staying indoors for too long. During those times in which a tent is my home, I am fully happy. I would be much happier not having any job. But being a Ranger is maybe the second best thing for me. Also, with this job you get to teach kids that defecation (be it squirrels, birds, raccoons, bears or bugs,) is the true meaning of life.

Does being a park ranger translate into your art at all?

Being a Park Ranger translates into my art in a big way. Nature is a very large part of my life, and something I could never cease to defend, and I get to work with it everyday, whether I am teaching or just monitoring. I work where people play. I also work where people come to do some strange shit, like pass out naked in the passenger seat of their running Lebaron, while six Bud tallboys sit in the driver’s seat, on a snowy February day in a Queen’s parking lot, with a backseat full of women’s underwear. So in that way it affects the art for sure. I really hope to write some kind of fictional account of this job someday.

What’s your background in surfing? How often do you get in the water for a stoke? What boards do you ride, etc?

The ocean has always been my church. I grew up with it never too far from me (east and west coast) and when I travel, it is always by my side. Right now, I am out in the water 3-4 times a week, if there is any wave action. My main board is a Hess handplane. I have always body surfed but I got myself one of those Planes from Mollusk a couple years back, then traded Hess a painting for Plane and great times changed to wagging tongue times. The first place it got some action was Rapa Nui and it was there, that life paused in a blanket of water and I saw clear down the line. Life changer for sure. So, I have mainly been using the handplane, and a used alaia that my Lady bought me for my B-day last year. Surfmats have also been ridden in the last years and those are also a blast, but I don’t see anything replacing the handplane as my main arrow. I like surfing, but don’t really dig having to jockey for position or concerning myself with perfect breaks or conditions. With body surfing, you can get out in some 2 foot slop and have a jolly ole time in Big Blue. And what better feeling is there, than when you get home after a day of body surfing, and you bend over to pick something up and the sea comes dripping out of your nose? I don’t know of any.

In addition to your art in a traditional sense, you are a stand-up comedian. How did you get involved in comedy?

I got involved with comedy in order to show art to people in a different kind of venue. All of my jokes, which aren’t really jokes, revolve around the usage of drawings. And some of the time I would wear the Park Ranger Uniform and pretend I was recruiting for the Dakota County Park Rangers. I have only done 11 shows and all were done using drawings, and most were done with another person, be it Casey Farnum, Don Stahl, Will Oldham, or Goodiepal. I haven’t done any shows in close to a year, but would love to do your wedding if it’s in the Marquesas, Panama, Kauai, Mexico, the Soloman Islands, New Zealand, or Nicaragua.

For more on Able and his artistic endeavors, check out:

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