ESPN Surfing staff writer Jon Coen interviews Surf Artist, Jay Alders about his travels, life as a professional Fine Artist, his passion for philanthropy work and his thoughts on his paintings.
“It seems that every time there is any kind of surf-related benefit, whether it be a social or environmental cause, it seems that you're name and work is there with Bloch, Fairey, and Brophy.” – Jon Coen,ESPN
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Art permeates every corner of surfing right now. Is it that creatives are drawn to wave riding, or that waveriders are compelled to create? Probably a little of both.
This week, I got to talk to Jay Alders, who is everywhere. Rarely is there any surf-related art gig where Alders hasn't done some kind of painting, donating, curating, promoting, or attending. Consider this interview a glimpse of the inspirations of an artist who is quickly gaining unbelievable notoriety.
Plus, it was an excuse to interview a homeboy from New Jersey.
Since deciding to make art his livlihood, things have just snowballed for the talented kid from the Jersey Shore. Courtesy Alders
Jay Alders is everywhere these days! All over the world. What gives?
What an intro! (laughs) Thanks, it's certainly nice knowing that people have taken notice of my work. I have never been more fulfilled with my career than I am right now.
I certainly don't travel even close to how much some of my musician friends do, but it's not uncommon for us to take 15 to 20 flights a year. Whether it's a surf trip to Costa Rica, or an Art and Music tour throughout Brazil, or flying to Colorado to snowboard, it has become a very addictive lifestyle to regularly explore the world and share my creations.
Unlike some other businesses, in art it's all about a genuine connection. Sure there's politics to deal with, but generally it all starts out with someone seeing my art, feeling an emotion from it, and taking some level of ownership of the image.
It seems that every time there is any kind of surf-related benefit, whether it be a social or environmental cause, it seems that you're name and work is there with Bloch, Fairey, and Brophy.
Some people wait around for opportunity to come knocking. I prefer to just build my own door and open it.
Alders art is of a similar style to Donovan's music and the surf style speaks for itself. Courtesy Alders
Those of us who go through life passionately pursuing our talents on a career path must make it a priority to have our work in the public's eye as consistently as possible. My Dad taught me at a very young age that being an excellent artist alone is not enough. He drilled it into my consciousness to learn about marketing, sales, business, and having as many varied art skills as possible.
I've certainly had a lot of great events that I've been blessed to be a part of lately. To name a few, I was asked to paint a guitar for the Billabong/Donavon Frankenreiter event “Cosmic Creek” and donated some signed Surf Art for the Billabong's “Design for Humanity,” which raised money to protect drinking water. Billabong has really shown me a lot of love and I am stoked to be involved with such great people.
I recently designed the packaging for the vitamin drink, Emergen-C Blue, which is tied in to raise money for Surfrider, which I strongly support. I've done a lot in Florida recently ? a huge Surfrider 25th Anniversary
Festival in the early summer, a Surfrider art auction last month, SurfExpo at the end of the summer, and The Slater Invitational, which raises money for The World Skin Cancer Foundation.
Let's see, I donated art for Surfrider San Diego's 9th Annual Art Gala and am featured in SIMA's 2010 Calendar, Robb Havassy's “Surf Story Project,” and have done a lot of work with SurfAid, which is raising money for the Padang Earthquake victims.
Historically speaking, we define generations and culture by the greatness it produces. Being an artist is a respectable and admirable pursuit and it is my responsibility and duty to continue that legacy.
See you are everywhere.
I can't get over how many art auctions there are for great benefactors these days. I certainly don't ever remember so much philanthropy in the past, or the awareness in the surf world of original art.
Bunch of hippies. Alders is the one with the chin strap. Courtesy Alders
I definitely agree that there's a growing interest in art involvement for raising funds for philanthropic causes. I think that people are realizing the longevity of art as a timeless investment. If music is the soundtrack of our lives, then art is the backdrop. We all have a burning desire to feel at peace and inspired. No matter what the economy, we need that.
I've heard your work described as “Dali learned to surf.” Is that accurate? Tell us about these elongated characters you've created.
That's a comparison that I have heard before too. I take it as a big compliment whereas Dali
is one of my favorite artists of all time.
I truthfully didn't know I had a “style” until about three years ago when someone said that one of my newer paintings was “very much in the Alders Style.” I always thought that to have a “style”, all of your work had to look super driven by a formula. Now I am very appreciative that my “style” consists of just doing my own thing.
I saw the work of Henry Moore, Tamara De Limpicka, Ingres, Giacometti and Picasso and observed how it's okay to create your own paradigm. Form doesn't have to follow laws of physics. The image just has to have a coherent structure that makes it “believably unbelievable”.
I've always been intrigued by shadows of people, how the hands and feet are bigger because they are closer to the ground and the head is further away. When I look in a reflection of a spoon, I see distorted images that look real but tweaked. All we see is the light that is reflected off of an object. Bend the light, twist the shapes and you create your own world.
As for who these characters are suppose to be? Some of them are my alter-ego, some of them are inspired by real people I know, or have dated, or am friends with. As the Artist, you are the casting director, the cameraman, the director, the color corrector and sometimes the actor.
It's always good to talk to other Jersey guys. You live in Monmouth County. Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in Monmouth County, about ten miles from the beach I live at now. My dad used to scuba dive and always taught us at a young age to love and respect the ocean. I have many fond childhood memories of going to Island Beach State Park
and Point Pleasant ? body surfing with he and my brother. My Mom just liked to tan, which I think is required of women from Brooklyn.
Though his art transcends surfing and skating, they are still his everyday passions. Courtesy Alders
Skateboarding was and still is a major part of my life. I still have my first board, circa mid-70s. I started surfing and snowboarding around the same time, when friends first started getting their driver's licenses. I'd go pick up my friends, literally collecting change for gas and almost everyday blasting bands like Faith No More and Pearl Jam. I had this ghetto surf rack and remember trying to fit into my Dad's oversized scuba wetsuit until I got my own neon 80's suit. Being broke, we'd sneak on every beach and dodge the security at the military beach.
Yep. The only place where you have to pay to get on the beach. How's the fall been treating you?
The Jersey coastline in the early autumn is just magical. It's the time of year that all the locals get their beach towns back and the beaches all of a sudden are clean again, the line ups are more spread out because of the ridiculous beach badges no longer being needed and the water is still warm. Oh and let's not forget the fall swells that we track down like some twisted stalkers.
There are certainly surfers from New Jersey getting recognition on the national level now, as well as photogs and artists. Is the door more open for artists?
There's definitely some insanely talented guys here for sure. As much as I knock on Jersey at times, we really do have a good local scene
, which is very much tied in with the pulse of the international surf community. Especially in this day and age of technology, we can be anywhere at almost anytime. Artists and photogs and surfers can highlight what they do like anyone else who telecommutes.
Your paintings have a lot of depth and meaning to them, can you tell us a bit about that?
A lot of my art has subliminal imagery in it and unique use of negative space. I like when people see my art up close and larger for the first time and they're like “Holy crap, I didn't know there were faces in the wave's reflections!”
“Form doesn't have to follow laws of physics. The image just has to have a coherent structure that makes it believably unbelievable”. Courtesy Alders
I think every section of the painting should be interesting to look at and the main figure or object should be captured at that split second in time when everything is just perfect.
At one point or another we all have enjoyed staring at clouds looking for objects because we feel like we are soothed yet challenged. You see the undefinable infinite and have this desire to understand it. My subject matter, the shapes, the titles of my paintings almost always have multiple meanings that parallel in some way to what I am thinking, or going through.
I hope this is something that people understand and appreciate because it's one of the key things that I defines what I do. The difference in my opinion between cookie cutter poppy boy-bands and an epic band like Led Zeppelin is the level of dimension, mystery, meaning, sincerity and skill. If I can make art that even almost approaches that level of intenseness than I am on the right path.