Pick one up at your local east coast surf shop today.
By Allison Arteaga
Jay Alders' artwork hardly needs any introduction. It’s instantly recognizable and almost universally appealing. But when ESM sat down to interview Alders, we realized that what’s even more impressive is his wisdom and good-hearted nature.
ESM: For anyone not familiar, how would you explain your work?
Jay Alders: I guess you could say that my art has some surrealistic elements to it. I like to stylize and warp reality a little bit to show passions of mine in a way that’s new for people. I like to paint things that can’t be photographed. I sort of create my own little world with it.
ESM: What are your primary tools?
I like to experiment with other mediums, but oil is my primary one. It’s just incredible to work with. It forces you to be patient because it dries very slowly. It makes me take my time and work my craft, giving me the opportunity to really explore the subject matter. A lot of chemistry knowledge goes into it, too. There’s a historic nobility to working with oil that I really love.
ESM: How do you feel like you’ve been inspired by the East Coast surf community?
JA: To me, surfing is an art in itself. It’s another tool for me to express myself. And it’s inspiring to see what Mother Nature creates: the shapes of the water, reflections, and the way the light interacts with the water. There are so many elements to it that are so artistic and beautiful. And surfing, in essence, creates lines and shapes and compositions on the wave. So I try to bring that to the easel when I paint.
I don’t like to be classified in general, so I’d rather just be looked at as an artist who likes to surf rather than a “surf artist.” Surfing is one of many things that I love to do; I paint and draw other things besides surfing. But a lot of my work is based around surfing and the ocean.
ESM: As a Garden State native, how did Hurricane Sandy affect you?
JA: I grew up a very short distance from the beach in New Jersey, and that was everything that I knew. But with the storm, a lot of the landmarks were wiped out, and family and friends lost their homes. It was really devastating to have that happen to the people and places that I love. I felt an immediate need to find a way to give back, but since I was at my new home in Florida, I wasn’t in a geographic location where I could just bust out a shovel and help people in that capacity. So I put a lot of my immediate efforts toward figuring out how I could use my skills and talents to make a difference.
My first step was to create awareness. I did TV interviews down here in Florida, and my wife and I got some drop-off and pick-up locations for relief supplies organized. Once the dust settled a little bit, I got working on a design that we put onto hoodies and T-shirts to sell as a fundraiser, and we have been donating 100% of all of those profits (more than $14,000 so far) to RebuildRecover, which is an organization dedicated to recovery efforts in the tri-state area.
ESM: Sounds like the marketing sense that sets you apart from other artists really came in handy with relief efforts. Where did it come from?
JA: My parents ran their own business, so I had that paradigm of seeing what it was like to hustle, work, and bust your butt to make things happen. It got sort of ingrained in me. My parents never made me feel like being a professional artist was a weird pathway toward making a living. They just always told me that, if you’re going to do art, then make sure you can make a living as a businessman also, promoting and selling yourself. And if you believe in what you do, the sales and the business part sort of falls into place.
ESM: What’s the most difficult part of being a professional artist?
JA: People who create, whether it’s for a hobby or for a living, understand the frustrations of being your own worst critic. That’s one of the hardest things: getting past your inner critic and always trying to improve. Art is one of those areas of my life where it’s very important for me to always expand and evolve. I also have to balance out the business part of my brain that has to make a living from what I do with the part of me that does it for pure artistic reasons.
ESM: Could you explain what goes into creating each of your paintings?
JA: When I’m doing an oil piece, I work on a wood panel, so before I start the painting process, I have to make or get a panel that’s appropriate for the sketch I have in mind. And I’ve usually spent several days refining that sketch, because I like to organize my thoughts and work through all of the problems of the piece before it even gets to the wood panel.
Once I’m ready, I sketch the piece on the panel. Then I’ll sometimes spend months layering oil paints one on top of another or blending and adding highlights. I like to play with light in my pieces and kind of fool the eye into feeling a sense of energy and aliveness. I also really enjoy subliminal elements that a casual glance might not show. I like having a lot of different levels of depth to my pieces.
ESM: Despite how much work it is, what’s exciting for you about stepping into your studio each day?
JA: Everything. I love it. It’s my sanctuary. It’s my safe place. It’s my man cave. It’s where I come to escape some of the realities of the world and create new ones on my easel. It’s a place were I can be unfiltered and let the creativity of the universe flow through me.
I have the ability to do something that I absolutely love, and always have loved, for a living. My parents tell me that even as a toddler, I was always drawing on everything I could find. As I grew up, I had that talent nurtured by my family and just really took to it as a way to communicate my feelings and express how I saw the world. Art has been my job for as long as I can remember, and that in itself is surreal. Every day I wake up and am just super grateful to be able to do something that I love for a living.