Interview with Jay by Teja Anderson
Courtesy of: http://LivingInMedia.com
Socially conscious, Jersey Shore inspired artist
Jay Alders paints it as he sees it.
For those of us who are lucky enough to find ourselves living near the Jersey Shore, whether by choice or fate, the appeal is varied. It might be the spray of the surf, the salty air blowing through your hair, the crashing music of the waves, the energizing warmth of the sun, the cries of the gulls overhead, or the texture of sand and shells under your feet, but the Jersey Shore has a way of luring you to it in all kinds of weather and every season.
While some of us are just able to enjoy it in our leisure time, others allow it to inspire their work, their music, or their art. One of these artists is Jay Alders, a self-styled fine artist with a passion for surfing and a deep love of the ocean. Alders, who lives and works out of his home studio in Belmar with his gorgeous girlfriend Chelsea Rabbe and their rescued dog and cat, is a self-employed businessman, graphic artist, painter, and photographer who has found a way to produce art that reflects what he loves best, while enjoying and adapting to his surroundings and constantly being inspired by them.
Alders’ original artwork and photography has been seen around the globe and featured in galleries from New York City to California; he’s been on art tours in Brazil, surf exhibitions on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and participated in ESPN’s X Games 2008. Recently, companies like EmergenC®, 9Fish Surfboards®, and Riviera Longboards ® have all licensed Jay’s surf art for their internationally recognized product lines.
LIJS: I see your place is for sale. Why are you moving?
JA: Well, we really need more room as the business is expanding, and we’d love to be a bit closer to the water. But maybe just a bit further north…possibly Long Branch.
LIJS: You’re a Jersey boy?
JA: Yes, I grew up in Howell, 10 minutes from the Jersey Shore, with My mom and dad and my younger brother Eric, who runs a karate store in Jackson.
LIJS: Have your parents always been supportive of your art?
JA: My family is very supportive of what I do. My dad, being a businessman always supported my art, but he constantly encouraged me to approach it from a business point of view. He told me I could do whatever I wanted to as long as I looked at it as a business and learned how to branch out, license myself, and make myself marketable. He taught me business and marketing from a very young age. When I was a teenager he talked this company into letting me do these figurines for them. He told them that his son was an expert, and I was like, ?Dad, I don’t know anything about figurines…’He said, “So you read some books and you learn.” So I did, and in a few weeks I actually made some pretty cool figurines, and the company liked them and bought the licensing to them. I was only in high school.
LIJS: Was that the first income you made off your art?
JA: No, I actually started selling my art in kindergarten.
JA: Yeah, I was a doodler. I would doodle on everything – placemats, napkins. I would have kids give me a quarter and I would doodle a tattoo on them with magic markers. But then I realized that if I drew the drawing backwards and then licked the person’s arm and smacked the paper on them and then peeled it back, it came out better and I could mass produce them. So I’d go home at night and make a bunch, then I’d offer kids a whole variety.
LIJS: What were the tattoos pictures of?
JA: Oh, typical kid stuff…skulls and dinosaurs and fire bolts….normal boy stuff.
LIJS: So that was your first paying artist’s gig?
JA: Yeah, also I would sell my drawings on my street corner in Howell; instead of setting up a lemonade stand I had an art stand, and I would sell my drawings telling people, ?I’m going to be famous someday.’ And I would sign it for them.
LIJS: So your career path never wavered?
JA: Nope. My parents just recently found this old preschool report card of mine from even before I could write, and the teacher was asking the questions and then writing down what I said. One of the questions was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I must have said ?I want to be an artist…a businessman and an artist.’ It was kind of early on in life to know that so assuredly, which is cool. I think I might have toyed with wanting to be a fireman too; and also I wanted to be a veterinarian until I realized that you had to put animals to sleep, and so I decided against that. But way before I even got to college I knew art was my thing.
LIJS: Tell us about your college experience at Montclair State University.
JA: My Montclair experience was awesome! It was the best experience I’d ever had because I grew up in this very sheltered, very safe environment. I was very much the introverted artist. I was into skateboarding and surfing and I hadn’t really bloomed socially until I went to college. It was my first time away from the burbs, and there I was 13 miles from New York City. It was total culture shock. I met people I never would have hung out with before. I joined a lot of organizations, I did the school paper – doing the cartoons and the illustrations – and I was in a fraternity. Mainly it was a great way to start over with a clean slate. I went from Jason to Jay. Mentally it was a switch that let me start over, start fresh in becoming who I wanted to be. It was a pivotal point for me in becoming a man and not just that suburban kid that didn’t know anything. (Editor’s note: At this point Jay’s gray and white cat snuggles into his lap and starts gnawing playfully on his hand.)
LIJS: Who is this?
JA: This is Connor Mitchell. I got him in Hoboken. I was walking back to my apartment one winter and he followed me home and he just would not go away, even though it was freezing outside; so I took him in. That was the winter of 1996. He was my first-ever pet. I took it very seriously; this creature was now mine so I really had all this pressure to give him a good name. I had like two sheets of paper filled up with good cat names – all kinds of names – [there were] first names, middle names, and I’d ask my friends what they thought and eventually I settled on Connor Mitchell.
LIJS: So you are an animal lover and also a vegan?
JA: Yes. I love animals. I don’t understand how people can be cruel to them or eat them. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 16 and a vegan for the last couple of years. There is so much variety out there with healthy non-meat alternatives that it just makes sense to me. I hope to set a good example. and I am pretty outspoken about it on my web pages and sites. I have links to a lot of interesting information about veganism and anti-animal cruelty groups.
JA: Yeah…Mr. Earl, in the fourth grade. He wasn’t even an art teacher, but he was one of these really cool guys who didn’t treat us like fourth graders…he treated us like adults and I really respected that a lot. He taught us all about computers and programming, and he would completely ignore the curriculum at school, which he kind of got heat for later on in the year, but he would tell us stories about his time in World War II and teach us songs and how to play the piano. We learned algebra 3 years before we were supposed to learn it. It was such a well-rounded education, and it taught me that adults can be cool and unorthodox, and that there is a lot more to life than what we read in textbooks. I learned more that year than any other; a lot of what he taught us has stayed with me through life. I think it’s important to treat kids like actual adults, because I remember thinking [that] I was more advanced than most adults treated me. He did that and it really affected me.
LIJS: Have you ever thought about teaching art?
JA: I’ve done it here and there, but I’m not a teacher. I don’t like the whole ‘having to discipline kids’ part. If a kid really wanted to learn and they were there because they wanted to be, not because their parents were making them, and if they had intelligent questions, I would have no problem sitting down with them for hours and teaching them everything that I could.
LIJS: Art-wise is there anything you aren’t good at?
JA: [Laughs] Well, let’s see…I draw, sculpt, paint, photograph…I play guitar, I play a smidgen of piano, I surf, skate, scuba dive, snowboard. I do a lot of stuff. I like doing stuff.
LIJS: Do you sing?
JA: No, I wish. I really wish I could sing, but I can’t.
LIJS: But you work with and around a lot of musical folks?
JA: Yeah. I’ve been really fortunate to get to hang with some of my favorite musical people. You know that book “The Secret”? Well, we kind of live our life by it.
LIJS: When you say “we” do you mean you and Chelsea?
JA: Chelsea, me, my brother, his wife Tiffany, and our close circle of friends as well. We really believe that you can create your own positive outcomes to things. We help manifest all sorts of impossible things for ourselves. I wanted to be able to tour with these guys – Donavon Frankenreiter, Zach Gill, ALO, GLove, and Matt Costa – and go to Brazil, and so it happened. I did a sketch one night while they were all jammin’ after having just played this big concert; then I did a painting from it called “Rio Jam,” and Donavan is now using it as a limited edition tour poster. He’s been super supportive of me. They are just such amazing talents, and so to be able to hang with them it was awesome. Read “The Secret.” It will open windows for you and then you just have to fly through them.
LIJS: Where can someone buy or view your art?
JA: Well, I’m not in any art galleries, so to speak. But my art is in virtual galleries, which, whether you like it or not, is the way the world is right now. My art is on a lot of products and I am starting to license even more, but as far as selling my prints, I do that from right here. You saw the big printer, and the other room is for packing and shipping and receiving. I have my artwork on skateboards that are distributed internationally, and I just got a surfboard model with my artwork on it that is also being mass produced internationally, which is pretty awesome. I just did a deal with a puzzle company that works with Barnes & Noble®, and they just bought 3,000 pieces to sell at the coastal stores. It’s my piece, “Right Past the Light,” that is a taller piece with the light coming through the wave, and another piece, “Leaning Toward Love,” that’s a guy surfing and his body is curved. A lot of people don’t see it right away, but if you look at the negative space between his body and the wave it creates a heart, which is the whole meaning behind the piece; it’s about my passion for surfing and oceans and nature and what was going on in my life at that time. They all kind of paralleled each other.
LIJS: Do people ever see things in your art that you didn’t intend?
JA: It’s funny that you asked that because sometimes when I paint I’m in such a mode that I will put things in the art either consciously or subconsciously, and sometimes I know it’s there and other times I forget that I put it in there because a piece could take me months to do. Later on, people look at my paintings and point out things that they see and I’m surprised because I forgot that I put it in there. I can spend hours working on one little section of waves or water that has reflections that actually create a form or a face. If you look closely at my work you should be able to see all sorts of details you might miss at first glance.
LIJS: Do you dream in color?
JA: Yes, I think I do. I know they say that you don’t, but I’m convinced I do.
LIJS: Have you ever dreamed about a piece before you’ve created it?
JA: Probably. I often wake up inspired and start sketching or painting.
LIJS: So you are a morning person?
JA: I’m definitely a morning person, but I have no trouble staying up until three in the morning painting if I’m really into it. Still, I’m much more myself in the mornings…if I don’t have too much coffee in me.
LIJS: What is your favorite medium?
JA: Oils are my favorite. I really enjoy everything – ballpoint pens. Even pastels – but oils are definitely my passion. Photography is more of an ends-to-a-means for me. Often I will take photos to get ideas for paintings, or I will use my photographer’s eye when I am painting a subject or a situation. How would I place the lights? How would I expose it? I try to combine them both.
LIJS: Do you have a favorite color?
JA: I am absolutely partial to earth tones…browns. Most of my paintings have brown in them somewhere.
LIJS: How has your style changed over the years?
JA: Well, I didn’t really even know that I had a style until at few years ago. Honestly, I think your whole life as an artist…whether it’s a musician or a visual artist or a culinary artist…everyone wants to find “their style.” I think for so long I tried to find a style [that] I would look at other artists and study what their style was and really concentrate on finding mine. But it became too artificial for me, too premeditated; it wasn’t organic, so I said screw it, I’ll just paint whatever I want to paint and see what happens. I think in the beginning years it was more cartoony, but with each piece I did I would study what I liked and what I didn’t like and I would alter that in my next work, so my style was and is always evolving.
LIJS: Which famous artists inspire you?
JA: I admire and obsess over so many great creative minds. One of the strongest influences on me has been Salvador Dali; however, I also constantly study the old masters, Dutch masters, Renaissance, and neo-classical greats such as Ingres, Vermeer, Caravaggio, Velazquez, Georges de La Tour, Rubens, Titian, Rembrandt, and Jacques-Louis David, to name a few. Some more modern artists such as Escher, Monet, Klimt, Degas, de Lempicka, Henry Moore, Giacometti, Lou Carbone, and even Picasso have inspired me. If you look at Picasso’s work, none of it is breathtaking in a technical sense but it’s about the amount of work he did, putting it all out there…like Degas, too. While Dali is known for very specific works and there are other artists who are known for just one particular piece, like Edvard Munch for “The Scream.” So I think for me it is not about how much work I do, but which pieces I leave behind. I never want to not finish a worthy piece, even if it takes me 10 years to do it.
LIJS: Where do you see room for improvement in your art or your life?
JA: I think the day I stop seeing room for improvement is the day I need to leave this world. I think you should always see room for improvement to keep growing. In the art world I guess I always want to be just ahead of anyone who might want to copy or be inspired by me. I never want to be comfortable, I don’t want to just find a formula that works and get complacent. I want to keep pushing the envelope. In my personal life I want to be a very spiritual, loving being someday, and even though it seems impossible, rid myself of my ego. I want to do more for veganism and the environment, animal rights…
LIJS: Your subjects are mostly people. Have you ever drawn animals?
JA: Actually, one of the next pieces I do I want to make in support of PETA or the ASPCA. There is also this great organization called Lilo’s Promise, where they rescue dogs, mostly pit bulls that have been damaged or are considered unadoptable; they train them and provide for them until they can find a perfect home for them. It’s a very special organization. I also support NORML. That’s a big one.
LIJS: You are also very involved with surf charities…
JA: Yes. I have been a supporter of Surf Aid International, and the Surfrider Foundation for many years. I give a certain percentage of the sales of my art to truly help those in need around the globe. I am very proud to be able to do what I love and help others.
LIJS: You are very accessible on and connected to the Internet. Of all of the groups you belong to, which is the most important?
JA: When I first started on MySpace I realized what a great way it was to connect with people and then I realized the ramifications from a business aspect. I try not to censor myself, and as an artist just be passionate about my views and put it out there. I would put up my art work and my photography (or whatever) and get feedback. I was like ‘Wow this is great. What a great way to market yourself.’ It made me more focused, more driven. Then Facebook came out of nowhere and that was an obvious one; it was a given. You had to be on there, and then Twitter came along. Each one has its own benefits; the more opportunities you have to connect with people the better, so why not just do them all? If next week there are five more I’ll have to join them, too. From each of them there are businesses opportunities. Plus, we make and find all sorts of old and new friends from them. We post [that] we are going to be in Colorado next week snowboarding and someone will be like, “Hey, we are going to be there then too!” So we wind up having a beer. It gives you opportunities in life, whether it’s business or personal!
LIJS: Where to next, Jay?
JA: Well, I think the waves are going to be good this weekend.
LIJS: Do you have a favorite beach to surf?
JA: Probably Manasquan Inlet or one of the local beaches…any beach without Bennies.
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