Erik Abel - Artist
When and where did you start surfing?
The first time I actually stood up on a surfboard I was 11 years old in the Junior Lifeguards program in Ventura, California. I had always been playing around bodysurfing and bodyboarding since I was a tiny grom but that day I stood up and slid down the face of that first wave on a surfboard was life changing.
What is it that you love about surfing and the ocean?
Being in the ocean is like being on another planet. Once I leave the shore I am part of the food chain and that makes me feel a little more alive. Surfing provides a happy place to escape to and wash off the dirt from everyday life.
Do you have a session that stands out as your most memorable?
Apart from riding those first waves the day I stood up over 24 years ago (Holy shit! And I still suck!), there have been quite a few magical moments. Probably the time I got some mind-bending barrels at Cloudbreak during one of the most psychedelic sunsets with just myself and a friend in the water. We camped out on the old rickety judges tower over the reef that night and absolutely scored the next morning as well. This was before the tower got it's makeover, it was caked in a thick layer of bird shit and stunk to high hell. Good times, but the Tavi crew wasn't too happy with us staying there. Sorry boys.
When did you first become interested in art?
Creating art has just been a part of who I am as a human since I was in diapers. I have a picture of me a 1 1/2 years old drawing a blue balloon on my table with chalk. It’s just always been part of the deal, no other choice.
Was it something that you had always wanted to pursue as a career?
Yes, I always wanted to become a professional artist of some sort. Over the years my interest has ranged from wanting to be a cartoonist, animator, illustrator, surfboard airbrusher, muralist, graphic designer, painter, sculptor, architect, potter, tattooist, product designer. You name it. I have made money doing many of these things but seemed to have gravitated towards painting and graphic/commercial design as my main gig.
What kind of education have you had?
I’m mostly self taught and have learned many things through trial and error. I went to Uni to study art but it wasn't an “Art School”. I just picked it because they were taking anybody who wanted in, a huge new art facility was just built, it was in the mountains in Oregon and I could be on a lift and knee deep in pow 15 minutes from class. I initially wanted to become an art teacher but after graduation, and before going into post grad, I realized that in order to teach art, I had to have had a successful career as an artist to be worth while to my students. So I bailed to try and make a living as an artist and have never looked back. And now that I’ve been making art and working for myself for so long I could never go back to having to be somewhere every morning at a certain time… such as a class room.
I was lucky enough to have a few key opportunities to help me get some hands on experience as a “real” artist when I was young, like airbrushing surfboards for Roberts for a few years when I was just out of high school and going to Ventura College. And I also fell in line with a snowboard mfg company in Huntington Beach who pushed me into learning all the Adobe graphics programs back then as well. These things helped heaps.
What kind of things influence your work?
My work is influenced a lot by nature. Mainly it’s patterns, cycles and bold colors. Being a surfer has definitely had the biggest influence I would say. The ocean just offers so much stimulation for a visual person it’s hard to not be inspired by things out there.
I’m also inspired by abstract expressionism, you may not see that come through in my work but I find myself wanting to push more and more into that realm of non-representational exploration of shape and color. It’s a lot more free and pure.
What 3 words would best describe your style?
Funky. Graphic. Natural.
Do you have any pieces that hold a particular sentimental value to you?
I rarely like any of my paintings after I finish them. As in immediately after I sign it and put the brush down I can almost hardly stand it. I’m not sure what it is, but almost like once the act of creating it has stopped I’m out of the zone and over it, and start looking at it really critically. So I just move onto the next one. It has been getting better though, I’ve been on a roll lately with some challenging new ideas.
There are a few old paintings that I really like though, “Tiki Water” is one of those. It’s hanging in my living room and it’s not for sale anymore. Something about it still interests me.
What is it that you love about your job?
This is a question I ponder almost daily. The answers change. I love the creativity. I love the freedom I have with my time. For the most part, I can surf whenever it’s good, and I never have to hear an alarm clock. I wake up when I’m done sleeping. Yeah, maybe that’s it.. the favorite thing about my job is that I wake up when I’m done sleeping.
What do you love about working with environmental / humanitarian projects?
Working with non-profits is just a way for me to give back. I feel that the act of creating art is a selfish endeavor and being able to align myself with companies within the surf and ocean realm that make a difference and fight for the environment is a way to support what I care about. It's a win/win situation when I can use my artistic vision to help raise money for these companies.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring / budding artists out there?
My advice to young artists who really believe they have the talent to make a living off art is to just keep exploring your vision. Try a million different mediums to see what really works for you and then work on developing your unique voice and style within that medium. I would also suggest learning graphic design and the computer. And find a wife or husband to deal with the marketing, paperwork, accounting and spreadsheet side of things so you have time to make the art... make sure they are smart and good with money and numbers. In my case, I married a Jewish girl so that seems to work ;)
Where can we find you online?
Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on May 30, 2015
Hayden Jackson - SEAduction Photography
Shannon Glasson - Ocean Photographer
James McMillan - Byron Bay Surf Festival Director
Shannon Hughes - WSL & ISA Commentator
Craig Sims - White Horses & Surfing Life Publisher
Luke Kennedy - Editor of Tracks Magazine
Simon ‘Swilly’ Williams - Surf Photographer
Jarra Campbell - the Bondi Alchemist
Greg Gordon - Owner of CR Surf
Shayne Nienaber - Surf Photographer