EXPRESSION SESSION 2017: CARDIFF REEF (well, just north of it anyway)

"MY PEOPLE"  painted on the beach at the event by Matt Beard

Head Judge:
Victoria Huff 

Jeff Yeomans | Bob Penuelas | Fay Wyles | Nathan Paul Gibbs | Matt Stanton Beard | Victoria Huff | Colleen Gnos | Jon Baker | Tom Rogo | Nathan Ledyard | Michael Torquato | Jose Emroca Flores | Harry Holiday

Judge's Choice Awards:
Colleen Gnos | Jose Emroca Flores  | Michael Torquato

Organizer's Choice Award:
Harry Holiday

Best of Show:
Fay Wyles


And now a few words from Matt Beard, the event's director:



"Let me start this thing right off and let you know that I am beyond stoked to put this little event together year after year and see these artists get together and inspire each other. Sometimes I get tired of emailing everyone and answering the same questions over and over just to get them all on the beach for a few hours. But then the day comes and that's all forgotten.  It's just pure fun to see everyone's different approaches to art, to riding waves, to... well, everything. The highlight for me is getting in the water with them, a chance to see these folks whose art I've admired for years in the ocean having a good time. I love seeing who paddles off alone, who rips, who nearly drowns in the knee high whitewater, who hoots and hollers, who hangs on the inside, who burns everyone shamelessly, it's all part of the fun and it provides insights and clues as to just who these folks are.  Then after the surf, I turn my sights onto the group I've just surfed with, easels up, painting away while boards and suits sit drying in the sand, serving as impromptu table tops for donut boxes and coffee jugs. When I see them spread out on the sand doing their thing, I no longer need any clues as to who they are, I know who they are. They are MY PEOPLE. Bear with my long-winded letterpushing here and I'll introduce each of them to you as I saw them..."



Bob's Gallery Show Piece

Bob's Plein Air Event Piece

An incredible illustrator, and the genius behind Wilbur Kookmeyer, Bob showed up for the event in a huge way. He should be president next year. He made more of an effort than I did to herd our non-comformative group of stray cats into the lineup together. He remained the center of the pack of 6 or so that surfed together for the next hour. He had already expressed that plein air was not his thing, but he got into the act with his sketchbook and nailed this rendition of the tower on the beach in front of the reefs at Cardiff. Then post surf and art session over tacos and beers, he produced several copies of the complete volume of legendary Wilbur Kookmeyer strips that he created through the 80’s and 90’s, and proceeded to sign them for the artists. How this act did not register as an award winner from our honorable judge this year, I cannot say. (Hint: she was too young to remember Wilbur Kookmeyer, therefore I say forgive her, she knows not what she has done) He won in my book. Class act all the way around.



Jeff's Gallery Show Piece

Another of Jeff's Gallery Show Pieces, just because...

Jeff’s plein air work is absolute genius in my book, or any other book for that matter. He’s been capturing scenes of beach life that resonate with ocean people for years and is renowned in the traditional art world as a master of his craft. His work isn’t fussy, and neither is he. He showed up quietly and went to work on the beach, and I set up near him so as to catch up and try to absorb by osmosis some of his mojo. Toward the end of the paint session I could hear him grumbling and before I knew it, he’d claimed to have "lost" the piece he was working on. It simply got away from him. I respect the ability to know such a thing. I lose the plot often and could use the good sense to call it a day once in awhile. I was sad to see one of my painting heroes not stoked on his art, but I learn from him every time I paint with him, and this was no exception. When you’ve dug yourself into a hole, stop digging the hole deeper. In honor of his efforts, I’m sharing two of his pieces that hung in the gallery show because they are just too good. We’re gonna try to get Jeff back next year for redemption. To his credit, the donuts did arrive much later than we expected and that may have thrown his workflow off. It happens to the best of them.


John's Gallery Show Piece

Jon's Plein Air Event Piece

To spend time with Jon Baker, an incredible artist from the East coast who uses his art to raise mountains of money for charities in his community, is always a pleasure. It’s also a little foggy, because as a bartender with a penchant for fine tequila, and as one who is generous in nature, he is prone to share such finery with those around him. He and his lovely wife Kristin made the trip to La Jolla for this event, and soaked up the area with wide smiles and plenty of stoke to go around. He was in the mix with us in the lineup absorbing the California water like only an East Coast kid does (sometimes they get so jazzed to be here I worry they might start drinking the saltwater, but not Jon, as a bartender he knows what's for drinking and what isn't), and to this day I can’t remember him ever not grinning out there. His art pretty much rules. His painting style is uniquely his own and while it may sometimes look like he's not trying, he hammers out some pretty profound masterpieces on the regular and is just so nice about it I'm not sure if anyone notices. If you let his art move you, you won't be the same again. Jon held court outside the gallery surrounded by a crew of artists on the closing night, and distributed laughter and positive vibes (and his raffle prize bottle of tequila) like a true champion.


Harry's Gallery Show Piece

Harry's Plein Air Event Piece

Each year I reserve a trophy to award to a participant of my choosing. Someone who stood out to me as an exemplary ambassador of aloha, talent and humility and class. While Harry fit the bill as much as most do, I do reckon he was soundly edged out on paper by Bob and Jon, who I came away immensely impressed with. But Harry showed up with mischief. He showed up like wind. I think he may live in his van. He was a kindhearted vagabond of mystery with beady eyes and shifty ways. He arrived late to the beach, I don’t think he got in the water at all. I’d have dismissed anyone else for such nonsense, but somehow I prefer to think he may have woke up that Saturday in his van parked in the desert three hours away and I was just proud of him for remembering to come hang with us. So instead of giving him a hard time about it, I bought him tacos and beers and gave him my highest award. Shifty bugger stole it right out from the 50/50 tie I had running between Baker and Penuelas. I love this guy, he’s fired for next year, but he’s my hero right now. Oh and his art, holy moly, you should see this man’s art, full of grace and beautiful lines, nuances captured and presented with necessary caution so as not to disturb their fragile essence.


Fay's Plein Air Event Piece

Fay's Gallery Show Piece - BEST OF SHOW (director's choice, I didn't ask the judge for her opinion)

Fay has been part of this group from the beginning, showing up to paint with a small crew of us 3 years ago before this event crystallized into what it is shaping up to today. Ready to paint, ready to surf, ready to camp out, ready to consume donuts, tacos and beers with delight. Fay is a regular in the Upper Trestles lineup and one of the pieces she submitted in the gallery show absolutely blew my mind. Best of show, hands down. Her depiction of the scene as you come out from under the trestle onto the beach at Uppers, a scene littered with bikes and surf racks, but no bodies. Everyone in the water. Most artists I know, myself included, could not paint such a painting without adding a hint of swell or wave or whitewater. In my case I’d probably overstack it with 7 screaming walls lined up to the horizon and catch all sorts of flack for the exaggeration later. But as in writing, where it’s not what you say, but what you leave out for the reader to imagine that has the most impact, so it is with this masterpiece. She shows restraint at the genius level here, authoring a tale many of us know very well, but telling it through our own memories, not on the canvas itself. I know how the waves were that day, because this painting makes me believe I was there. I’m tired a bit sore, and my toe is bleeding from a low-tide misstep. I’m happy. And this painting says it all. BEST OF SHOW according to me, and maybe me alone, but I'm declaring it anyway.  


Tom's Gallery Show Piece

Tom's Plein Air Event Piece

Rogo showed up last year unannounced and secretly surfed early, then hid in the bushes painting a masterpiece before milling around and meeting all of the artists enthusiastically as though he were merely a fan and not out to paint circles around us all.  When we finally caught wind of his masterful painting we tried to bring it to the gallery and out of humility he refused to allow it. I gave him my highest honor that year even though he wasn’t even invited. This year he was at the top of my list and he did not disappoint. Paddling out I saw him hook into two great waves back to back, then he was gone to get a headstart on his painting. Many of the artists I invite aren’t necessarily plein air painters, and the thought of working quick painting from life outdoors is a bit daunting. I encourage them to just relax and enjoy it, and not feel too stuck on painting what’s in front of them, but to just treat it like a 2 hour studio piece if they like. Tom is in that camp where he typically paints studio work and doesn’t fancy himself much of a plein air painter, but more than anyone I’ve ever seen, I am impressed with how he merged the scene before him with his studio motif of using images of classic cars superimposed to create a nostalgic vibe of another era. His piece is clearly straddling two moments in time, catching the feeling of the morning at Cardiff, but also placing it squarely in the distant past when cars were made of metal and metal. The tension is beautiful. Tom is legend.


Nathan's Gallery Show Piece

Nathan's Plein Air Event Piece

Nathan has brought me beers while I've painted on hot sunny afternoons and sometimes he even buys my art so that's why he’s always invited.  There is truth to that, but it’s not the whole story. I’ve known Nathan as a successful and generous artist for years. His involvement with various charities and benefit projects has not gone unnoticed. He’s a prolific artist and incredibly well spoken student of surf history. In the lineup and on the beach he is a class act and always a good sport, even when I continued to tell him this would be his last year of being invited. Pretty sure he even thinks I’m serious about that, but still managed not throw a fit and go home early. I’m proud of Nathan and while our art and minds seem sometimes to operate on entirely different channels, he is a friend I’m glad to have and will definitely be invited back for another round.


Chris's Gallery Show Piece

Chris's Plein Air Event Piece

I’ve spent a bit of time on the Santa Barbara coast, an area that boasts some of the finest plein air country and artists anywhere. Chris has been working away for years developing his talent and renown in the rarefied air of the Santa Barbara plein air scene. He doesn’t surf much, or maybe at all, but I just really love his work and having met him in person on a previous trip through the area I thought it would be fun to bring him out of his Santa Barbara bubble and let San Diego see his talent. At the beach event, he donned some flippers and swam out through the shorepound sans wetsuit like a good sport. I have no idea what he did out there, but he came out of the water smiling and happy. And that’s what this event is about. Well that and crazy good art like that plein air piece on the left of La Jolla Cove that he drove down and busted out one day for the Misfit Gallery show. Am I right? That thing is nuts. Good job Chris!


Nathan's Gallery Show Piece

Nathan's Plein Air Event Piece

Ledyard is a top notch artist. Apparently he used to be a lawyer, but didn’t like lawyering so instead decided to art. I guess being a lawyer he’s smart about not responding to emails full of information so he could claim not to know what was being asked of him. He had his art hung in the gallery before he had even committed to coming to the beach for the main portion of the event See? Smart. His current art consists of carved and painted plywood renderings of waves, particularly hollow, ledging dream waves. I'd have shown one here, but since he ignored all my emails and went around me to the Misfit Gallery owner, I figured I'd do him a solid and show off this older work of his surfboard art that's been hanging at the gallery for awhile. If I'd emailed him about it, he wouldn't have responded anyway I reckon. Take that, buddy! Anyway, given his penchant for charging huge barrels at Black's and around the world, the more pedestrian surf of Cardiff reef was clearly uninteresting to him, but to his credit he still showed up to fulfill his obligations. He surfed a quick session 30 minutes early, away from the group. I hear he’s a really great surfer and may have been embarrassed to be seen with a bunch of us, but he did get some great waves and came in surprised with the wave quality that a spot other than his beloved Black’s could produce. Things got interesting when he found a perch to post up and fire up his dremel from his portable battery power supply and started carving not just one, but two renditions of the beach at Cardiff, both of which sold off the wall before the day was over. Ledyard rules.


Victoria's Gallery Show Piece

Victoria's Plein Air Event Piece

Victoria Huff. Official SDSFF artist for 2017, and as such was nominated involuntarily into the role of being this year’s juror for the event as well. She was a great sport about it though, especially when it was explained that participants would be encouraged toward bribery. I think she came away with a few tacos and beers, at least one dollar bill, a book containing the complete Wilbur Kookmeyer chronicles, and one bottle of fine wine. Not bad at all. At one point in the water, 5 or 6 of us were well into a fun session before we realized the events judge was nowhere to be seen. In perhaps the most redemptive act of good timing possible, she was immediately spotted bobbing out to the lineup sans board, just swimming. She swam around and observed sharply, keen to judge accurately amongst the participants. It’s worth noting that each of the the three award winners she chose were in that group surfing together. (A tip for future contestants, perhaps?) Ok, but I digress. Let me just state unequivocally that Victoria’s art for the San Diego Surf Film Festival this year is the best they’ve ever had. And I say this as a past official event artist. I fired myself a few times over when I saw her contribution. It was an honor to be scrutinized according to her vague and undefined criteria this year. Oh and she officially labeled me as “old” and at 42 apparently I could be her dad?  Maybe this was only because I rousted her a bit for not knowing about Wilbur Kookmeyer, but still... Kids these days. Sheesh.


Jose's Gallery Show Piece

Jose's Plein Air Event Piece

I first met Jose back around 2012 when organizing an art based fundraiser for SurfAid International. He was recommended by a friend in San Francisco who was helping with groundwork logistics for a showing there. His illustrative approach and imaginative subject matter spoke of classic comics combined with current video animation sensibilities, with a splash of saltwater around the edges, or in some cases, in your face. Don’t think for a second that an artist that can whip up anything his mind conjures can’t sit down and capture the scene in front of him in “plein air”. Jose nailed it. So much so that Victoria Huff awarded him one of the three top honors of the event. And rightfully so. Congrats Jose!


Colleen's Gallery Show Piece

Colleen's Plein Air Event Piece

Colleen is a classical artist. I think she’s trained in Italy. Her approach to color and form speaks of a subtlety and sophistication far beyond my comprehension. It should also be mentioned she is a cancer survivor having fought her way through the maze of chemotherapy, surgeries, doctors, etc, and having stared death square in the face, she shoved him aside, grabbed her brushes and got right back to work. She’s comfortable painting the visual harmonies of Jazz music, theatrical narratives of romance that touch the mythological, or just feet-in-the-sand homages to the surfing life. Highly involved in her community of Avila Beach on the central coast, I was stoked to bring her down for this event and turn a few folks on to her genius. Pretty sure she burned a few artists in the lineup too, so extra bonus points for her, and when she produced a bottle of wine from her family’s vineyard featuring her next-level gorgeous artwork on the label and presented it to judge Victoria I’m pretty sure that sealed the deal in securing one of the three top honors. Congrats, and well done, Colleen!


Micahel's Gallery Show Piece

Michael's "Plein Air" Event Piece

Wildcard to the event, Torquato showed up in advance and painted the Misfit Gallery floors. We figured that made him part of the show and in true gentlemanly fashion he agreed to come down to the beach and go for the obligatory surf and art session we’d cooked up. He arrived with 40 painted surfboards the day before at the already jam-packed Misfit Gallery and managed to hang every single one. The “sistine chapel of radness” I heard it was later dubbed, the entire ceiling of the gallery was covered with his frantic brand of kinetic line and color work that has been gracing the Los Angeles art scene for some time now. I don’t recall seeing him much on the beach on the day of our event, but I do recall spotting an outside boil with a chunk of reef that was producing the occasional fun wedge. I paddled out and bobbed around sniffing for a good one, taking a few ho-hum drops and not reading them correctly at all. Out paddles Torquato on some ridiculous twin fin probably pulled off the ceiling that morning, and proceeds to hook into bomb after bomb with uncanny wave knowledge. I’d like to think I may have tipped him off to the possibilities of that otherwise unwanted corner out there, but seeing how quickly he dialed it in, he’d have been all over it whether or not anyone had been out there already or not. It’s not like it takes much to outsurf me, but Mr. Torquato pretty much ruled the world out there. He drew lines of beauty on a few sets that are continuing to inspire lines on canvas 3000 miles away as Jon Baker has been painting 3am studio homages to Torquato’s lines weeks after witnessing them first hand that day. Judge Victoria may have just thought he was good looking, but I’d like to think it was the genius of those lines in the water that rightly awarded him top honors from her that night. Congrats Michael!