Kevin A. Short is a talented California surf artist who paints in the “plein air” style. His lush colors and expert use of light is evident in every dynamic brushstroke. Kevin’s work has been shown internationally and has published a book of paintings on Trestles.
What was life like growing up?
Life was good—pretty normal 1960’s family: my brother, two sisters. We were a happy family up in Santa Barbara/Goleta. We were water people: swimming, sailing, bodysurfing, and snorkeling. We never noticed that money was tight. Mom was always trying some alchemy on the zucchini from our garden, not realizing she had invented the veggie burger. And, of course, fried bologna was a big treat.
I grew up with a father who was, and still remains, the smartest man I have ever met, a rocket scientist who shared with us his love for the ocean, science and life—the opposite of the nerd image.
It turns out that, these days, having good parents who love you and each other is no longer normal.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
Easy. Rick Griffin
When did you get your first surfboard?
It was Christmas 1973 after spending months—MONTHS!—of trying to talk me out of surfing. My parents got me a Greenough Wilderness! My head exploded!
In the 70’s, most surfers seemed to my parents to be drug-hazed misanthropes. And it didn’t help matters that my hero was the acid-dropping Rick Griffin. It took them decades later to admit that, in the late 50’s, they had a surfboard.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
Man, that was pure joy. Wow! I still remember it and I can still see it. Gliding on a glassy day. College Point. Goleta, California. On a borrowed board. It was all the best of everything I knew of the ocean all at once.
Where did your interest in art come from?
I always had it. Born with it. In our family, it was considered part of being a well-rounded person—math, science, literature, art. I had planned to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a chemical engineer, but I had a high school chemistry teacher who was so foul and bitter that I wanted nothing to do with it, and decided the next most appealing thing was art. Besides, at the time, we had moved to New Mexico, and art took me back to the sea.
What is your process when creating your art?
First is inspiration — a color or a shape. Something triggers the moment. I see AND feel something. The image and a vibe gets burned into me. Then I just start “blapping” paint down. I will sometimes divert into printmaking if the image strikes me in that direction. But 95% it is color painted and smeared onto the canvas.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
Highlands of Central America. It is a different world from Coastal California, and a different value system. A lot of my worldview hinges on the work my uncle has achieved teaching basic farming to families on volcanic hillsides. One man changing the well-being of thousands (yes, thousands!!!) of people one compost pile, or one anti-erosion technique, at a time.
What is it that makes you such a nice person? What code do you live by?
I never think of myself as a nice person. When I am not behaving somewhat shy, I am pretty bored with small talk, so I usually keep quiet. However, sometimes at my museum openings or gallery openings, I meet a lot of people who are really interesting. They are probably trying to leave for the rest of their evening, but my curiosity gets a hold of me and you can’t shut me up.
My code — don’t brag, don’t exaggerate, don’t lie. Turns out that truth is a rare commodity, but easy to remember.
Who/what inspires you?
The smile on my boys’ faces. And my wife has a smile that absolutely wrecks me.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Why ruin today regretting yesterday? Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Life is a complex system. How would I have known, after growing up at the beach, that (in high school) moving from the beach would make me a more of beach person? I have friends that live near the beach but never go anymore. They take it for granted. Being near the ocean is awesome.
What are you most proud of?
Fifteen years of happy marriage and three crazy, happy boys.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing has been the access to the rhythm of the ocean. The ocean calms me, brings me joy, restores my perspective. It is a source of stability. Surfing makes me happy! And, ironically, it provides a life for us. I don’t paint surf-influenced paintings to sell them. I paint them because I am inspired. I have to sell them because I can’t afford to keep them myself. That is as odd as it is cool to me.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Being in the ocean with my wife and kids.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
This is a great question, but I can’t narrow that down to less than 100 people, not even that.
If I left out the so-called “has beens” from the old days, I’d be missing the true point. I recently saw one of the old guard from the 50’s and 60’s driving by my house with a trailer full of surfboards to the beach where he runs his surf school, giving a whole new generation of surfer his “stoke”. That is a huge lifetime of influence.
And just so that I don’t sound like I dodged the question… whatever Laird’s next hare-brained experiment is. Laird seems to be the face put on the crew who introduced tow in, and then his shooting the Malibu pier on a stand up paddleboard has created a whole new version of surfing.
And, of course, all the surf stars for sure, for good or bad, and whether they want to or not.
What is in your current quiver? What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
My fav board is this Patterson custom swallowtail Timmy made me after we surfed together down at Capo beach. He was disgusted at what I was riding at the time, so he made me this amazing board, best I have ever owned, something that is between his BFS and twinner. He is a genius!
My current quiver is: 6’1” Tom Whitaker Fish; My magic Patterson 6”11”; 9’0” Phil Edwards Velzy board (probably not supposed to ride it, but what is the point of surfing if it isn’t to have fun?); Patterson 9’0” (the best kept secret is that Timmy is a freakishly good longboard shaper); Dave Johnson 9’2” (very fun to ride); Town & Country 9’3”; Patterson 11’3” fishing surfboard (that on small surf days is fun to paddle from San O to Trestles and surf back).
I spend most of my time surfing Trestles (especially Middles), some Cottons, and then I like State Park and North Beach (granted all in San Clemente). I pick the spot on a crowd/quality ratio. I’d rather surf smaller waves with no crowd headaches. I surf to go have fun, not to star in my own surf movie.
What’s your favorite meal?
Gotta be my wife Amy’s spaghetti. It is “delish”—laughing family and friends are essential ingredients.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
My iPod is jammed with Jamaican 45’s that my cousin, Pete, digitized for me from his collection of rare recordings: Desmond Dekker, Ethiopians, Kingstonians, Lee “Scratch” Perry, et al. And I am a sucker for Linkin Park, the Chili Peppers, Van, Petty, Neil, and Jimi.
What causes/projects/organizations do you support?
Boy, that is a tough one. There are some projects, a few causes. Clean water is number one. I can’t surf in a few of my favorite places anymore because of the pollution levels. MiOcean seems to be getting more things solved locally, so I see them as very successful—just a hardcore getting things done. The Save Trestles group has done well so far. I have donated to Surfrider in appreciation to getting a mass of people to the California Coastal Commission hearings. And I really like everybody I have met from Surfrider.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
It is the simple things that hold the most value: love, life, joy, family, eating Pedro’s burritos on the beach with my family. I am the richest man on earth.
What’s next for Kevin A. Short?
More travels around the world painting. I have to get going on my next book.
More information about Kevin A. Short and his art can be found here.