Matt Beard is a California surfer/artist who paints the state’s rugged coastline in dreamy colors and fluid shapes. Matt’s work has recently been published in both Surfer Magazine and the Surfer’s Journal. We talked with Matt about life of surf and painting.
What was your life like growing up?
I wore a lot of goofy hats and endlessly annoyed my older brother.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I must have been about 10 or 11. It was a 5’2” Cheyne Horan style teardrop shape with a winged keel fin. I had no idea what that board was all about until years after I had given it away.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
Well it wasn’t a verbal feeling, but as soon as it was over I figured I’d like to do a lot more of it!
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young boy?
The world pretty much began and ended with my older brother (which explains his endless annoyance with me). When I really started surfing, it was all about Curren. As I got into art, my big influence was Griffin. Pretty much your standard hero stuff.
How did you get involved in art?
I don’t know how I couldn’t have. It’s always been there in one way or another. I guess a defining moment for me would be my junior year of high school, when I couldn’t get into the drafting class I wanted, so I took art for an easy grade. There was an older kid who was all into the punk scene who would draw the weirdest stuff, kinda made me see a bit of the freedom in art that had been stifled by a few well-meaning but horribly uninspiring art teachers along the way.
This art class was taught by the school’s track coach who had used to paint signs for a living, so he laid a solid representational foundation with a bold and graphic approach. None of that high-falutin’ art theory stuff. Then there was Rick Griffin. I was 15 or 16 when he passed away, and that’s when I was really turned on to his work, which really opened some doors for me to embrace the union of surfing and artwork as a viable path.
What is your process for creating your art?
I just try to keep my eyes open, you know? It’s a far from perfect world we live in – littered with the wreckage of human lives and shattered hopes. Yet there’s something good in it, too. Something beautiful. I’m just always looking for ways to tap into that. At least that’s the beginning of the whole process, and probably the part that matters most. The rest is just alternating between carefully pushing paint around and making a repeated mess of everything, until the beauty and the wreckage balance out.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
I haven’t traveled too much, but the few times I’ve been anywhere outside the U.S., I’ve always been struck by just how unrestricted simple life can be. Just set up camp and live until you die. Life is a very raw and basic thing, and I think we kinda forget that a lot of times.
Who/what inspires you?
Life itself is pretty inspiring. It’s all fair game out there, really. Bob Dylan is always someone I’ve looked at as a reminder to stay true to my own art, whichever direction it goes, and to not become creatively trapped by past successes.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Wow. That’s a big question… I’m gonna keep workin on that.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently
Well, I’ve done a lot of dumb things, and probably hurt a few folks along the way. Not sure what I could have done to change any of that, I just wish it weren’t so.
What are you most proud of?
My children’s laughter.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
I don’t make too much of what surfing is. It’s just playing in the ocean like a little kid, really. I suppose it’s kinda helped to keep my priorities pretty simple. Enjoy the moment. Tune in to life’s rhythms. Avoid full time jobs. Stuff like that.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
My wife’s laughter. At me or with me, it doesn’t matter, as long as I can see her joy.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Dane Reynolds on one side, and all the stoked and smiling kooks on the other. One is showing us what can be done, the others are showing us how little really needs to be done.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
My favorite board is broken beyond repair. It happened at my favorite spot, but I can’t tell you where that is.
What’s your favorite meal?
I could really go for some quinoa stew, and chunk of warm bread right now.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Absynth Quintet, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Dylan, Fugazi, Tommy Guerrero, Woody Guthrie, Sebadoh. Waterdeep. I’m all over the place these days.
What causes/organizations do you support?
Surfing Heritage Foundation, SurfAid, Walking on Water, Surfrider Foundation, and random missionary friends working all over the planet.
What are you most grateful for?
Peace with God. There’s really nothing like it.
What’s next Matt Beard?
I don’t know. Just gonna keep my eyes on the horizon…