Miles Thompson is a talented California surfer/artist whose paintings are a mixture of pop culture, island tiki, and surrealism. His work is like an endless stream of consciousness that flows from his mind to his brush. We spoke with Miles to find out what makes him tick.
What was life like growing up?
In ’71, I was born on a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida. Four months later, we moved to El Toro at the end of Laguna Canyon Road. I spent time at the beaches in San Clemente, Dana Point, and Laguna.
Huge lines of beefcake belly rash that lasted all summer from my first generation Morey Boogie at T Street and skimming at Strands morning, noon and twilight. I was a lucky, bespectacled and blistered kid for my first 14 summers.
I liked sponges so much I bused to Salt Creek daily in 8th grade to get tubes on my used Mach 7 and loved the graffiti under the bridge there—marveling at aerosol painted waves before the Ritz was even an idea: Anarchy! Locals Only! No Fat Chicks! Kooks Go Home! I spent a year and half in Australia and spent months on the Gold Coast, along the reef in between 8th and 9th grade. Sydney was amazing. Later, I graduated high school in Encinitas while living in funky Leucadia, surfing Beacons daily.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
I looked up to the Bionic Man more than anyone for long time. I stuck tight with my boogie boarding, BMX big brother, gathering the vocab necessary to trash talk him. I learned to refine my drafting skills by watching the pencil of my stepfather, who was, and is, an architect. Around the time of high school, I really admired my dad’s wild nature. He took me out on Hobies, Sabots, weekend Catalina jumps galore and jaunt or two on an 8m Cup Runner or two.
When did you get your first surfboard?
My first board was a 5’10” channel bottom double fly swallow tail thruster that I got about a month after I started surfing. That was a Tubeline and I loved it like chips. I was 14.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
A drifty, falling downstream weightlessness was my first real sensation as I surveyed the water below my feet moving all around over orange sandy eddies. I had dropped into plenty of waves, but this was a whole new perspective on wavecraft—laughingly similar to an elevator’s cord being cut.
Where did you interest in art come from?
I just liked the way certain things looked that had a sense of personality, style and individual quality. I always loved good newspaper comics with systematic black spotting, whether or not they were inked with a brush or a pen. When a pen or brush touches paper, it can carry a lot of impact. Rick Griffin, printed in stacks of Surfer mags in every garage of my neighborhood growing up, was God. He can’t be topped … ever. (Sorry Robert.) For cartooning, there was only Mad, ZAP, Playboy and EC … the best.
What is your process when creating your art?
My stuff is now more about the research than it is about the craft and technique. The approach does vary depending on what I want out of the process, and it is always subject to change. Currently, I’m finishing a portrait of Dora this week that I started months ago.
With gouache painting, I try to honor the thumbnail sketch, but it often evolves as I sit with it and sometimes an idea becomes disproportionately ambitious. I love what I do, so I do it as best I can.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
My brightest oceanic moment lies in a single night between the Pacific islands of Hawaii and the real west, about half way out, on a dead calm sea, fertile with phosphorescent microjellies spreading giant gently slow rolling pointed V’s off the bow wake below the pulpit on a mirror that seemed to end at about 50 feet off. I was calmly, cosmically and stone cold soberly buffeted by the cotton candy of the milky way from horizon to horizon. Green/white waterbound lights, accompanied by corporate satellites overhead and perfect water all around, fused into what seemed was an island. It was peace.
Who or what inspires you?
My 7 year old daughter. Those that are self-possessed, without being self-righteous about facts, who elect to manifest their own honorable version of their history—history inspires! Venus, a girlfriend, music, art, food, sex, tiny nerds with big ideas, cameras and writing.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
That you go now. Patience. And that familiarity breeds contempt.
What are you most proud of?
My daughter. I’m constantly asking the universe, “She’s really mine?”
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Nobody is. The waves are shaping the future path of waveriding, not surfers or shapers. Nobody is leading surfing anywhere it hasn’t been already. The ancient surfers went straight so that they could share waves as communion.
What is currently your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
By far my favorite board is a 6’6″ Klaus Jones stringerless “Arc board,” inspired by Esteban Bojorquez’s surfboards like all of Klaus’ hulls. Klaus made this board for himself. Now, it’s mine. I also love my 9′ CC Slider when it’s flat or lulled out—such a fun one
Rincon is my favorite spot because of the community; it’s less of a hassle than surfing L.A. County.
What’s your favorite meal?
Ahi Tuna Ponchartrain at The Palace Grill in Santa Barbara. I just had some serious pumpkin, red pepper and cashew action—that’s pretty good. Sweet potatoes and thyme, ginger, breads, nuts, beans, salad and cheese. I still eat animals, but am doing it less and less in an effort to curb carbon impact.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I’ve bought and sold music since junior high. I like heritage jazz a lot. I like everything but punk from Orange County in the ‘70s. I’m not impervious to the whimsy of a Moog, a Thermin or the human voice.
What are you most grateful for?
My ex-wife—her life after a year of cancer treatment, her love as a friend. We were 13 years together, so she’s family and I just love that she’s alive. I’m immune to all shit thanks to entirely to this one natural miracle.
What’s next for Miles Thompson?
Promoting Ocean awareness and Global Fishery Management.
In July, I’m taking on a one man show in Leucadia with an old friend. Planning an art board or two—maybe do some limited edition fins— with portraits of surf history, such as the Duke, Da Cat, Da Bull, Greenough, Liddle, etc.
I’m curating a Tiki Ti 50th Anniversary event in 2011 and publishing a volume of that show as well as producing my own inaugural ceramic set with Munktiki for that event.
I really want to continue my series of California portraits, and am planning a show a year and a half out with Jim McMillan on another portrait show.
All images courtesy Miles Thompson. All rights reserved.