Saturday, August 29, 2009

'Scribblings from the Surf' - Devon Life 9/09: Surfer Artists

The third in a series entitled 'Scribblings from the Surf'. For more information on Devon Life, click here. To read the article, see the text below or click to enlarge the pictures of the original article below that.


Barrister and writer Tim Kevan discovers that surfing attracts more than its fair share of artists.

When the area is home to the world’s most expensive living artist, there is always a risk that other artists in the vicinity may be somewhat overshadowed. But despite the fact that the phenomenon that is Damian Hirst lives in North Devon and even exhibits some of his work at The Quay Restaurant which he set up in Ilfracombe, there remains an extremely vibrant artistic community beyond the razzmatazz of auction houses and million dollar price tags. This is particularly so within the surfing community which has always attracted a disproportionate number of creative people to its ranks. This may have something to do with the fact that surfers immerse themselves into the very heart of nature and all its wild elements. But it may also be due to the fact that even the act of surfing itself can be seen as a creative endeavour with the infinite varieties in which a wave can be ridden becoming an expression of the surfer’s own personality as much as it is the physical act of moving across a wall of water.

The Potter – Jon Curtis
Yet whilst it has long been recognised that surfing produces some excellent artists, it is rare that anyone brings them together. This is what professional potter Jon Curtis has done through The JC Gallery in Caen Street in the heart of Braunton which exhibits the work of a number of leading local artists (see

Jon himself started pottery whilst still at Bryanston School though he very nearly gave it all up to become a professional rugby player after he was offered a contract with Wasps. Instead he continued with his artistic vocation through university and then training with among others the world-renowned potter Magdalene Odundo OBE. But eventually the pull of the sea and the surf brought him back to the area where his mother’s family had lived for generations and for a time he also helped to make surfboards for local board-maker Gulf Stream.

A perfectionist, the pots he produces are stunning and easily recognisable due to his use of copper oxides which give beautiful bursts of purples and greens within his various light celadon and wood ash glazes. Indeed, such is their reputation that even Damian Hirst’s partner recently bought two of his bowls as a birthday present for the man himself.

The Artist – Steve PP
Another of the featured artists in The JC Gallery is Steve Playdell-Pearce or Steve PP as he is known (see The son of a sailor from Plymouth, his early career involved high profile animation, training under Bob Godfrey of Rhubard and Custard fame and then moving on to hand-drawing the Dangermouse cartoons full-time for five years. Eventually, he too felt the pull of the ocean and he moved to North Devon and became a surf instructor for Second Skin Surf School. From there he started his driftwood art and later oil paintings outside his now infamous Renault Traffic van parked next to the Red Barn in Woolacombe, which is affectionately known as the Waikiki Tavern.

Taking his influences from the Californian impressionists his work reflects his passion for the coastal landscape. This has recently found another outlet in his popular coastal painting holidays in which he passes on sufficient skills in his one and two day courses for anyone to be able to get out there and paint for themselves. For him, this is all part of helping people to re-connect with the natural world, to see things in a way they might not usually do so and to discover those things which can truly feed the soul and enrich their everyday lives.

The Film-Maker – Richard Gregory
A passion for nature is also something which drives film-maker Richard Gregory who has come to North Devon via Essex and then Brighton. His first movie Not California charted the Brighton surf scene. Since then he has been working on two major surf film projects in North Devon. One Day as the name suggests will cover a single period of twenty-four hours of local surf. A Devon Summer on the other hand will reflect much more his own personality with an eclectic mix not only of surfing but also the adjacent coastline, its people and their various eccentricities.

But it is his harnessing of the new media and the videos he regularly posts to his website for which he is best known. Through these he says he hopes to reveal surfing to the uninitiated and at the same time reveal the natural world to surfers in a way in which they might not ordinarily have looked at it. Certainly, the beauty of the footage and the emotional context he gives to the natural world are clear to all who view his regular posts.

The Photographer – Jamie Bott
Another person for whom the digital revolution has been crucial is photographer Jamie Bott ( whose work can also be seen at The JC Gallery. A sponsored surfer for the prestigious Bing Surfboards he has come a long way since the Association of Photographers awarded him a prize for the ‘Kodak Student Photographer of the Year’ some ten years ago. Physically, he has travelled the world and shot in places as far afield as Hawaii, Indonesia, California, Mexico and even the Orkney Islands as well as spending two years in Costa Rica and also becoming Photo Editor of Drift Magazine. It is this raw talent coupled with the breadth of experience which has led to his work not only being exhibited around Britain and published in many of the leading surfing magazines including The Surfer’s Journal but also to his becoming one of the few Britons to gain entry to the internationally prestigious Wedding Photojournalists Association.

With both his surfing and his wedding photography he has developed a documentary style which is based primarily around his talent for seeing the right shot and then concentrating on the quality of the image. What comes through are some iconic pictures which play with both light and abstract form and which now adorn many a front room.

Above all, like both Steve PP and Richard Gregory he hopes through his art to inspire people to see the things around them in a slightly different light and through that to add another layer of experience into their everyday lives. We couldn’t ask for more.

Tim Kevan is the co-author of ‘Why Lawyers Should Surf’ (with Dr Michelle Tempest) and his novel ‘BabyBarista and the Art of War’ is published by Bloomsbury. For more information visit

Unless otherwise indicated in the article, photographs provided courtesy of

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