Where Locals Always Rule

Surf artist commissioned for 50th Brooks Street contest art

Marcel Mead in his studio garage.

This is how a surfer might envision heaven: waves flow strongly toward shore but less randomly than in nature. Dramatically crested, they resemble a watery highway just for surfers. No struggle for space here; everyone gets the perfect wave. The sky is red as if illuminated by a dramatic sunset, which reflects on the wave’s curvaceous crests.

The scene painted by local artist and surfer Marcel Mead is framed in elaborate line work. At the bottom lies a dedication to the memory of Jack Denny, a Laguna Beach surfer and founder of World Jungle Clothing Co. who succumbed to an eight-month battle with cancer in 1998 at age 33.

Here, art and surfing are soul-mates and few know that better than Mead, 31, a local surfer and artist whose work resembles the psychedelic poster art of his parents’ generation. His parents, indeed children of the ‘60s and artists themselves, named him after Marcel Duchamp as he was born on the French Dadaist’s birthday.

He seemed a fitting choice to design the limited edition poster to commemorate the 50th run of the Brooks Street Surfing Classic, a locals-only contest where past participants have included the sport’s early pioneers and world-class pros.

Even as the official waiting period for this year’s contest began on June 4, conventional math seems irrelevant. Sometimes the contest isn’t held at all due to the unpredictability of swells, explained local surfer Brandy Faber, the contest’s volunteer director.

For a surfer, it’s all about the incomparable experience of being transported  by wave energy through a liquid tube, no matter how briefly. Hence, while surfboard building is both art and science, Mead’s painting and design work centers on a wave’s many permutations.  In his world they can be stacked in sets of threes, curl into dramatic watery tunnels or flow, deceptively serene but with a fury only cognoscenti can guess at.

Mead’s art has enriched several city-funded public art projects: a winter holiday palette in 2006, street banners in 2007 and 2008, a Bluebird Park concert flyer and one of the decommissioned parking meters for contributions to the city’s homeless shelter.

Faber commissioned Mead for the contest’s poster and t-shirts because he surfs (winning the senior men’s division in 2005) and paints and every year an artist with a surfing connection is invited to provide the art. Previous artist contributors include Wolfgang Bloch, Bill Ogden and Walter Viszolay.

Mead’s poster will be sold for $300 in a limited edition of 50 and also included in a collector’s book. Part of the proceeds will be donated to local organizations such as Zero Trash Laguna, an anti-litter group. Five posters have been earmarked for this year’s special honorees: Ron Lutz, the retired recreation department staffer who organized the contest since the ‘70s; Ron Sizemore, a local who has surfed in every contest; and survivors of deceased surfers including Joe Epps, as well as the Chambers and Denny families.

When he is not making art, Mead loves to travel and surf. “The surfing world is developing so rapidly, sometimes I identify more with the pace of old masters,” he said, adding that he subdivides a painting into math coordinates, much like the methods of old masters.

“I enjoy guestimating where the horizon or the center will be and like studying depth dimension,” said Mead, who took classes at the Laguna College of Art and Design, but needing to earn a living, did not graduate. He hopes to return some day.

Mead takes inspiration from the movement of cultures and reminisces happily about Bali’s good waves, culture and different belief system.

Surfers can be highly selective about their art. Last year, Andrew Meyers withdrew his proposal to place a bronze statue of a surfer (“The Classic”) near the Brooks Street stairs, an impromptu viewing stand when south swells surface. Residents objected to the sculpture’s view-hindering position and its out-of-character orange long board. Even though both the City Council and its arts commission approved the project, surfers found it irrelevant.

“The piece did not represent the Brooks Street wave, which is high performance and no one would use a long board here,” said Faber. “Riding a long board here would be like entering a Volkswagen bus into the Indy 500.”


Readers can connect with and through the Brooks St. Surfing Classic via facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Brooks-St-Surfing-Classic/149024555171034


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