SURFERS WHO ART
Dave Bowers is an illustrator, an artist, a surfer, a musician and a creative collaborator. He depicts a time in Australia when the culture of surf was translated onto the street and is well known for his work alongside long time buddy, Nick Morris who like Dave, is an artist, a surfer and quintessential Australian. Both graduated from Monash University in 1986 with Diplomas in Graphic Design and later banded together to launch their own street/surf/art fashion label, Umgawa. Morris went on to work as art director for Quiksilver while Bowers took his illustrative style to Mambo. Together they have created art for brands such as Paul Frank, Stussy, Mossimo, Lee, Globe and St. Lenny and their very own successful collaboration known as Doug Bartlett.
For almost 10 years it has been boomtown for Doug Bartlett whose script tells of success from the outset. Their combined canvases at Art Melbourne 07 sold out in two days and were hotly followed by an enormously successful showing at Art Sydney. Since then they have exhibited in galleries across Melbourne, in France, Hong Kong and beyond.
With this in mind, we talk to both – as artists first and creative collaborators second. What is it that makes these two, dyed in the yarn, Australian artists tick? From a love of art to graphic design and back again, their story comes full circle and we discover many parallels along the way, not the least of which is a passionate love of the surf.
Let’s start with Dave Bowers and the art –surf connection.
“I think its just freedom. Pure artistic expression is freedom and so is the ocean.”
When it comes to inspiration, Dave says that he tries to see the beauty in things often overlooked and says it’s the everyday objects rather than grand sweeping themes or political statements that gets his juices flowing.
What about all the rural references and use of animal and machinery in Dave’s work?
According to Dave much of his childhood was spent visiting farms. “I fell in love with the brutal power and beauty of tractors and bulls. Even now, when driving in the country, I am mesmerised by the powerful sight of a giant bull in a paddock. I have to slow down. Tractors just have this great humble beauty.”
Talking about his friendship with Nick Morris and working together to launch surfwear label, Umgawa, he recalls it being a wonderful time. “I mean, there was a lot of poverty and stress, particularly when it went down the gurgler – but so much freedom as well. We just surfed and surfed ourselves silly.”
Dave said his Mambo days were another highlight. “I had always loved Mambo’s attitude and style and was just rapt to be involved. Dare Jennings was great to work with – as was the whole Mambo machine. It was a very rewarding time where I learnt that running a label is very hard work and if you don’t have any capital or a really careful and sensible business plan, you are pretty much stuffed. Being an artist has its own risks financially but nothing like the pressure of running a label.”
You can read the full Dave Bowers conversation in the latest 'Summer Vibes' issue out now...
Now it is Nick’s turn and I start with the obvious question about his passionate relationship with the surf.
“In my mind surfing has always been a creative pursuit. The rip, slash and burn mentality I could never come to terms with. Surfers who throw themselves around trying to be radical but look more like they are having a fit has no appeal to me whatsoever. Give me Surfers such as Gerry Lopez, Tom Curren or Craig Anderson any day of the week. These surfers dance on water in the most beautiful and creative way imaginable. I think that is where the appeal is for so many ‘surfers who art’ as we once named a group show down here in Torquay. The creativity is alive and well in both pursuits in certain pockets.”
Nick’s love of the surf, like most in his position, has endured the test of time. “Ever since I moved to the coast it was my motto (as another artist friend of mine Clayton Barr once said) ‘when there’s surf, surf!’ I figure if I don’t surf when it’s good, what am I living here for?
Quite often when you are stressed about a deadline for an exhibition the best thing is to step away, have a paddle and when you get back into it, creativity and productivity seem to flow effortlessly.”
Like Dave, Nick started off learning graphic design and like Dave took a detour before returning to art. Unlike Dave it wasn’t in the tradie arena but in graphic design that he’d studied for.
What took him so long to return to fulfilling his young boy dreams of becoming an artist?
“I sometimes ponder what if I had have pursued art straight up rather than graphics. There would be a lot less pressure as an artist in your early twenties with no mortgage and family to feed. You can get away with that shit when you’re young.
Read the full Doug Bartlett feature in the latest issue of No Cure Magazine out now!