Some time ago, we here at Surfd.com were browsing surf art on the web, when we encountered something a little different. It’s not often that you stop completely to study a work of art, taking in all of it’s nuances and subtleties. But that is exactly what happened when we first saw Matt Stanton Beard’s epic landscapes. They’re unmistakably created by a surfer, for the waves beckon you onto their swollen, pitching walls. Yet they have a touch of something else. A mystery, or a soul.
For a moment or two you find yourself lost. Trying to figure out the where, when and how of the painting. You’re transported to another world, one you don’t necessarily wish to leave.
So, it was a pleasure to get in touch with the artist, and to find out more about his vision, life, art and style.
Hey Matt, your work has a way of drawing the viewer into alternate worlds, with a real sense of timelessness. We love the long shadows and swell lines in “Overlook” and “Lined Up”, not to mention your California series. How did you develop your style and do you see it evolving into the future?
First off, thanks, I’m glad you dig my California paintings, that ongoing series aimed at documenting the entire state’s coastline really has become one of my lifelong projects as an artist. I’m hoping I live for another 300 years so I have time to finish it all. It’s a long state. Shoulda chose Rhode Island maybe, I’d have been done years ago.
But this is where I’m at so… As for developing my style, it’s all connected to my journey as an artist, more than a conscious decision to develop anything at all. My early background when I got into art was much more comic and graphic inspired, with pure saturated colors and outlines on everything. I outlined my outlines even.
The great thing about that sort of art was how it forced me to focus on movement and composition without any emphasis on the natural subtleties of light and atmosphere. Then at one point maybe 15 or 16 years ago, I came across a show of California Impressionist art from the early 1900’s. These paintings of the coast from 100 years before did something for me that my art at the time couldn’t do – they took me to these places and made me feel the air and memory of being there myself. I’d already spent years traveling the length of the state, attending college up the coast in Humboldt, and even before that scouting for waves with my brother as a kid from Mexico to Morro Bay. Those impressionist paintings brought it all back home.
I immediately set out to work out how to paint the coastal landscape I knew, in such a way as to feel the places, not just see them. For me the key was light. The foundation I had from my graphic background still informs my approach to composition, but color and light was a whole new adventure.
As for the brush strokes I lay down, I only favor the blocky chunky strokes cause I have shaky hands and bad eyes, so detail just doesn’t work for me anyway. I’d rather just give enough detail to tell the story but not spell it out. It’s like poetry or an essay. I don’t want to write an essay about these places, I see my art more as poems. The less you say in good poetry, the more the ready fills in from their own experiences and truly feels the poem instead of just hearing it.That’s what I’m going for really. One brush stroke is better than 50 if it makes the viewer fill in the rest in their minds. I hope. And as for evolving in the future, I can’t imagine it not. I don’t know where it will go, but like a lot of artists, I’m never satisfied, my best work is always yet to come. I’ve been painting some bad paintings lately and I can tell there’s something I’m working out, but can’t put a finger on yet, just a yearning to take my art to new places. I can’t stay where I’m at as an artist for very long. Grow or die. It’s nature.
Humboldt is a place we’d love to visit. What makes it a perfect setting from which to base a creative lifestyle?
It’s a beautiful place. Careful if you visit, you might end up giving up everything you have and living out of your car just to stay here. There’s not a lot of work or career options, but holy moly is it beautiful. Worth the trade for a lot of us. For me, living here has worked out pretty well for three reasons. The first is that since there’s constantly a bunch of fun art events to be a part of down in Southern California, and it gives me lots of excuses to drive the entire state’s coast and explore a bit here and there. After over 20 years of the routine, you’d think I’d seen all of it, but sheesh, it’s a long state. Did I say that already? It is.
Ok, yeah and the second reason it’s been great here is that it’s just drop dead beautiful. Drive 20 minutes in any direction and it’s beautiful. Shoot, we go for evening walks in a redwood forest on a trail that I haven’t even seen the end of yet (I’m lazy) that is just across the street from our house. I grew up in suburban Long Beach, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this reality.
The third is that for a small town area, there is a ton of art happening here. If the bigger cities supported the art scene with the passion this area gives to it, we’d probably have a full on revolution on our hands with armored trucks sent in and soldiers forcing everyone back to their cubicles with bayonets. Seriously. They dig art here, sometimes too much maybe.
You’ve done plenty of surf travel. Any surf travel experiences that you felt were formative in your development as an artist?
My travels have been fairly limited in the North/South direction up and down the West Coast, mostly California, with a sliver of Mexico and Canada thrown in. I’m not much of a flyer, but I can drive all day. I’ve always loved a good road trip. Got that from my dad I reckon. My grandparents moved to the central California coast near Morro Bay when I was 14, so my high school years involved a lot of travel up the coast on a regular basis.
Getting above Point Conception was eye opening for a kid from the city. Open space, solitude, beauty… I didn’t realize at the time how much it was affecting me, but yeah some seeds were definitely taking root back there. Back home we lived about 8 miles inland up the San Gabriel river, which had a paved bike path running all the way down to the Seal Beach river jetties. I wasn’t able to drive yet, but quickly figured out I could tell my folks I was riding to the beach with a friend so they’d let me go, and take off all day on my own.
I preferred to move at my own pace and surf where I pleased, sometimes riding all the way to the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach. By the time I could drive, I’d jump at any chance to visit the grandparents up north with my dad, and once we got their place, he’d let me take the van on my own and I’d go look for new spots alone, totally hooked. I did a lot of exploration with my brother and our friends as well, but the solitary stuff I think had a deeper impact on who I am today.
Just realizing we each stand alone on the face of the earth is a pretty cosmic thing, and from that comes a lot of freedom to forge your own path in life, instead of following the ideas that others have for you. When you’re a booksmart kid, with great grades and lots of potential for all sorts of things, nobody thinks you should be an artist.
Besides perfect waves, landscapes and undulating ocean surfaces, you also feature human and animal anatomy in your work. Accurate bone structure is no easy task to paint – where does your interest in anatomy come from?
The stylized forms of bones remind me of good graphic art, full of movement. The negative spaces are just as important as the shapes themselves – not just visually but really, think of what those negative spaces hold: the heart, lungs, the life. As art forms they have a double bonus of being chock full of enigmatic meaning.
They are a visual equivalent of the literary “loaded” term. A lot of folks instantly see death in them, but they are the structure that supports living bodies. As a jumping off point for art, that’s pretty good.
Your painting “Sine” is really cool. Tell us about your interest in science and how it can intersect with art?
The Sine series is all about exploring waveforms and the different ways they manifest in nature. I’ve painted a lot of waves, so I’m always looking for different approach. In school I was always intrigued by mathematical equations and the curves they made when graphed out.
Sine waves are the simplest expression of waveform, reducing their essence to a direct relationship between 2 variables and maybe a piece of PI. From there all other wave forms in nature can be seen, so for a series of paintings my idea was to really dig in and explore wave forms in nature, from waves in water, to sound waves, light waves, the lengthening and shortening of the days throughout a year (today is the summer solstice, neat).
It’s an open ended series, but I only made 3 of them and then got sidetracked. Such is art. One thing that come of it though, was the realization as I began to explore wave forms in nature that waves in water are the only naturally occurring waves I can think of that are scaled for direct interaction with human bodies. No other wave can literally push or pull a human body along with it as it moves through it’s medium. Surfing wins!
Do you have any creative people you strongly admire?
Rick Griffin, father of psychedelic graphic surf art. William Wendt, a California impressionist painter from the early 1900’s. Bob Dylan, for a lifetime of meaningful reinvention of his music in spite of whether it was loved or hated. Derek Hynd, for doing his own thing with his finless boards and doing it so well. John Muir for having the vision to speak for the preservation of wilderness way before anyone saw what was coming down the line. John, the author of the fourth gospel and the book of Revelation. The other three that wrote of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all wrote fairly straightforward accounts. John went off the rails with full on spiritual poetry, conveying the feeling of being alongside Jesus, instead of the newspaper account of who, what, where, and when.
If you didn’t become an artist and had chosen a more conventional vocation, what would Matt Beard be doing?
Maybe an architect, or a building contractor? I just like creating and making things. That or a paper pusher in an government office somewhere cause I’m pretty good at avoiding work while sitting in front of a computer as well.
In the next 10 years what is an experience you’d love to have?
I’d love to just make it another 10 years. Life is short and stuff happens, and I’ve been playing with toxic paints my whole life. I have 3 kids, so every year is full of great experiences watching them grow and become their own persons.
My oldest will be 23 in 10 years. Hard to imagine what’s going to happen between here and there, but those are some pretty huge years for a human being, and I would love to be there for all of it. Give me another 20 and I can see them all into their adult lives, how rad would that be? Can’t think of a better experience than that.
You’re going to be transported somewhere on Earth to spend a month alone. All you have with you is a 60 x 36 inch stretched canvas and your favourite brushes and paint. Where would you most like to go – and why?
Wait, what? I’m just going to assume food and survival aren’t an issue here, or else I’m a bit annoyed you gave me art supplies instead of a knife or something. So if I don’t need to worry about the essentials and I can be truly alone for a month, (I’m also going to assume I can choose the month) I would maybe go to Malibu in September and hope, hope, hope I could find something to ride, unless of course you’d buy it if I told you my favorite brush was a 7’ 3” single fin.
Warm water, south swells, nobody out at a long right point that is usually swarmed. That place looks like a blast, but I’ve never really bothered with it on account of the crowds… I reckon I could always go to a more remote place anytime under normal circumstances, but since we have the magic solitude wand to wave I’m going to make good use of it. Yep. Sounds like a plan. I might not get the painting done, but I’m sure the canvas would make pretty good shade in a pinch. I reckon.
Any words of advice for people who dream of pursuing a creative vocation, but are afraid of failing?
Get used to failing. Fail hard and often. It’s half the fun. If you can’t figure out how to deal with failure, this isn’t gonna work for you. It’s ok to have side jobs. You gotta do what you gotta do. Just keep your priority on making your art and don’t get sucked into the security of a full time gig that will drown your soul.
Some of the best artists have side gigs to support themselves, that’s fine. Selling art is not a measure of success for an artist. That’s just how the world sees it. Forget them, and make the best art you can make, and don’t beat yourself up over money or lack of it. Jesus told his followers not to seek after the material things the world has always chased after, but instead to live as they were each called to live and those other things would work themselves out.
If you’re meant to be an artist, if it’s who you are when you’re alone on the face of the earth, then don’t worry, just do your thing and it’ll all work out.
How can people connect with you to find out more?
The internets are great… mattbeardart.com, Matt Stanton Beard on Facebook, Beardart on Instagram.