Wayne French is a surf artist from New South Wales, Australia, whose ocean-inspired art has received widespread acclaim. There is a universal appeal in Wayne’s work, each canvas drawing the viewer into pristine worlds that pulsate with nature’s energy.
Next time you wish to fill a blank space on one of your walls, consider how one of his creations might bring perfect barrels and cosmic skies into your room.
We met with Wayne to talk about surf, art and inspiration.
Hi Wayne, we love the breadth of your work, from the perfect wave in “Two Worlds” to your surrealist rainbow “Shaka”. How did you develop your craft and do you have any major influences?
I have been painting for over 40 years and professionally for 10 of them. I can remember getting in trouble at school for drawing waves on books, tables etc.
Because I am self taught, I have continually experimented on the effect I was after, and still do, as there were really not that many artists doing what I wanted in a kind of realistic style. I think being a surfer brings you closer to the subject, maybe that’s why many seascape artists fail at painting waves properly.
Growing up, I was influenced by artists such as Rick Griffen, Martin Worthington (even though they mainly used spray guns) and Ainslie Roberts, who painted the dreamtime stories, really opened me up to not only the Aboriginal culture, but also his breath-taking skills with the brush. Ainslie opened me to the world of Surrealism, which to me is a powerful way of statement.
There’s a real sense of the interaction between nature’s elements in your work. The cosmos and the ocean seem to mirror each other in “Last Wave” and there’s an incredible purity in your seascapes. How would you describe your relationship with nature?
That’s a great question. You know I believe us and nature are really one, it’s just a lot of people don’t know it. We both pretty much have been created with the same elements in us, especially sea water. The cosmos and the oceans are also together, the moon effects the tides and the energy that runs through the ocean creating the many breaking waves that we love. It’s all cyclic and intertwined and it drives me to create. I guess it’s a creator in all this purity, just take out religion.
There’s a refreshing absence of surfers riding the waves that you paint. Is this because the waves are yours, or do you simply prefer them unridden?
When I was younger I used to paint a lot of surfers in waves. As I become closer to the subject, I felt humans kind of spoilt it for me. Now there are a lot of good surf artists that paint surfers in their scenes well, don’t get me wrong, and I also appreciate that, but we all eventually take our own directions with our art.
kind of thing, to be able to have a private window to the scene. I also wanted not to be labelled just a surf artist, even though it crosses into the subject. I also love to paint the bush, as they both were my life where I grew up in the Royal National Park.
How can surf art benefit people?
It’s great to now see surf art accepted into the mainstream art world. No longer can the calibre of artists be denied this. We are surrounded by the sea and surfing is now growing and growing in popularity. Surf and ocean art is now starting to be seen hanging in both domestic and corporate walls as mums, dads, kids, tradesmen and all types of professional people want art that speaks to them.
It’s also a very healing thing to have when you are stuck in an office all day, when you turn around and lose your self in the painting on the wall for a few minutes.
What’s your morning routine like? Do you have any rituals that ease you into the creative zone?
Ah yes, well I like to start with a surf if possible before settling into the zone – and then its the music I put on to suit the zone as well.
If you could exhibit with any three artists, with whom would you share the stage?
Well, I am about to have a joint exhibition with fellow surf mate and wood sculptor Wayne Haworth in November. Anyone who shares my passion through their work would be considered. But you did ask for three so maybe Phil Roberts, my daughter who is an amazing artist – Hannah French, and Martin Worthington.
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, your favourite brushes and paint. Where would you most like to go – and why?
Somehow I would smuggle in a couple of surfboards for the stay haha. Any place where it’s tropical – say a nice big hut on the beach, hardly anyone around. I would love to stay and paint in Tahiti, as I could go all day painting those reefs and ocean. I love good people but I could do this alone for a few weeks.
If you didn’t become a surf artist and had pursued a traditional type of work, what would you be doing?
I do a bit of part time work as a disability support worker, teaching painting and activities, so either that full time, or in the field of Osteopathy perhaps.
Any words of advice for people who dream of pursuing a creative vocation, but are afraid of failing?
Practice, read and learn your craft. Get good at what you do. Get honest criticism off many people, don’t come out too early. I see it all the time, artists fail because of this.
Set up stalls at markets, then festivals, and get an informative website happening with a Facebook page. Try cafes and restaurants, try for good honest representation from a gallery, but they are getting harder to find. Get the press involved, radio and the good old local papers in on it. You are now in the visual world, so get your work out there but stay in control of sales.