An interview with surf artist Jeffrey Hemming

Hi Jeff, how are you and where are you today?

I am well! Currently, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I work with a few galleries here and one in Hawaii. I currently teach digital photo and video production in high school full time. Married with twin girls. I grew up in California and moved to Hawaii when I was 18. I lived there for about 12 years until moving to Florida. I’ve taught art at Florida State, UC Santa Cruz, and Cabrillo College. I also teach with the Yosemite Conservancy each summer.

Has your relationship with the ocean always been significant? What sparked your interest in the surf scene?

I was always interested in the ocean. My father got me surfing in 5th grade and we would make summer trips to San Clemente and Newport. In high school, I started surfing on my own in Santa Cruz. At that time the Wyland and Lassen art was blowing up along the coast. I loved anything ocean and surf related. I was doing underwater paintings in oil as a high school student. This was all pre-internet so my reference to images was books and magazines that I could find. My mind kind of got blown when I moved to Hawaii in 96. I got to see huge waves first hand and up close. I remember vividly pulling up to rocky rights on the north shore during a 6-foot swell and watching these epic waves crashing on the reef. They seemed so close and fast. Bright green and blue. It was amazing. I lived on the North Shore for about 5 years at Rocky Point, right between Sunset and Pipeline. The surf scene was such a visual and emotional thing to be a part of. So many different factors play into the scene. It’s crazy. 

How do you approach the blank canvas? Do you have a creative vision and process you follow with each new piece of art?

My approach to art is always changing. Almost all of my ocean and island paintings have been influenced by locations I have lived or surf trips. One thing I try to convey in my work is the different textures and moods of the ocean. I love tropical islands and ocean life. People are drawn to islands for different reasons, some are looking for adventure, some are looking for escape, some are looking for isolation. These themes mixed with the influence of surf culture fueled my art practice. I think more recently my work has been reflecting the seclusion that is sought after either on an island or on a wave. I also work in other genres of work, abstract and landscape. It’s hard to just work in one genre of art for me. I like being able to change my subject and style. 

Do you have any strong artistic influences, and what are your favourite mediums? 

I usually paint in oil but recently have started drawing with charcoal on paper. Some of my biggest influences have been old landscape painters. The Hudson school, and early European landscape painters. I also really like the work of John Register and Andrew Wyeth. As far as ocean influences I really like the work of Robert Lyn Nelson growing up and some of the Caribbean paintings by Winslow Homer. 

What keeps you motivated? Do you have any daily rituals that maintain your artistic flow?

To be honest motivation has been pretty hard lately. I teach full time and have twin 3 year old girls that get huge amounts of attention. I don’t paint as much as I did a few years ago but I don’t stress it. It gives me more time to experience life and not worry about myself. There will always be time for creating work. If I’m not painting I’m stockpiling ideas that will eventually make it to the canvas. I’m in my 40s now and know that timing plays a crucial role in everything we do. Forcing things to happen sometimes works, but usually, a painting will get finished on its own time. I don’t really have any rituals for getting work done. There have been times where I’ve been trying to finish a painting with a kid on my lap trying to comb out her dolly’s hair while trying to feed her lunch. Painting right now is the sand that fills in the cracks around the rocks of existence. 

For creative people out there contemplating following a less conventional path, and dedicating time to their craft, any words of advice?

Words of advice to people who wish to pursue a creative field. I think you really need to decide early what you want to do and have a plan to get there. If you want to go the gallery route you need a plan. If you want to go the new media route, you need a plan. I’d say its best to surround yourself with people that support you and can guide you. My parents were not in the creative field and I never had any idea what I was doing. It really helps to be open to feedback from people. Most of the time my feedback came from roommates I lived with. I always (and still do) struggle with the idea of making a thing. Essentially when you make art you are only making an object. That object holds a different meaning to different people. You show an Ad Reinhardt painting to someone on the street they may not think much of it. The value of artwork is sometimes lost in visual stimulation but artists need to realize that they do have the power to influence thoughts and feelings. 

How can people connect with you and find out more?

Best way to get ahold of me is through my website or email. I sell through a few galleries but mostly work on a commission basis.