Life & Art Writer
UM Surfrider Prez
It’s cool to be a surfer.
No, scratch that. It’s damn really cool to pose as a surfer and then make lots of money off your acting job. Just ask the thousands of models who take off their shirts and tuck surfboards under their arms in ads for companies like Target, Abercrombie, and even Washington Mutual. Ask the media giants who cash in on the current surf explosion by making TV shows like “Surf Girls” and movies like Blue Crush. Or, better yet, go visit artist Ryan Humphrey’s Thrill Seeker at Rocket Projects in downtown Miami.
In the exhibit, the NYC-based artist seemingly attempts to focus on the simplest and most pure aspect of surfing – the ride itself – and such a stance would suggest that Humphrey is a surfing purist, a soul-searching beach bum trying to clear his head of surfing’s recent capitalistic boom and simply enjoy the feeling of wax beneath his bare toes.
Wrong. Humphrey is a rosy-cheeked, fair skinned, four-eyed, chubby Ohio native who claims he grew up surfing on Lake Erie. It’s practically impossible to not vomit at the sheer phoniness of the pieces in Thrill Seeker. Neon duotones of not waves, but calm water, line the main wall of the gallery, sprinkled with finely grinded glass, probably taken from the heaps of broken RC Cola bottles lining all of the walls. Humphrey says that the glass served to show the grit of the debris-laden lakes in which he learned to surf, but became hostile, rather than nostalgic, when UM junior and master rapper MC Arjun began to rhyme words with RC Cola. Small pencil sketches of curling waves accompany the duotones and it’s clear that Humphrey is sketching from Quiksilver ads and not past experiences.
Pick the glass shards out of your eyes and move to the rear of the gallery, but make sure you don’t miss the pair of old school boards tacked up on the wall and branded with the “Humphrey Industries” logo, the same logo found sandwiched between the artist’s unbuttoned pink dress shirt and on shirts that were for sale to the public. Isn’t this exhibit about surfing?
In an effort to break away from commercialization, he did the exact opposite by cashing in, creating his own brand and giving you less of a pure surfing experience than the time you bought a surfboard at Costco. Give it up, Humphrey. You’re just as bad as that stupid bitch on Surf Girls who cried all the time and never even caught a wave.
And at least she was hot.
L&A: I’m sure you are familiar with Shepard Fairey. Do you agree with his mix of branding and art and how do you think that you differ from him?
Hump: Well I don’t know if I agree with it, but he’s the one guy out of all the neo graffiti guys who is able to take a very simple idea and take it to literally giant proportions. I mean, you can go to anyplace in the Midwest and find one of his stickers on a tollbooth. There’s not much of holding power for me and there’s not a lot of interest beyond that phenomenon that he’s created, but I think that’s the point of the work.
L&A: Are you trying to go the same route as him?
Hump: No, not at all. I do T-shirts pretty much specifically for each show. It started as a healing process for the mass marketing of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren and that sort of thing. You know the elevator guy who always helps me with my show, he gets a shirt. I’m not really interested in making editions of skateboards and that sort of thing b/c it’s not about the graphic, it’s not about the branding, it’s not about the name, it’s about the activity of skateboarding. It’s not about the object.
L&A: I understand that you learned to surf in Lake Erie. Do you still surf now?
Hump: I hadn’t for about six years since I moved to NY, but I did have a show up in the Hamptons last summer and I got a board, a longboard, but, uh, yeah…I mean, I grew up in Ohio. I was never that good. I was a complete kook. But I understand it enough to know its value. I also grew up in a much more urban environment in a way, so surfing was just an extension of skateboarding for me.
L&A: So why an exhibit on surfing?
Hump: Surfing is a different thing. It’s tomatoes, tomaaatoes in a way. People really diss rollerbladers and stuff, but I’m sure that there’s somebody somewhere who can take a shopping cart to a skatepark and figure out someway to ride it. For me, it’s not about team sports or anything. That’s a whole other chapter in my life. So the focus on surfing rather than skateboarding is to make a cohesive statement. This is just one show and I’m going to have another show with skateboarding, I’m doing some other stuff with BMX that will be shown next year. Hit on one thing, do it well, move on to the next thing – the scorched earth policy. You don’t want to confuse people.
Yeah…OK, Humphrey…Go see Thrill Seeker at Rocket Projects, 3440 N. Miami Ave., if you really want to. 305-576-6082.