“Art is easier than breathing for me,” Phil Roberts, surf artist, movie illustrator, and water park designer says about his addiction to creation.
From a young age, Roberts was groomed to be an artist along the beaches and boardwalks of Melbourne, Florida. He drew caricatures of rolling waves as surfers painted long, drawn out lines on wave faces; he also drew portraits of famous Florida wave riders.
Growing up in the sun and the sand was an inspiration to Roberts, who was awestruck by the way the world came together before his eyes: colorful, majestic and magical. At the spry age of 66, he is still painting, sculpting, and illustrating as often as his younger years, always experimenting with new techniques.
“It’s funny. I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what my style is,” Roberts said. “I paint what is interesting to me and what I like, but my design aesthetics are based in nature. I find all the answers for everything that I need.”
No matter what, Roberts keeps going back to the vast ocean oasis he grew up with for inspiration.
“It’s just this amazing phenomenon of invisible energy making these waves come in and mold them perfectly into shapes,” he said. “Enjoying the ocean puts me in a transcendental state and trance which fires up my imagination. Before I know it, I’m thinking of all kinds of paintings.”
Although he is a formalistic painter and sculptor, Roberts says he couldn’t imagine a world where surfing and art weren’t intertwined like they are so effortlessly today.
“Art and surfing are married,” he said. “Surfboard shapers are sculptors. Every surfer is an artist. When he’s not surfing, he’s got his ballpoint pen and he’s doodling pictures of waves.” For Roberts, his personal expression through surfing ignites all sorts of feelings in him that are then shown in paintings, sculptures, and drawings.
“Surfing is just a form of dance. It’s so Christlike because you are walking on water. It’s ridiculous when you are watching the reef fly beneath you, and you are just gliding,” Roberts said.
Roberts even uses art to demonstrate his philosophies for life. For example, he finds the process of sculpting and surfing shockingly similar. When creating molding a piece of work, the sculptor must step aside to allow the figure’s identity to completely come into the clay, while also leaving a personal mark of the artist. Roberts feels the same way about surfing.
“The wave is its own entity. The wave will change and evolve as you are surfing,” Roberts said. “Not only do you make your own mark, but you also have to step aside from yourself and allow the wave to be the wave. When the two of you are dancing together, you respect the wave, but you still have your personality, it turns into a really beautiful thing.”
“Life has a strange way of putting you exactly where you are supposed to be, to do what you are supposed to do. I see that occur in my life all the time. Being at the right place, at the right time and the right moment for a new change, a new shift, a new paradigm a new person to collaborate with.”
After cartoons and caricatures, Melbourne shapers such as Mike Tabeling and Dick Catri passed Roberts’ painting talents from factory to factory where he was employed to spray paint surfboards. Through his involvement in the shaping scene, other employees would indulge in surf speak during breaks and lunch time. Ideas sprouted and soon experimentation and innovation began with different shapes, bottoms, fins and stringers.
“I’m seeing all of that experimental thinking, in a whole new generation of shapers now. I’ve seen them come up with stuff, that I say ‘Yeah, we did that in the 1970’s and this is as far as we got.’ With the new technology, it’s opened up the world again to all kinds of innovation.”
Because of his immediate entrance into these exciting social circles filled with new ideas for surfing, Roberts developed a strong friendship with Tom Morey, the inventor of the boogie board. Through their mentor/mentee relationship, Roberts looks forward to gracing future innovators of surfing, art and thinking with inspiration.
“I live for sharing the ocean with other people,” Roberts said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the people that loved my artwork. I was raised by the community. I am successful because the community made me successful. I’m forever grateful for that. I am excited to pass that along to the new generation.”