Two years ago, I took a much-needed sabbatical following a year and a half in the start up trenches of San Francisco. I had accomplished what I needed with the product I was developing, but the city had taken its toll on me. Surfing had been my go to activity for recharging for over 20 years, so I planned a couple weeks near the water. Most of my surfing travels have taken me south to the Pacific mainland of Mexico with a few journeys as far down as Ecuador and Peru. This time, however, I was looking for something special. I decided to make the pilgrimage to Bali. As the trip started to take shape, I decided to add an additional 10 days in South Africa. It wasn’t to surf, rather a nine day Ayahuasca, San Pedro, and Iboga retreat. Nine days of the most advanced psycho-therapeutic experience on the planet followed by three weeks of integration/decompression surfing in one of the most epic settings imaginable. This was a proper sabbatical.
Oddly, the experience that left the biggest impression on me in Bali was not in the water. I had picked up a board at the local surf shop near Bingin Beach and had gone back to ask the owner about some other local breaks. No one was in the shop, so I wondered around the back of the building where I heard sounds coming from a small covered shed. As soon as I entered the space, I was filled with a profound sense of peace and stillness. When my eyes finally settled, I saw the owner shaping a surfboard. After the nine day retreat I was as energetically open and sensitive to my environment as I had been in years, and the vibe I picked up on in that shed was as pure and dense as I’d come across.
The rest of my time in Bali was full of great surf, great food, and great naps, but it wasn’t until I returned to my home in Austin, Texas where I had my creative vision. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I was just fooling around on my computer. My housemate, however, was busy building a custom speaker cabinet. My next thought was that my time on this planet would be much better spent if I were creating with my hands. Right then, I looked past my buddy onto the shelf behind him and focused on a small wave-like soap stone sculpture I had made a decade earlier. And that was my vision: stone wave sculptures.
It all just lined up from there. Using almost the same tools as a surfboard shaper, I would turn stones into waves. Now, even though I was landlocked in the heart of Texas, I could visualize waves, carve, and make art at the same time. Three years and 25 sculptures later, I can say the creative process to sculpting stone is as engaging as surfing itself (almost). The biggest difference is that I can carve stone for three to five hours straight while carving a wave usually only lasts a few seconds.
Accessing a flow state for such long periods has affected me on physical, psychological, and spiritual levels. Physically, working with stone is an intense process, as each stage has its own tools and feel. First is the raw relief cuts which require a diamond blade. I’ve found this phase particularly satisfying as it has a lot to do with pressure and rhythm. As a drummer, this is a familiar feel. Once I’ve scored an area into small squares, I use a hammer and chisel to chip off the stone pieces. The sound of metal hitting stone over and over is extremely hypnotic. After a couple hours of repeated scoring and chipping, my nervous system is about as blissed out and calm as ever. It’s definitely cathartic.
Once the larger pieces of stone have been removed and the shape of the wave starts to form, I switch to a curved angle grinder. The angle grinder is a unique tool and it’s in this stage where a lot of the magic happens. As my movements become more subtle, I bring my breath into acute awareness. It’s very similar to Tai Chi in that I’m harmonizing movement and breath into a meditative state. This state generally continues throughout the sanding process where I use both electric tools and hand techniques. Each level of sanding brings with it a more subtle feel, and there is definitely a musicality to my movements. By the end of the sanding process, my awareness is usually so heightened it’s almost like I can feel any irregularities in the stone like notes that are out of tune. A finished sculpture is then a composition created from harmonious and rhythmic movements of body and breath.
As a surfer, I think about waves all the time. I remember reading somewhere that waves are mother nature’s magnum opus, and I absolutely agree. Being out in the water watching the waves roll in, take shape, peak, break, and peel is some of the most beautiful imagery imaginable. Particularly, it is the moment the wave breaks, when the potential energy becomes kinetic, that is at the very core of my art — the shape that occurs the instant a swell becomes a wave.
The breaking wave is curved, it is beautiful, and it is powerful. These thoughts play on repeat in my head while I sculpt. The term “active imagination” is a process in Jungian psychology used to bridge the divide between one’s conscious and unconscious mind, and these concepts allow me to enter that space. Softness and fluidity are the basic elements necessary for a curve to take shape. Visualizing a curve is almost like bending time, which is key to unlocking the subconscious. While beauty is a little more esoteric, it creates the light for the journey within. The power comes from what is released. The act of chipping and grinding away hard stone into beautiful curves is the ultimate transformation. As I work, I am literally transforming old thoughts and emotions into more fluid beautiful ones. With each piece, I am trying to break through my sub conscious until I find peace in the shape of a wave in its purest form.
As an artist and surfer, I’ve found that my spirituality and style go hand in hand. The name I’ve chosen to give it is Mystic Naturalism. Naturalism from an artistic perspective means “a style and theory of representation based on the accurate depiction of nature,” and from a philosophical viewpoint believes that “reality is based on natural forces as opposed to the supernatural or spiritual.” However, whether through ayahuasca, surfing, music, or any other countless methods, I believe mystic and spiritual states are accessible. Thus, the term Mystic Naturalism creates a unique juxtaposition and a broader abstract aesthetic framework.
While my sculptures do have a figurative quality, they are more of an abstract representation of the emotions felt while experiencing a mystic state. Finding the perfect wave upon which to layer emotions derived from mystic states is my intention with each piece. It is a slow process of soul searching finding the shape, but the process itself is integral to my artistic expression. In the end, a piece is successful if moves the viewer to recall a mystic experience of their own or if they can take something new away entirely.
Much of my knowledge regarding the mystic approach to art comes from Wassily Kandinski’s book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” He believes that art can “unfold the human soul and lead it into receptivity of cosmic power and joy” –Hilla Rebay. Kandinski uses the term “Dance-Art” which is a combination of musical movement, pictorial movement, and physical movement as a means to achieve spiritual harmony. For me, the entire process of sculpting is a conscious spiritual pursuit with the purpose of expressing the moments of mystic beauty I have experienced surfing and beyond. Moving and breathing with rhythm as I dive into my subconscious with curved lines as my guide, my art is ultimately a meditation on beauty and becoming. My aim is to stir the souls of surfers and non-surfers alike.
Note: The author’s first gallery show is coming up in October, with opening night set for Friday September 29th, at the Parts & Labour Gallery on South Congress in Austin, TX. 5% of all profits on opening night will be donated to the Save Our Springs Alliance.
For interest or inquiries, visit www.stonewavesculptures.com or follow the author / artist on Instagram here.