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An Artistic Celebration of Women Surfers

Visit this month's "Women of Surfing" exhibit at the Huntington Beach Art Center

This summer, the Huntington Beach Art Center is honoring women surfers and artists with a new exhibit called, "Women of Surfing: Art and History," in which female creatives from around the world are showcasing their artwork.

In a recent statement, exhibit curator Phil Roberts explains how the show explores, "the intimate relationship between the ocean and the sport and pastime of surfing through the creative lens of women who have spent their lives in the waves." By turning the spotlight onto female ocean-minded artists, the surf and art community is able to see and hear the perspective of this demographic and their collective voice, which celebrates the power and joy found in the ocean, while also expressing a fear for its future.

The artists with work on display come from a variety of backgrounds, two of whom make their living wielding surfboards rather than paintbrushes or cameras. ‘CT surfer Sage Erickson has two surfboards on display. On the decks of each she drew matching lions, and on one she sketched the word "courage" in a vibrant blue hue that contrasts the animal's orange, fiery mane.

Courtney Conlogue is another Tour surfer with artwork on display, including her untitled acrylic painting of an ominous-looking righthand barrel. This may be Conlogue's first art show, but her work fits perfectly in a room filled with other talented professionals. "Surfing and the arts are really similar: one is dancing on the water and the other is being creative on a canvass," explained Conlogue. "It was really fun to bring out the paints again. Most museums only have 15% women artists, but to have all female artists was really empowering."

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Adjacent to Conlogue's piece is an installation by Nancy Tabeling, titled "Swimming in Plastic." Tabeling, an artist and found-object sculptor, created a wave made out of plastic bottles, dolls and other rubbish that she collected in Baja. "I live at K38 so that’s where 98% of the trash [in this piece] is from," Tabeling explained, "Eventually I started running out of green bottles for the sculpture and had to go looking at other beaches. My piece hangs to remind viewers to visually connect the dots between 'conscious consumption' and mindless consumption of throwaway plastics."

Towards the back of the gallery, Blakeney Sanford's installation, "Ocean's Embrace," is a life-size incarnation of a barreling wave. Sanford, a surfer and sculptor, used 125 hand-poured, tinted resin panels and hung them from the ceiling, 11 feet above the ground. These panels create the effect of an idyllic-looking tube, one that embraces the viewer as they approach the inside of the barrel from a parallel perspective. As the light reflects through the resin, Sanford's panels mimic the familiar reflections of the ocean.

No surf-inspired art show would be complete without including the work of surf photographers. From pioneer Elizabeth Pepin Silva, who is credited as the first female photographer to use an underwater housing, to the fearless 18-year-old Australian Shannon Glasson who swims out at Ours, the photos exhibited represent the progress and advancements that female surf photographers have made with their craft.

Big-wave photographer and documentary filmmaker Sachi Cunningham also has several photos on display. "This show was particularly special given the international scope and the focus on women in the surf photo and art community," said Cunningham. "Women have a valuable and unique perspective to contribute to the culture that has been mostly ignored by the commercial surf industry. I hope to see our collective voice continue to thrive and ultimately share a more complete picture of what surf culture is all about."

Joni Sternbach is the artist behind the main exhibition image, aptly named "Water Connection," which features a chain of female surfers linked arm-in-arm together. The image is a wet plate collodion tintype that perfectly captures the essence of the show, combining energies of new and old, classic and innovative, and most importantly, the connections between women that are forged in the water.

The exhibit is on display until September 2nd. For more information visit the exhibition website here.

[Mantle image: The Woman and the Waves, Triptych, Joni Sternbach, Tintype, 2015, 14 x 11 inches; All images courtesy of the Huntington Beach Art Center]