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Hello, BERT

An interview with surfing's strangest street artist

There is really only one place in the U.S. where street art portraying pro surfing victories could possibly gain the attention of passersby, and that place is Southern California. Following each World Tour event in the 2013 season, an anon artist called BERT chose a blank wall of a building somewhere near the I-5 to throw up a stenciled painting of the contest’s triumphant victor. BERT’s work kinda looks like that of famed British street artist Banksy, if Banksy stopped painting biting social commentaries and instead began to obsess over the really important questions, like, who won the Quik Pro France? Intrigued, I caught up with BERT over e-mail.

Do you have a day job?
I had one of those once, but spent more time watching webcasts than working.

Do you only do surf scenes? If so, why? Any plans to take on other themes?

I have experimented with other themes in the past including politics, environmental concerns, and celebrities, but whether out in the water or with a sketchpad in hand, surfing is where I find my stoke. BERT fuses my passion of surfing, where there is a blank canvas on every corner.

The Dustin Barca piece I painted of Monsanto taking a kick to the face is an example of how I involve BERT with other themes. GMO corporations try to mask their evils, but the streets don’t lie. Barca is doing an amazing job taking his message to the masses, to the people and the council of his community. I was amped on the opportunity to help spread the word and ended up installing one of the two pieces on Barca’s front fence in Kauai.

Are you inspired by any particular street artist? There’s a well-known street artist in Copenhagen called Bert. Any inspiration or relation there?

Putting art in the streets is like surfing. You can put art up anywhere once you learn the basic skills, but you are not going to charge the facade of the Huntington Beach Police Station until you have honed your skills, both logistically and artistically. I find inspiration in artists that hit the streets with thought out campaigns rather than mindless single images. I’m stoked on Banksy, Shepard Fairy, D*Face, Mark Jenkins, and mobstr.

I recently found out about Bert from Copenhagen. His wood installations are cool, but nothing I find inspiration in. I did put up my first wood BERT installation over the I-5 in San Clemente last fall, during the Hurley Pro.

Do you have an art/design background? Did you do any street art before the 2013 World Tour season?

Along with a surfboard and a skateboard, I grew up with a pencil in my hand. Design was eventually mixed in and before I knew it, I found myself spending most of my time on the streets. The life of an artist.

How do you choose the location for your pieces?

I like to frame my street work the same way I frame my canvas work. I look for blank walls that can make a figure pop. Almost every BERT piece I have done has been off Highway 101. It’s important to put art in communities that are going to relate to it. I try to find walls in surf communities, plus there is no better way to celebrate a successful piece than with a quick celebratory surf. I scored some fun waves at the Oceanside Pier just after putting up my "Taj Burrow: The Biggest Grom on Tour" piece.

Are all of your pieces still up? How long do they typically last?

It’s an ongoing game trying to find clean canvas-like walls that provide great exposure while avoiding the police. It’s a fine line, but once you score that long ride, it makes up for all the closeouts. As far as I know, my first BERT piece, titled "Slater Hater," is still up at Trestles. Some pieces last long and some don't. It’s the nature of the game. It does suck when a piece comes down fast like the piece in Huntington Beach called "The Surf World Arrives on Brett Simpson’s Doorstep," but you can’t get caught up in it.

Ever been caught in the act?

Every street artist has been caught in the act. The good ones are able to talk their way out of it.

Tell us about your method and preferred media. Do you work alone? At night?

All my pieces are hand painted in acrylic and completed with a single black stencil. This gives them a round look that allows the image to pop off the wall, but still the hard-edged stencil look that I have always been stoked on. I like uncrowded breaks, and if there is enough light, I will work no matter the time of the day.

What’s your favorite piece from this year?

It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite. I put so much time and effort into each one, so it’d be like picking your favorite child. I drift toward the piece titled ‘Ace’s Pile of Severed Heads’ because the design is tight and it was also the sketchiest piece to get up. It’s hard to beat getting something up on Barca’s house though.

What’s happening for you in 2014?

2013 has been a crazy year. To get up 19 pieces in less than a year is no easy task, let alone pulling it off without getting busted. 2014 is going to be bigger. There are lots of projects in the works, some even taking me to Europe. I am about release the first BERT limited edition print. I am stoked on that and will be doing more print releases of select designs in the future.

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