ENCINITAS – It’s the second street art piece in the last two months to appear on the side of a seemingly nondescript wall somewhere in Encinitas by the anonymous street artist BERT.
This one, appearing in an alleyway on D Street and Coast Highway 101 across from the 7-Eleven, depicts professional surfer Adrian Buchan standing on a pile of heads, a sword in one hand, a tiki in the other and another head tucked under his arm. The word Teahupo’o
The piece reflects Buchannan’s most recent win in late August on the ASP World Champion Tour’s Billabong Pro in Teahupo’o, Tahiti.
Surfing and the ASP are the dominant themes in BERT’s work, which BERT said have been installed along the California coast, including the cities of San Clemente, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Hollywood, Malibu, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Kauai.
BERT street art began appearing about six months ago, starting with surfer Kelly Slater’s last minute heroics at Snapper in March of 2013, explained BERT through an email (the only way BERT would agree to an interview for anonymity purposes). “Since then BERT pieces have shown up within weeks of each contest.”
BERT said each piece reflects the most recent ASP World Championship Tours contest and only those who keep current on the trends and the industry understand it.
“I like placing art in the streets of Encinitas because the local community nerds out with me,” BERT said.
And would there be more pieces to come in Encinitas?
“Possibly, but I have never been one to localize a single break.”
When asked why BERT chose to remain anonymous, the artist said, “it’s not a choice.”
Does the moniker BERT have any specific meaning?
BERT is derived from Larry Bertlemann, one of surfing’s most innovative visionaries. From board design to competitive surfing, Bertlemann revolutionized the sport. In current street art trends where a single grotesque image is mass produced and placed in the streets for simple shock value without attention to placement or community, BERT attempts to revolutionize this trend by examining a specific culture and conducting a visual commentary represented in a series of one of a kind hand painted street artworks. Each piece is directly motivated by the organic currents of the ASP World Championship Tour.
Bertlemann brought the streets to surfing through skateboarding influenced maneuvers, BERT returns surfing to the streets through surf themed art.
Have there been more than two of your pieces to appear in Encinitas?
As of now there has only been two pieces installed in Encinitas. I like to spread it out. It gives me a chance to wander the California spreading artwork and surfing.
Is there one city more than another that you’ve created one of your pieces?
I’ve installed art in cities up and down the California coast When exploring new cities, I often see multiple walls that I want to hit. If I end up hitting one, but can’t get the other out of my mind, I’ll return. The wall outside the 711 in Encinitas is an example of this; it was only a matter of time before I returned. Encinitas has plenty of perfect canvases.
What was the deciding factor for you to do your first piece of street art?
Each contest presents a challenge and I get stoked on that. It’s a battle between myself and the unforeseen variables of a surfing contest, the creative ability to represent it visually and the ability to get it up in the streets. Everyone loves a challenge, but some don’t have the balls to confront it. I am stoked on it!
Did the “pranks” on the Cardiff Kook statue play a part in inspiring you to conduct your street art?
Maybe in its early days when it was still considered illegal. Now I hear it is common to see entire soccer teams decorating it during the middle of the day. Some of its mystery has been lost. I am stoked on the guerrilla approach to putting art in the streets. Sometimes you spend more time researching a wall and the surrounding area than actually creating the art. You develop a plan with all angles covered. The Surfing Madonna in Encinitas is a perfect example. The artist showed up with an assistant, both in construction suits and everything prepped in advance. It’s all about staying just in front of the foamball.
Is there a commentary on the surfing community based on your works?
Each piece is like a riddle. Without surf trend and industry knowledge, most people won’t get it. I want people to look beyond the face value and reference the ASP WCT. Communities current on surfing trends and industry news are going to pick up on the message. It’s surf nerdy, but deeper than putting some boobs on a bunny and pasting it in the streets for shallow shock value.
Why do the work if you know that it will only be painted over?
Anyone can design, cut and spray a stencil in their garage, but it takes another level to get it up in the streets. The nature of street art is ephemeral. It has a life span like any living thing. It can go at any time, but most of us hope for longevity. Weather, street art collectors and the buffman are all things that can reduce the life span of a piece. It’s just part of the game.
What is your painting background?
My painting background is the urban wall I place my art on. It’s the streets and the community that stumble upon my work. The background is just as important as the foreground. And yes, I have been painting for a long time.
How do you choose where to create your street art?
The color and surface of the wall, the surrounding community and the angle that the art will be viewed by the public are all factors. You put yourself in a vulnerable place when placing art in the streets. You never know what’s swimming below.
Is it hard or getting harder to do street art pieces without being seen?
I’m not going to surf J Bay with a giant chunk of meat attached to my leg. Street art puts you in a sketchy moment where you don’t know what is swimming around the corner. You do your best research and even though you love the rush, you look forward to getting back to the shore unharmed.
What has been the reception to your work in Encinitas?
My personal interaction with each community is limited, but Encinitas has reached out to me on a number of occasions. Locals like T-Sherms and his son have been supporters from the beginning. They have had conversations with Slater about my art while in Bali and have searched the Encinitas streets for hidden BERT sticker packages. Univ on the Coast Highway in Encinitas is cool too. I think the Cardiff Kook and the Surfing Madonna have shined some light on street art and helped create an interest in this art form in Encinitas.
How do you know if your work is well-received or instead considered graffiti?
There will always be those who see it as vandalism, but there are also those who request BERT pieces on their walls. It’s all about balance.
How quickly do you turn around a piece once an ASP contest is over?
The initial idea, the production of the piece, the research into a community and wall and the travel accommodations all take time. I don’t rush anything, but I don’t miss anything either.
Do you live in Encinitas?
If I am not in the ocean, I live in the shadows of coastal California communities up and down the coast.
Is street art good for the community? If so, why?
I’d love to invest more time on that question, but I am looking at my Cardiff Kook calendar right now and see that I better get training for the upcoming Surfing Madonna 5k later this year and the Cardiff Kook Run early next year.