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A Surfer’s Perspective: artist Erik Abel


Artist Erik Abel


“Having my life revolve around the ocean seems to have a comfortable rhythm,” says surf artist Erik Abel.

Based in Ventura, California, Erik surfs, makes art and travels. He comes from a coastline rich in the history of melding surfing and art, of surfers drawing inspiration from the ocean to tell their story through visual expression. But, how does surf art differ from other art forms?

Erik explains: “Surf art has waves and surfers in it and is usually painted by somebody who loves riding waves. Maybe that’s the only difference; only a surfer can really make surf art. I kinda like that.”

Visual exploration is a key theme in the artist’s highly stylized and graphic, ocean-related art, which is created on wood with acrylic, markers, colored pencils and other media.

“My art is mostly simple and direct. The color, shape and composition take charge over meaning or content. I’m a very visual person,” he says.

“My eyes need to be stimulated when I look at something not my brain. My brain gets enough exercise when I close my eyes at night…I need art to calm me down and keep me sane with nice pretty colors and big shapes.”

Erik’s work is found enlivening not only the walls of surfers but the advertising and products of creatively inspired surf and skate companies, including the promotional artwork for this month’s world surfing tour event, the Reef Hawaiian Pro, which features the newly crowned 11-times world champion, Kelly Slater.

A line of skateboard graphics for a new US company are in the pipeline and Erik is the next artist to feature in a new t-shirt line for Ventura’s Coastal Classics.

And, stretching the traditional concept of the canvas, Erik is fresh from a live art showcase at the Sacred Craft Surfboard Expo in Del Mar, in which he live-painted a surfboard as part of The Board Art Benefit – A Surfer’s Perspective.

Surf Art by Erik Abel

The Board Art Benefit, was held in aid of the charity, SurfAid International, and brought together 26 of the world’s leading surf artists and surfboard shapers, including the legendary surfer and shaper, Gerry Lopes. The collaboration saw artist and shaper partner to create live art on 13 surfboards, all of which will now be auctioned in coming months.

Erik teamed up with local Ventura surfboard shaper, Robert Weiner of Roberts Surfboards, for the event. Together they helped to raise much-needed funding so SurfAid can continue to deliver its community-based health and emergency response programs to isolated communities in the Mentawai, Nias, Telo and Banyak islands. Many of these communities have been devastated by numerous natural disasters, including the Boxing Day Tsunami (December 2004), Nias Earthquake (March 2005), Mentawai Earthquakes (September 2007), Padang Earthquake (September 2009) and Mentawai Tsunami (October 2010).

Of the Board Art Benefit Randal Schober, Executive Director of SurfAid International USA said: “We were honored to have Erik and other prominent surf artists be a part of the recent Board Art Benefit. The unique collaboration of board shaper and artist attracted thousands of interested attendees and brought awareness to our mission. We are very appreciative to Erik and the other artists for generously donating their time and talent to support SurfAid.“

The not-for-profit organization was founded by physcian and surfer, Dr Dave Jenkins in 1999 after an eye-opening surf trip to the Mentawais when he found he was the first doctor to ever step foot in an isolated local village and found women and children dying from malaria, malnutrition and inadequate living standards – things that he knew were treatable and preventable.

Photo by Michael Lawrence for Surfaid

While Erik is inspired by the natural world, he says that it is also inspiring to think about the effect art can have on modern culture and beyond, which is why it’s important for him to support the work of SurfAid.

“It takes honesty, compassion, and integrity to start an organization that goes into isolated areas to help with basic needs, especially after big natural disasters. It is respectful and inspiring to know that there are companies and people out there who actually give a damn,” he says.

In line with his philosophy of the potential for art to positively impact the world he has also launched the Fish Outta Water Project, in which he leaves free artwork in public places, encouraging strangers to take them.

In between his busy professional schedule and community projects, however, there will always be time for his biggest inspiration, surfing, Erik says.

“The surfing lifestyle will always be the biggest influence in my life until I am unable to surf anymore. There is nothing more exciting than going to a different country and culture to hunt waves.”

As they say, only a surfer knows the feeling.

Erik Abel’s public art project | Fish Outta Water Project

Roberts Surfboards |

Board Art Benefit |

Songcraft and Sustainability: musician Victoria Vox


Victoria Vox

As a personal challenge and a gift to enthusiastic fans, Victoria Vox is recording 52 songs in 52 weeks. “The 52 Covers Project” features the singer-songwriter, her ukulele, and a more unusual instrument: the mouth trumpet.

Why mouth trumpet? Vox laughs about this. “In 2005 I performed 200 shows. I drove around the country all by myself. That’s a lot of alone time. I started writing a tune that had a jazz form and it really called for a solo of some sort.” Naturally, mouth trumpet came out.

Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Vox now lives in Baltimore, traveling to give workshops and performing more than 125 shows a year. Her repertoire is an eclectic, all-acoustic mix of folk, contemporary, and jazz, while her ukulele style ranges into surprising, alternative rhythms and themes.

Vox has attracted a stream of accolades and awards. This summer, her album, “Exact Change” won the “Vox Pop” vote for Best Adult Contemporary Album at the Tenth Annual Independent Music Awards. At the same time, she has been exceptionally good at relating directly with fans. Those fans have responded by funding three albums since 2006.

Recognition has also encouraged Vox to donate a portion of her CD sales to 1% for the Planet. A non-profit organization, 1% is actually a network of companies, all donating 1% of their sales to environmental organizations worldwide. Vox said that she had always been environmentally conscious, but felt she could do more. “I decided to use my music to create awareness about the environment, mostly through the decisions I make as a business owner.”

She continually seeks new ways to promote environmental awareness. Last year, Vox began taking mass transit to many of her gigs. Then, in October of 2011, she joined Team 1% in a 320-mile bicycle event called Climate Ride to fight climate change and support sustainable solutions.

As fans say, “Stay tuned.” Vox shows no signs of slowing–not in creative innovation nor in active support of the causes she loves.

Victoria VoxFacebookYouTube | Twitter

Climate Ride |  Climate Ride

So Much to Tell: playwright Raúl Dorantes


On a September evening in one of Chicago’s oldest but least gentrified neighborhoods, two actors step onto a small platform stage and assume character. A hand-painted mural, a map of the US-Mexico border, provides the set. Above it a black and white video begins, with English super-titles. The play is De Camino al Ahorita (the way to the present moment), by Raúl Dorantes. It is presented in Spanish, in a community gallery named Calles y Suenos, in the Mexican-American neighborhood called Pilsen.

Two characters encounter each other here, in a remote desert and intense August heat. One is a young man on his way into the U.S. to find work and realize his ambitions, while the other is an older man retracing his steps back to Mexico after losing nearly all he valued in pursuit of success. One believes in the promise of America, the other is fleeing its dystopian backstory. Together, they are like a dog chasing its own tail. The absurdity is clear but amplified by the simultaneous, almost hallucinatory video segments of souls crossing over from life to death.

Near the end of the play, a third character enters the scene. He is an overly-aggressive border patrol agent with unapparent Latino heritage. His arrival induces confrontation between characters, just as it amplifies the questions: Who is illegal? What is asylum? In answer, the play exposes the ultimate dictator, hunger, and the ultimate lesson, that apparently disparate lives are deeply interconnected.

This play was written for people in this Mexican-American community and beyond, for anyone who knows or cares to know about the immigrant’s struggle between economics (survival and success) and identity. After its closing in Pilsen, it was presented to an audience of 170 at Northeastern Illinois University. It is so like Dorantes to begin at the center and expand.

Actor, JJ Romero in De Camino al Ahorita

In 1992, playwright and author Raúl Dorantes began publishing literary journals in Chicago. His focus was on poetry that explored internal consciousness and experience. That journal continued for three years while Dorantes conducted literary workshops for youth and began a career teaching Spanish. He continues to teach Spanish Language and Hispanic Literature in two Chicago-area colleges.

Dorantes’ own writing has long explored immigration and identity. He reflects deeply on the process of his own changing identity, the identity carried from his native country as it has undergone adaptation and transformation. As he explains, “There is a moment when the identity of the immigrant takes the first row and the Mexican identity moves to the second row. When we want to probe that we are still Mexican, that establishes the moment in which immigrant identity moves to the front. Probably we are not conscious about that shift.”

He has also embraced the shared experiences of immigration as co-founder of the literary journals, Zorros y Erizos (Foxes and Hedgehogs) and Tropel (Herd of Wild Horses). Dorantes has also co-written a book of essays with Febronio Zatarain, titled, Y Nos Vinimos de Mojados: Cultura Mexicana en Chicago (And We Came in Wet: Mexican Culture in Chicago). His continuing journalistic work on the national magazine, Contratiempo, concerns broader Latino culture.

In 2007, Dorantes accepted a pivotal challenge–to write for the Chicago theater company, Aguilon. The resulting play was so successful that it was also presented at the prestigious Goodman Theater. Dorantes’ work as a playwright had gained momentum and he went on to write plays for the theater group, Colectivo el Pozo. The Chicago Reader designated his most recent play a “Critic’s Choice” on its short list of recommendations.

Teacher, cultural activist, and writer, Dorantes’ work itself serves the purposes of several local organizations, but the proceeds from his work as a playwright often go to directly support them. Colectivo el Pozo, Calles y Suenos, Casa Aztlan, Contratiempo–all four are non-profits to which he has made a significant contribution of time, creativity, or proceeds. All are small non-profit organizations with a mission to cultivate and disseminate Latino arts to a broad spectrum of Latino communities.

Speaking of his dedication to these causes, he explained, “Art is probably one of the best ways to become aware of many things, including being aware of our constantly-changing identity.”

Dorantes says his next work will be a play called Incas, about gay culture in the Latino communities of Chicago. Still, he says, “I want to be writing and producing plays about immigrants (not just Mexicans) living in the United States. I think there is so much to tell.”


Pictured above: Actor, Marco Polo Soto; Director, Ignacio Guevara; Playwright, Raúl Dorantes.


more about Raul Dorantes | profile by Arte Y Vida Chicago

Calles y Suenos-Chicago | MySpace Page | Facebook Page
Calles y Suenos-Chicago provides an alternative arts space for exhibition, performing arts, music, film and cultural workshops for the Latino community. A Latino Internationalist community, it works to sustain collaboration and cultural exchange among the diverse Latino communities in Chicago with its sister organizatons in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Casa Aztlan is an educational and social center that offers cultural activities, community service opportunities, leadership development services for youth, adult education, citizenship assistance, emergency services, and community organizing. Casa Aztlan is also on the vanguard of the human rights movement and immigrants’ civil rights.

The mission of Contratiempo is to inform and educate, while creating awareness among Latino communities about the culture, literature, politics and other topics relevant to their daily lives as immigrants in the United States. Its programs include a publishing house, cultural events, literary workshops, a Narrative in Spanish prize, and the publication that gave rise to the organization, the journal, Revista Contratiempo.

Collectivo el Pozo | Facebook Page
Colectivo el Pozo (The Well) is composed of a group of storytellers, poets, and other artists. Together, they produce theatre works written by local authors who write in Spanish. El Pozo promotes the diverse themes of Latin-American immigrants living in the United States.