Investigating the intricate relationship between human beings and their surroundings has been a lifelong passion for artist and designer Lisa Carroll. Carroll brings this passion to bear on her artistic practice, incorporating a variety of media to create abstract pieces that evoke the organic world, probing the boundaries between the manmade and the natural, the individual and the world at large. Her work discloses just how imperfect and provisional such categories are: our sense of opposition or belonging to a broader context can shift dramatically when we are placed in situations—or before works of art—that preclude or, conversely, encourage our contemplation and participation.
Carroll grew up on the coast of Massachusetts, in a place that she describes as “full of cranberry bogs, marshes, pine forests.”
“For my brother, sister and I these were our playgrounds,” Carroll said. “We would run and explore for miles and lose all sense of time until someone would hear someone’s mother calling to come in for dinner.”
Eventually, Carroll relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has been living for 22 years. An avid runner and camper, she spends much of her time in the remote places of California.
“My understanding of the West is that of both place and spirit,” she explained. “It is my ideal vacation to get myself to a remote lake in the mountains, hike to a hot spring, set myself down on a mesa in the desert, tuck away into a pocket in a canyon and feel myself in the middle of everywhere out there in the middle of nowhere. There is a perfect spot at 8,000 feet in the White Mountains (Eastern CA) where you can look across Owen’s Valley toward the Eastern slope of the Sierras; it is a pleasure to sit there for hours watching the light change and shape that endless space. That is the West in an external sense. There is also the West in an internal sense, the mode of quest, engaging one’s curiosity.”
It is the landscape of California that has had the most decisive influence on Carroll’s artistic sensibility, suggesting materials and motifs for her gorgeous paintings, sculptures, and installations. One of the recurring forms in Carroll’s work is lichen, which she became interested in over time, through her repeated encounters with it in her athletic practice.
“For years I had been running the trails in Redwood Regional Park finding my eye drawn to the lichen encrusting the Bay Laurels,” Carroll said, “And then it just built to a point where the only possible next thing to do was to make that connection and create artwork that expressed my sensorial ritual experience of taking in that lichen for all those years.”
This motif was featured prominently in Western Sector, an installation Carroll created as part of a group exhibition at Inhabit Gallery in Oakland. Walking into the room, viewers found themselves surrounded by clusters of large, delicate lichen-like shapes framing the room’s functional elements and spilling onto the floor, their organic exuberance not so much at odds with the simple geometry of right angles as complementing it, transforming the gallery space so that it might be experienced with the body as well as with the eye. Inviting the viewer to explore and inhabit a temporary space, the work functioned as a reminder of the continuity between nature and human activity, and the simultaneous ephemerality and repetitiveness of their processes.
“It is an acknowledgement that our impact on our environment is a pattern,” Carroll explained. “The action of making each individual part is a repetitive act, a meditation, an act of devotion, embracing the merging of the divine with the mundane. The action of installing and de-installing continues the process. We are nature.”
Carroll has also carried her sense of belonging to a broader context beyond her creative engagement with the mountains, forests, and coastlines of the West. Among other things, she has channeled her love of running into an effort to aid some of the most vulnerable members of the global community. In 2010, Carroll joined her longtime running partner Deidre (Dee) Williams on a 40-mile run to benefit Run For Congo Women.
The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a humanitarian crisis for years, and women have paid the heaviest toll for the unending war. Many have lost homes, friends, and family members—including children, many of whom perish before the age of five from inadequate nutrition and medical care. Moreover, the bodies of women have long been treated as part of the battlefield. Horror stories of torture and gang rape abound, and survivors have to live with the physical and psychological trauma, as well as the stigma that rape inevitably carries, usually subsisting below the poverty line and without access to resources that might help them start over.
Run for Congo Women is a grassroots effort to raise awareness and funds for women affected by the continuing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through running and walking events. According to Carroll, her running partner had been inspired by Lisa Shannon, the organization’s founder. When Williams first discussed the idea with her, Carroll recalled in a phone interview, “It brought tears to my eyes… I had no idea that there was something like this out there and that I could be involved.”
They called their run the 40-40-40 Project, dedicating each mile to a specific Congolese woman. Carroll worked out the logistics and designed their route. On the day of the run, they took part in a drumming ritual, establishing a connection with the women to whom the run was dedicated. The grueling nature of a forty-mile run deepened this connection.
“[When you run for long distances], you tap into interesting places in your mind,” said Carroll. “By mile eighteen I was in pain, but the thought of stopping was not possible because these women were on our minds… We have a refrain: ‘Pain is just a sensation.’”
To date, Run for Congo Women has raised over $1 million for Women for Women International, an organization which enrolls women in war-torn regions of the world in yearlong programs that offer counseling, education, and job training. The goal of the program is to provide women with skills and confidence they can put to use in starting businesses and building better lives for themselves and their children.
So far, over 58,000 women have benefitted from the organization’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Almost all of the participants in the region have first-hand knowledge of the miseries and deprivations of war, whether through seeing their homes destroyed, surviving rape or the loss of loved ones, or being unable to receive necessary healthcare. Graduates of the program report an increase in confidence, and most are able to find jobs or even start businesses of their own, contributing to the growth of their economy and the healing of their nation. The Women for Women International website reports that “[o]n average, graduates nearly double their income over the course of the yearlong program.” Additionally, 98% of the women who finish the program report knowing their rights, compared to 5% of those who are just entering the program. These are encouraging statistics. Amidst the wreckage of war, the strong, courageous women who can support themselves, their children, and one another may be the surest sign of hope for the future.
“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.
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.
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 | robertssurf.com
Board Art Benefit | www.boardartbenefit.com