“I left home at 16, with the clothes I was wearing, my surfboard, trunks and a beadroll, headed for paradise,” reads the wall text at Dirt Gallery, the words of surf legend and artist Herbie Fletcher. “Living in the backseat of a rusted Cadillac, even though Dewey Weber’s, was anything but, then again, at first light when I could see the waves peeling at Sunset Point…I knew my rash decision was perfect.”
The exhibition space at Dirt Gallery is a perfectly unconventional fit for the show—located near the airport in Wainscott, it’s nowhere near any Main Street, and the various units that make up the Industrial Road complex range from artists’ studios to storage and project spaces. Fletcher’s balanced rawness and perfection harmoniously mirror Dirt’s Chelsea-like crisp white walls, high ceilings, brilliant lighting, and garage door. Works included in the summer exhibition Herbie Fletcher: Path of a Wave Warrior reveal the dichotomy of art-making, the finished product vs. process, order vs. chaos.
“Case of Arrows” is perhaps the sleekest example in the show. Three boards, shaped from templates of vintage surfboards and made of acrylic, resin and foam stand like thin, tall warriors side-by-side. Black, white and orange are the only colors, and geometric patterns inspired by Native American blankets speak to Fletcher’s own Blackfoot and Cherokee background. The name Fletcher, in fact, means arrow maker.
“Universe and Star” is a darker, grittier work made up of all that falls to the floor in a shaping room—the ingredients used to make up the thousands of surfboards Fletcher shaped, glassed and painted throughout his life thus far.
Both process and finished form come together in works like “Tide Pool I” and “Tide Pool II”—made of oil, resin, tints and fiberglass on canvas, raw fiberglass extends the picture plane and the surfaces take on a sculptural effect. Spontaneously, anthropomorphic forms emerge—organic, curvilinear lines and splashes of rich color making up what could be a tree, a face, fingers, rivers, roots; things that branch out, expanding and moving.
“Wrecktangle,” made up of boards all broken at Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore, including that of Bruce Irons and other pro surfers, symbolically unites the people who rode them, the form and shape of the modern day surfboard that Fletcher himself designed (including his trademark Astrodeck), and the circular, arching and spiraling form that is the wave itself.
Fletcher’s work has no boundary between art and life; the two are intrinsically connected. His life in the water shows up in his artwork, and his artwork shows up in the ocean in the form of his sculpted and painted designs. His intensity and integrity as a surfer comes through in his artwork—he is true to his own vision and isn’t following any surfboard art trends. He has also directed, shot and produced over 65 surf films. Many of his earlier works are made from his own film stills, printed on canvas and covered with polyester resin and oil paint.
“Herbie Fletcher: Path of a Wave Warrior” will be on view through the end of August, as is his current exhibition on the West Coast at the Museum of Art & History in Lancaster, CA. Dirt Gallery is located at 39 Industrial Road in Wainscott. Plan your visit by calling owner Scott Murphy at 917-440-9936. Visit allthingsdirt.com.