BIG SKY WIRE: GERRY WEDD
BIG SKY WIRE is a regular Coastalwatch column produced by Michele Lockwood & Andrew Kidman. This week, Michele Lockwood interviews ex Mambo artist, Surfing World Magazine's inaugural Worthys Portrait Competition Winner, and ceramic artist. Gerry Wedd.
I’ve never had the opportunity of meeting Gerry Wedd but I can say he is familiar. Several of Gerry’s pieces hang in our house and have become a part of our family’s daily visual intake; so on some subliminal level Gerry’s vibe is ever-present in our surrounds.
I like the concept of art being woven into ones stream of consciousness by simply having it ‘around’. The way it can trigger a memory, sway a conversation or influence your own creative work is impossible to measure but undoubtedly felt. Perhaps this is why we adorn walls with things we find beautiful, inspiring or intriguing. This week I took a crack at demystifying Gerry and his work.
CW: Where did you grow up and what was it like?
GW: I grew up in a place called Point Noarlunga south of Adelaide. It was really a small kind of holiday place at the time. Luckily for me it was the closest place to Adelaide that had any surf – lots of nice little reefs that never really got over 3 or 4 foot. There were six kids who all picked up a board at some stage. One of my older brothers was a clubbie who surfed. I'm fairly sure my first 'surf' was on his board (I 'borrowed' it for a day and think I left it on the beach, too tired to drag it home). This is around ‘67-‘68. My sister was a really keen surfer who took me farther a field on surf trips. Mainly to the South Coast (Middleton and the like) and one memorable trip to Cactus, I'm not sure we got to Cactus itself! She used to buy all of the magazines. This was a golden period, short board revolution, paisley, acid rock and great looking mags – particularly Witzig's ‘SURF,’ which still holds up today. I didn't go to school a hell of a lot. Did the usual grommet thing, joined a club called the ‘Seaview Road Board Riders’ at around 12 years old, competed as much as I could etc, etc.
How did you become a potter? Were your parents mortified?
I always drew and made figures out of plasticine. My mother was artistic and articulate and started making pots in an adult education class when I was a teenager. She used to work on the kitchen table or in front of the TV. She began selling her work in a local craft shop and soon began to earn some money. Sometimes she wanted pictures on the pots, I drew a lot so began to scratch images onto her work and 'earn my keep' in some way. This was during the rise of the counter culture, which she was unaware of. She was a role model for me in that I saw a way of life where surfing and working could mesh easily. In my late 20s I got serious, moved to the city and went to art school, started surfing less. About 10 years ago I moved to the South Coast, Point Elliot to become a surfing potter.
Your work often depicts these poignant moments in a surfer’s life, memories, images, icons. Do you work on a subconscious level, like allowing things to bubble to the surface as you are physically creating the piece or do you have a definitive plan before you get into it? Basically, how do you choose what goes beneath the glaze?
I suppose those formative years of reading surfing magazines obsessively have rubbed off onto my art practice. From ’67-‘69 surfing journalism was a different beast and often featured 'characters' who enriched the scene. There were 'proper' short stories and irreverent tales and interviews. I've always wondered what part the burgeoning dope scene and the search for 'higher consciousness' played in those developments. I'm interested in the 'back-stories' of surfing and their contrast with the story that we're told.
I start with a plan and some images, maybe some anecdotes. I do a lot of research to find images and texts that mesh in some way. Surfing, for all its faults is far from the one-dimensional culture it is often portrayed as.
Music is also a strong theme in your art. What, if any music do you listen to while working? What captures you imagination? Can you give us a Gerry Wedd sample soundtrack?
Radio national 10-11 am and 3-4 pm, unless there is too much oud or throat singing. Don't get me wrong, I like a bit of world music but it ain't the soundtrack of my life. I listen to lots of music, though mainly it's song based. Ipod shuffle is still fairly popular in the studio as it uncovers some nice things that may have been on an UNCUT CD, which you hadn't really listened to.
Here is a bit of a soundtrack for the moment: Television, Velvet Underground, Drones, Tom Waits, Love, The Smiths, Morrissey, Bert Jansch, Joni Mitchell, Hem, Handsome Family, Neko Case, Gillian Welch, Jolie Holland, Billy Bragg, Motown, John Martyn, Neil Young, Stephen Cummings, Old Country, Americana, 70s Folk, Mick Harvey, Lisa Miller…
I hear you are a bit of a board collector. Any recent good finds? What have you been enjoying to ride as of late?
Not so much a collector, just always looking for 'that' board. I don't really have many though there are seven nuggets in the shed ranging fro 5'2'' to 6'6''. I have no faith in the modern short board for anyone but hot grommets and pros. For me it's all about the feel. Also I have no need for a board that is made for a performance level way above that of my own. I have a 5'2'' McCoy (shaped in 1999) that I bought in Manly for my kids; which has become my all time favourite. The waves I mainly surf are slow and sloping, while the nuggets prefer steeper waves generally, this 5'2'' relishes the slop.
I have been riding other stuff as well, including some Simmons-based craft and a Bing Speed Square (4'8'') that I got addicted to, a bit like the glide of a finless. I could only project forward on it but it went REALLY fast in knee-high waves!
When you did the ‘Tapestry of Surfing History’ for Mambo you threw in this funny random stuff amongst all the factual points like, “Midget wins the World Surfing Championships meanwhile Reg pulls a bong on the beach.” It seems like you were always there for the ‘average Joe’ in surfing, the person who just loves to go surfing and represented their experiences alongside what the professional historical markers were. Was this your intent? Or was it just a facet of your sense of humour or both?
Those tapestries were pivotal for me in that they gave me license to be more irreverent and playful across mediums. This approach translated onto pots. Dare at MAMBO (now with DEUS) surfs. He liked the fact that I surfed and drew and that I was a kind of critical observer of the more crass aspects of surf culture. When I first worked with MAMBO I was still receiving sponsor packs of clothes from a local Quiksilver sponsorship, which Dare also liked. At Mambo I was encouraged to draw on a deep well of surfing trivia and to pick away at the rich tapestry of surfing culture.
I also like to 'take the piss'. Any history seems to be written around the major players or events of the time. People are written out of that history unintentionally. Until recently it's the women in surfing who have suffered the most. A few years ago I was searching for images of Australian women surfers from the 1960s and 1970s. I was particularly interested in getting a surfing image of Judy Trim who had won numerous NSW State titles. Thanks to Mick Mock I found one grainy newspaper photo, which I couldn't really see. Old Greek urns had mythology, heroes and the everyday painted on their surfaces. I'm updating this idea and applying it to surfing.
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