“Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink in the wild air” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
These words aren’t only found in Erik Abel’s sketchbook – the hub where the sparks of his inspiration reside – but they are depictive of the spirit of his art, passion for surfing, and fervor for travel and exploration that define who Erik Abel is. Over the past 15 years Abel has been fueled by this sentiment, experiencing commercial and artistic success through his painted and graphical expressions.
Recognized for his unique juxtapositions of geometric patterns, organic textures, bold colors, and distinct waves, the intriguing simplicity and power of Abel’s work rouses an energy that has sparked enthusiasm throughout the art community. His dynamic and curious pieces have captivated the attention of collectors, galleries, and institutions around the world. Abel achieves this by harnessing the symbolism of the environments that surround him – the ocean, ancient civilizations, and botanical elements. His method of graphical imagery fused with his loose brush, pen, and pencil work creates notable and alluring compositions. His relaxed technique and nature-based subject communicates a sense of wonder, experimentation, discovery and balance.
The ocean is Abel’s predominant source of passion. The balance of chaos and predictability; force and serenity, inspires a tension felt in Abel’s work. Born and raised in Ventura County, the ocean has always been a prominent aspect in Abel’s life. Swimming and fishing since an infant, body surfing and boarding by three, Abel was raised in the water. At the age of 11, Abel discovered what would become a driving force in his life: surfing. Riding waves immediately became a focal point for him. This new and growing passion immediately bled into his artistic expressions. After experiencing surfing, the two most influential aspects of his life – art and salt water – came together to create an inspiration and style that have grounded and evolved his artistic sentiment.
Abel’s commercial career began at 16, when he illustrated a children’s book and designed logos for local companies. At 17, he was hired as the sole airbrusher for Roberts Surfboards, a popular international board company founded in Ventura, which he continues do graphic projects for today. Prior to pursuing his Bachelors of Fine Arts, Abel learned design programs and created graphics for several snowboard companies including Glissade and Third Drawer. In 2003, Abel completed his degree from Southern Oregon University, focused in Painting and Graphic Design. During this time private collectors and businesses commissioned him as a mural artist, where he created large-scale works in the trompe l’oeil style.
After college, Abel put his professional focus on graphic design while painting remained his emotional outlet. Taking the position as an Art Director for a start-up in LA, Abel found himself working long hours with little time to surf. Painting became his primary outlet. Abstract pieces of tribal faces and bizarre compositions of natural elements, these avant-garde designs showcase Abel’s experimental and ruminative state. Exploring the integration of diverse mediums into his traditional acrylic on wood approach, Abel created series that were symbolic and notable. Notorious underground LA art spaces including The Hive, Cannibal Flower, and Thinkspace Gallery began showing Abel’s work, cultivating a buzz in the Southern California art scene.
The structured regimen and chaotic schedule soon took its toll. Being an artist on the side wasn’t enough. Abel needed to surf, paint, and live. Previous travels to Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Italy, and Belize had opened Abel’s personal and creative perspectives, encouraging the integration of cultural artifacts into his work and piquing a fascination with the aesthetics and stories of ancient civilizations. Leaving LA, the urge to travel came as an instinct, so Abel bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand and began a two and half year journey that would stir his soul and ignite his imagination.
From New Zealand to the Kingdom of Tonga, Australia to Indonesia and Fiji, Abel traversed the South Pacific by surfboard and sailboat. The idyllic waves, pristine beaches, warm and diverse cultures, and spectacular flora impressed themselves into his mind and heart. Experiencing being in both complete solitude and among animated communities, Abel’s sketchbooks exploded with energy and insight. Watercolor studies and drawings of tribal artwork, palm fringes and waves mingled with his musings and concepts, offering enchantment and character that would shape his future work.
Returning home to Ventura in 2010, Abel was ready to translate his adventure into art. “Surfing all of these legendary waves, experiencing all of the rich culture and incredible people…. I felt satiated and humbled…. I had finally come full circle and was ready to settle down…and get busy with some art. I had grown so much in my sketchbooks, mind, and soul. I had a fresh perspective on life and a heightened sense of artistic direction.” He unleashed his new perspective through paint, finding serene skylines, pronounced plants, alluring waves, and a more refined hand.
While abroad, Abel continued to pursue commercial work, designing for Billabong, Surfrider, and Surfing Magazine. This momentum continued when he returned. Along with exhibitions in Southern California shows and galleries, Abel designed the artwork for the 2011 Reef Hawaiian Pro Event in Haleiwa, HI, the first of three events in the prestigious Triple Crown of Surfing. His designs, used for diverse applications including on-site staging and promotion, webcast animations, advertising, and apparel, generated immediate accolades in both the surf and art industries, commanding the attention of leading surf brands and art collectors. The combination of rustic earth tones and vibrant hues exuded the culture of the islands while the sectional design demonstrated the versatility of his work.
Abel was invited to be a featured artist in the Board Art Benefit, a fundraiser for SurfAid International, a nonprofit funding community development projects in Indonesia. Abel partnered with renowned industry shaper and personal friend, Robert Weiner of Roberts Surfboards, hand painting a surfboard live at the event. Bringing him back to his roots in a sense, Abel’s work had clearly evolved tremendously since painting his first board with Roberts in 1998 without losing what is at its core – a love for the ocean and an awe for the beauty of nature.
The introspection he gained while travelling combined with the work he created for nonprofits including SurfAid and Surfrider has created a new passion for Abel – to use his gift of art to give back to the communities, ocean, and other natural wonders that have offered him so much. Currently, Abel is focusing on partnering with nonprofits that perform community development and environmental work in renowned surf spots; exhibiting; and pursuing commercial projects. Original paintings, illustrations, and commercial design work can be viewed at www.abelarts.com.