Gagosian Hangs Loose with A Lifetime of Surf

In the scorching summer heat, there is an oasis of West Coast cool on New York’s Upper East Side. In the comfort of Gagosian’s air-controlled Madison Avenue flagship, the Fletcher family offers a survey of surfing history and the art surrounding the sport they’ve come to love and shape. The Fletcher family is synonymous with surfing – Esquire has gone as far as to call them “surfing’s first family”. Starting in the 1950’s, Herbie Fletcher became a representative for the counterculture of surfing that relied heavily on a laidback lifestyle, iconic slang, and an appreciation for nature. His wife Dibi’s book “Fletcher: A Lifetime in Surf” memorializes that counterculture by tracing the family’s life while simultaneously surveying the history of surfing during that time period.

 

 

The Fletcher Family: A Lifetime in Surf, 2019, Installation View
Photo: Rob McKeever
Courtesy Fletcher Family Archive and Gagosian

 

In celebration of the book, art from several of Herbie Fletcher’s series are on display, including his towering Wrecktangles series. Surfers have been known to crack their boards in half while riding particularly rough waves. These broken pieces, rendered useless for their original purpose, are reborn at Fletcher’s hands. Wrecktangles feature the fragments of custom boards from some of the biggest stars in surfing known as “Wave Warriors”. Fletcher’s sculptures each have their own personality, due to the former relationship of the board with its owner. These conglomerations of boards are pieced together to create a visual marker of surf culture – the bright colors, geometric patterns, and branded stickers decorating the boards like tattoos.

 

 

The Fletcher Family: A Lifetime in Surf, 2019, Installation View
Photo: Rob McKeever
Courtesy Fletcher Family Archive and Gagosian

 

Surf culture is tied to nature and serenity. The very action of the sport rides the tides as if being one with the ocean. Herbie takes this component into his art, in his Blood Water and Connecting to the Earth paintings. Fletcher uses mineral-rich earth from the Waimea River in Hawaii and incorporates metal, burlap, and netting for his mixed media canvases. All of his materials are found from rides out on his board after the winter rains have subsided and drudged up debris from the bottom of the river. Once combined on canvas, Fletcher’s paintings pay homage to the aesthetics of Hawaiian culture, that, in turn, influenced much of surfer culture as we have come to know it.

 

The Fletcher Family: A Lifetime in Surf, 2019, Installation View
Photo: Rob McKeever
Courtesy Fletcher Family Archive and Gagosian

 

As the exhibition also delves into the other family members, skateboarding becomes increasingly important. Herbie and Dibi’s grandson Greyson is a renowned skateboarder who continues to intertwine skating with surfing. Hanging adjacent to the Wrecktangles are two sculptures from Herbie’s Wall of Disaster series. Similar to Wrecktangles, the sculptures are made of broken boards, but this time they are skateboards. Placing these sculptures in the same space shrinks the distance between the two sports to show a perpendicular visual vocabulary in their cultures. Both sports are graphic and a balance of chaos that somehow never feels tumultuous.

 

The Fletcher Family: A Lifetime in Surf, 2019, Installation View
Photo: Rob McKeever
Courtesy Fletcher Family Archive and Gagosian

 

A Lifetime of Surf  is on view at Gagosian Gallery through August 30th.

 

Cover image:
HERBIE FLETCHER
Wrecktangle #12, 2014
Foam, fiberglass, acrylic paint, and steel
90 x 264 x 24 in
© Herbie Fletcher
Courtesy Fletcher Family and Gagosian