Gerry Wedd: Celebrating surfing's underbelly

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

The Swellnet team is in South Australia this week surfing and meeting up with locals. Although Gerry Wedd isn't a local at the coastline we're visiting he's one of the state's most renowned artists, and a five time state champion to boot, therefore he's the next subject on the list.

You've probably seen Gerry Wedd's art even if you're not aware of it. As a resident artist with Mambo from 1991 to 2006 his signature block print style was used by the company on their t-shirts, tags and posters. More recently Gerry has been working with porcelain, using the classical white ceramic to tell surfing stories. Picture a Ming Dynasty vase with elegant blue calligraphy and then picture MP's famous cutback on it, or Wayne Lynch going vertical backside. 

Gerry's latest project is a community art program involving surfers from Port Elliot sharing their stories and memories. Called the Tile Mural Gerry has put the call out for locals to paint a tile, he'll then glaze and bake them. When finished they'll be fixed to the local toilet block creating a wall of collected surf stories from the area.

Is there a tangible connection between your art and the surf culture you grew up in? I grew up with a lot of English kids. They came here with their parents to fill vacancies in car manufacturing plants. They brought their culture with them: magazines, music, etcetra. So there was a mash of that and the sleepy coastal culture of Port Noarlunga. There were some really good pommy surfers, such as Squizzy Taylor and Andy Gower. Tough competitive soccer players too.

The mid-coast, where I grew up, never really got above what we now call four foot. There are really picturesque little reefs but it is at best small and really inconsistent. I grew up at a great time in a great spot. Boards, hair and fashion changed radically between 1966 and, say, '75. My interest in all of this is almost academic. I wonder if the migrant aspect of the culture I was in made me more reflective about the whole thing. The interesting thing about the culture is the way it is mirrored wherever people surf. The behaviours and nicknames of surfers are really similar all over.

What aspects of the South Australian surf scene do you enjoy?  Like surfing everywhere there are overlapping subcultures which makes things interesting. It's a varied bunch from the West Coast local through to Mid-Coast hipsters. I'm not really aware of the mainstream activities of the various clubs and organisations apart from when I rub up against it at Middleton Point.

South Australia's strength is in how widespread the scene is. We have world class surf but the majority of surfers live in and around metropolitan beaches where it is inconsistent and small. The most consistent waves in the area are notoriously fat and slow. The way most South Australians surf is a reflection of their environment. If Adelaide had been situated in the Victor Harbor area I think the standard of surfing would be quite different. Considering the quality of contest surf we have historically on occasion punched far above our weight. Any surfer with competitive aspirations has to move north.

You've gained widespread appeal via your art which must've provided opportunities to move, why stay in South Australia? Family, family and family. My wife's family actually, and friends of course. It's easy living where I am. The surf is mainly junk but there's loads of it and I've got a bunch of McCoys – 5'2'' to 6'6'' - that get me through most situations. As a kid, from about 15, I have visited the North Coast. That is my ideal but I think it's best as a dream destination. Where we are is really quiet most of the time and I can often surf with a handful of friends or frenemies.

It's a cliche but because of I can work from anywhere now and watch the Pipe Masters whilst doing it and be aware of every design change in boards as they unfold. As an artist there may be advantages in the kind of critical distance achieved by a slight degree of isolation. My wife is an artist and we travel a bit for work to exhibitions and to look at art. I am drawn to places which have surf though.

The tile mural is a marvellous idea and one that seems almost peculiar to South Australia. Where did the idea come from? The majority of my ceramics practice incorporates storytelling in some way. Quite a bit of that work has incorporated the underbelly of the surfing culture. By that I mean the untold or less celebrated aspects of both the activity and its participants.
After searching for photos and stories about local surfers I started to think about a public work that might in some way celebrate both this part of the coast and some anecdotal oral history.

At present I'm hoping a few more surfers will come forward and decorate a tile for the project. I'm painting a few with archival images and stories about the area.

You can see more of Gerry's art and even some contributions to the Tile Mural at Gerry's blog - Weddwould.