"They loved him because he made them look so good."
The reach of Art Brewer, who has died aged seventy-one, was astounding. He knew everybody, from Griffin to Stoner to Lopez, Rabbit, Curren, Slater, right on up to John John. And they loved him.
They may have fought with him a time or two, but they loved him—partly because he made them all look so damn good, and partly because he was another one of those free-swinging bullshit destroyers.
True, he lacked the growling poetic eloquence of Flippy Hoffman.
But Art called ’em like he saw ’em, no two ways about it.
(This interview was recorded in 2014.)
Isn’t there a story about you and Rick Griffin driving up the coast to San Francisco?
He grabbed me and said, “Come on, I need a ride back home, let’s go.” This was 1969. He was living up there. So I picked him up in my mom’s yellow Mustang. Rick was on LSD, but I didn’t know it at the time, and of course he wanted to drive, so next thing I know I’m in the passenger seat, driving through Big Sur. Rick’s girlfriend was in the car too. We get to San Francisco, he drops me off to stay with his girlfriend, then drives over to his house on Mission Street, to his wife and kid.
How old were you?
I was 18!
Wow, culture shock!
I met all the Zap Comix guys, Robert Williams and Crumb and S. Clay Wilson. That was a trip. And yeah, it’s the middle of the whole “free love” deal. So I end up getting some of that, and the crabs. I lasted three days up there, then got paranoid and split back home.
You and George Greenough were both kneeboarders. You ever surf with him?
I had one of those super-thin kneeboards, like an inch-and-a-half thick, all scooped out on the deck. I drove up to Rincon one afternoon and rode it, and George was in the water. He had it a lot more wired than I did, though. I watched and learned.
Did you ever talk photography with him?
Oh yeah, a few years later on. Quite a bit. A bunch of times when he was working on movies; Big Wednesday and things like that. Also, George built a waterhousing for John Severson, probably in early 1969, and that was the housing I used when I shot the Tom Stone cover.
What comes to mind when you look at shots of yours from the 1970s?
Just that the sport hadn’t been sold out yet. It hadn’t gone out the window.
When did it go out the window?
I don’t know. Photography-wise, digital maybe kind of ruined it. Sometime after 2000.
Surf photography has maybe gotten too good for its own good.
It’s just so homogenized. Everything is smoothed over. All the colors are perfect.
That’s what I mean. It’s too perfect. It was more interesting when it wasn’t perfect.
The Indian blanket.
When they were weaving, Indians would always put a flaw in the blanket. You don’t want the blanket to be perfect. The world’s not perfect.