By Phil Jarratt
Since he moved to Noosa from Los Angeles a dozen years ago, industrial designer Ray Smith has been living the dream, and now he’s painting it.
Working from his home studio on an idyllic hinterland acreage, the veteran South African-born surfer has developed a unique style he calls Wavescapes Reimagined, based on a lifetime of watching waves break and applying his design sensibilities to rendering them as aesthetic abstractions. And, judging by sales at the Nissarama Gallery on Hastings Street, Ray’s wavescapes are reaching a market far beyond just we surf tragics.
It’s been an interesting life transition for Ray and his fashion designer wife Jocelyn (also a Saffa) since they made the move to Noosa with daughter Molly in 2008. We’ve known the family for decades, and when we lived in California we would occasionally spend weekends at their lovely Los Feliz bungalow. Come dawn on Saturday, we’d leave the girls to mess around with fabrics and such while Ray and I were off down the freeway on a surf mission.
More often than not we’d end up surfing LA’s ugliest but most consistent break, El Porto, right next to the seaward runways of LAX. Apart from the smell of avgas and the deafening roar of jetliners, it was fun. But this was not the stuff of dreams. Ray had a successful industrial design business based in Pasadena. He was a busy man and a classic weekend warrior, relishing every moment spent drawing lines on waves rather than on drawing boards or computers. When we did a week-long surf trip to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, he was like a kid in a candy shop. His joy was palpable.
His design firm had plenty of big assignments, but one of Ray’s favourites was reimagining the simple mountain and wave logo of Quiksilver, then the biggest surf company in the world, and the one I happened to be working for in California. At Quiksilver, we knew Ray’s slick interpretation of the marque as the “engineered logo” because it was so polished and professional. (It’s the one you can see on the nose of Kelly Slater’s board through most of his professional career.)
Who knew that Ray Smith would be spending his golden years reimagining waves in an entirely different and captivatingly beautiful way? But in another way, he’s recapturing his surfing youth, growing up in Durban and making trips through the 1960s and ‘70s to Jeffrey’s Bay and Cape St Francis, still sand dunes and bush, and coming home to sketch his adventures in pen, ink and water colours. These days he searches for surf most days, often finding a lonely peak along the eastern beaches, or an overlooked section on the points, then beating it back to the studio to work on a wavescape.
He says: “I have spent much of my professional life creating and developing ideas for the products of consumerism. My chosen field of work demanded discipline, creative vision, and professional integrity, and to balance this I fostered my love of ocean, wind, and sky through surfing.”
The move to Noosa was part of that quest for balance. Says Ray: “We were seeking new life values, and the shift in environment and culture provided that. The unique combinations of geographic features here – rainforest meets ocean (Noosa Heads), pristine open beaches (Castaways), and primitive vistas (Double Island Point) – captured my imagination and sent my mind soaring. The natural visual aesthetic of the region inspires my wavescape paintings.”
He continues: “Crafting interpretive abstract areas of textured colour, punctuated with an imaginary single wave peeling off through the composition, I have re-imagined a surfer or swimmer’s unique viewpoint from water level. With no horizon line, the viewer’s focus is drawn to the dynamic energy of the wave form created by swell, ocean floor contour, and wind. The infinite combinations of these primal elements are the subject of my obsession, expressed through my art form.”
Select Ray Smith wavescapes are available for viewing and sale at Nissarama Galleries Noosa, 5 Hastings Street, and you can see more at www.bluiota.com