Influences: John Comer

The guides behind the artist's work.

Light / Dark

TSJ 24.6 features a lengthy visual study of John Comer’s Mexican landscapes, titled, “En Baja.” We asked the artist to describe a handful of fellows from his surfing and painting life who have provided guidance, instruction, and camaraderie.

Painting is a lot like taking off on a wave…lots of visualization and then relying on your senses to guide you while paying total attention. My biggest influences other than all of the historical paintings I have studied are my contemporaries Ray Strong, Michael Drury and Hank Pitcher—connections which actually came through my surfing community.

I met Michael through John Bradbury at creative Freedom Surfboards in 1968. We knew each other for years before we realized we were both painters. Michael and I have painted a lot outside together and his direct no-nonsense grasp of a composition and initial attack helped me to paint faster and flow through constant choices. I also learned from Michael’s accelerated sense of color.

Michael Drury. Photo: Jeff Divine

Hank…hmmm. Hank has had very different influences than I, and gave me an expanded way of looking at painting. For instance encouraging me to make each corner different and nail down the foreground. Hank, like Michael, was born in Santa Barbara and knows it inside out—surfing and painting.

Hank Pitcher. Photo: The Oak Group

I met Ray Strong through Michael, who had been painting with him for several years. The three of us began painting together. Over the years there were many art adventures. From Ray, I learned all the formal aspects of landscape work as well as how to develop my individual approach and how to connect it with the visceral and emotional response to living on a spinning, breathing planet…to feel the heartbeat of the natural world.

Painting is primarily putting your self—into motion.
If it is the sea that moves you—go to it,
Live with it—like Winslow Homer.
Today, surf it, and with it flow.
If it is the hills and mountains, hike them, climb their ridges
Wet feet, hip-deep, fish their canyons and roam their valleys.
~ Ray Strong 1905 – 2006

He was my second set of eyes. We lost Ray in 2006 but I still carry him with me.

Ray Strong. Portrait by Deborah Veldkamp

Ray, Michael, Hank, and I painted outside together in all kinds of weather, often leaving in the dark, dawn patrol. We were basically trying to get the expanse and immensity of nature down in paint, chasing the light, getting the shadows down first. Sometimes dealing with large canvases in the wind, rain, and heat as well as the inherent challenges of painting outside. It takes full attention if you are really looking and not just making a picture from what you think you already know. In the quietude of painting, wild animals will often stand by curiously watching.

Renny Yater. Photo: Mickey Munoz

I met Renny Yater in 1968 when he shaped one of my first short boards. I then worked in his shop where he taught me how to work with resin and fiberglass. One year I helped him build a lobster boat and we fished for a season north of Santa Barbara. The encyclopedic knowledge he has of natural cycles and weather are born out of a lifetime of careful observation. Renny taught me how to watch and pay attention to the changes in nature much like Ray did. Renny also taught me how to work and organize things, which I still struggle with: painting or surf? Both? But when?