The Surfer-Artist Debate

Discussing painter Kristyan Stjerne’s skillset in multiple forms.

Light / Dark

There is an ongoing, jokey conversation among many of us lifelong surfers in the art world that centers around who is the best combination of surfer-artist out there. When it comes to the two combined, I would definitely throw Kristyan Stjerne into the sweepstakes. 

His closest artistic precedents, that I can think of, are the Polish conceptual painter Roman Opalka and Hilma af Klint. Opalka spent decades on his number paintings, simply counting up across the canvas faces through literally thousands of works. The now wildly popular af Klint was an early abstractionist who only recently saw her star light up to incandescent proportions because of the current interest in her “spiritual” approach to abstraction, a way that was seen as anathema to the avant-garde of her day.

While those two figures might offer some comparison, they don’t quite flesh out the whole picture of Stjerne’s trajectory. His is his and his alone. The deeply meditative and hermetic activity in his making of a canvas ends up being wildly visual upon completion, while the repetitive and endurance aspects of the process outline the breathing involved in its making. They are both microcosmic and macrocosmic all at once.

I suppose some comparisons could be drawn to indigenous Australian painting and its use of rhythmic dots in documenting dreamscapes. But again, this comparison is not quite precise. Stjerne manages to do away with narrative and allusion entirely, focusing only on the material, temporal, and spiritual aspects of the work, which moves him much closer to classical Zen philosophy. While far less obvious than, say, the plein air painters of Southern California and their coastal musings, Stjerne hits on something deeper, the repetition of riding an incalculable number of waves over the course of a lifetime.

To read Tiny Devotions, a profile on Kristyan Stjerne by Mark Waters, click here.