How wave pools play into the pop culture art of Derek West

Derek West was born too early. Maybe. He grew up in a town just half an hour but decades away from Kelly’s Wave in Lemoore. Landlocked and surf-less, his Central Valley upbringing forced him to find stoke elsewhere.

“We surfed in the canals around here all the time if we couldn’t get to the beach,” recalls West. “We’d pull each other up and down the irrigation canals using a ski rope tied to the roll bar on my old Ford Ranger.”

Surrounded by miles and miles of agribusiness, his home of Visalia would never be confused with the condo-and-palm-tree skyline of a SoCal beach town. For Derek surf culture is as twisted and kitsch as the movies “Point Break” and “North Shore.” It’s this outsider perspective that makes West’s art so poignant.

He embraces the cringe-able chunks of American culture. Everything from The Golden Girls to Magnum PI and Angela Lansbury. His colourful, brutal take on Hollywood surf culture is what drew our attention to his work.

North Shore art and Jeff Spicoli
Surf characters from some of Hollywood’s defining surf stereotypes are the subjects of many of Derek West’s paintings.

What is your art background – training or no training?
I’ve always loved to draw as long as I can remember. I’m an only child, so growing up copying ads and pics out of magazines was one of my favorite things to do. Especially surf mags and skateboard decks, stickers… anything like that. I was pretty obsessed with drawing the T&C Surf characters. I never took an art class until college, and then I was all in. I took Printmaking, Lithography, Color and Design, Figure Drawing, four semesters of Oil Painting…I ended up getting a business degree and opening a record store, but never stopped making art. I was painting for about 15 years before I started actually showing anyone and putting it out there. 

What and who are your influences?
I love Pop Art. Artists like Warhol, Rosenquist, Hockney, Lichtenstein, Ruscha… I really appreciate the cleanliness, bright colors, the subject matter. I love good advertisements. That’s why I think surf and skate companies have always inspired me. The logos and artwork are usually pretty great. Especially growing up in the ‘80s. 

collage of the artwork by Derek West
How many films do you recognize? West’s work features many of America’s favorite cinematic characters.

Tell us about your art. Some of it looks like paint-by-numbers and some looks super realistic. Why?
I think because of my love of pop art and the artists that I like I have a love of mid century color palettes and culture. I live in a mid century house. Those things creep into what I do for sure. I really love old color by number landscapes and do my own oil versions from time to time. I like to sketch them out on canvas and hodgepodge ideas and scenes from old ones and do oil paintings in that style. I’m inspired by those as well as old travel posters, postcards, and advertising. I definitely do a lot of landscapes referencing those styles because I like how clean and bold and graphic they are. Sometimes I still try to paint a little more realistic just to keep pushing myself and challenging myself. A lot of what I do is simplifying shapes and exaggerating color, and trying to keep things bold and clean. 

Turtle for president
The webstore Listen To Turtle features products with Derek West’s artwork.

You do a lot of pieces based on “North Shore” – why that movie?
I’ve done a lot of “North Shore” paintings because it’s been one of my favorite movies since a was a kid. I loved movies like RAD and Thrashing, But North Shore was probably my fav. It’s bright and fun and funny – it always made me want to surf. I loved that Rick was an artist that made surfy bright art. I remember being a kid and being inspired by that idea that you can make the art you want. You can paint waves and make surf art that’d look great on a t-shirt or sticker. That was really cool to me. Most of the themes in what I do is nostalgia and quirky things I’ve liked about where I grew up and when I grew up, so I’m going to do some North Shore paintings. I really had no idea that so many people love that movie until I posted some paintings on Instagram and people seemed to be stoked!

A few North Shore moments presented in oil on canvas.

Visalia is your hometown, do you relate more to skating or surfing?
Being from Visalia I feel like I’ve always been around surfing and skating. A lot of my friends growing up here did both. I always dabbled in both, but honestly never got any good at either. High school and college was a lot of day trips to the central coast for surfing. We surfed in the canals around here all the time if we couldn’t get to the beach. We’d pull each other up and down the irrigation canals using a ski rope tied to the roll bar on my old Ford Ranger. We did it year around for years. 

Will wave pools change surfing, bringing it to ocean-less peoples?
Wave pools are a lot cooler than irrigation canals ha! I get it though- when you’re hours away from the ocean and really want to surf you get creative. I think wave pools are great. Ya ocean-less folks get to surf, and pools can offer a consistency in quality that could make competition interesting. To see how different surfers interpret and interact with literally the same wave is really interesting. Obviously surfing in the ocean is such and art and really special, but I think wave pools are rad. Whether it’s for training, or specific comps, or just the fun of riding waves- I wish I’d have had access to one growing up in the valley. 

What do you see this brave new only-in-wave-pools surf culture looking like in ten years?
I have no idea what the culture could look like in ten years. I’m sure they’ll be a lot of talent and kids probably doing amazing things. It seems like the technology is only getting better, so it’ll be fun to watch. 

You can see more of Derek’s work on his Instagram page and purchase his art on products from Listen Too Turtle

Endless Surf 2023A