Peter Walker’s surfboards

Like all Aussies, I have a huge passion for the ocean, especially the liminal space where the ocean and the land interact/collaborate/dispute. Even though I was raised on a gorgeous beach south of Sydney, I foolishly missed my chance to learn to surf.

Stanwell Park, Australia – where I ‘grew up’.

I have since tried to make amends by learning to surf here in Bayarea. I have certain disadvantages; I’m over 50, my ears don’t like getting flushed out with icy cold water containing various not so friendly biota, I mostly surf within the poetically named Red Triangle where Great White Sharks come in the Fall (the best surfing season) to fatten up on the rich aquatic sealife found here, the ocean water here is perennially icy cold and the coast is most often shrouded in fog.

To make up for these negatives; the coast here is magnificently picturesque, the fog is often an almost animate entity adding a visual richness to any view, the cold water keeps many people out of the surf and so the waves are less crowded than further south, I have a deep understanding of ocean ecology from living on both sides of the Pacific and having studied and worked in the ecological sciences in my early professional days, my sculptural work has focussed increasingly on the oceans and my skills and interest as a maker have given me a keen appreciation of the craft of making (and learning to ride) surfboards and other watercraft.

So you can understand my joy at seeing the recent work of my long standing friend, colleague, compatriot and fellow designer-craftsman Peter Walker.

Peter in action

Peter’s website portfolio.

For the last few years, Peter has been designing and constructing a series of hollow wooden surfboards with all the care, precision and nuanced understanding of a highly trained and experienced furniture craftsman and sculptor. These are beautifully crafted ‘craft’ drawing on the traditions and aesthetics of solid wooden board construction, incorporating the evolution of board shaping over the last 40 years or so and embracing the latest hollow core construction techniques. On top of this (literally) Peter has used traditional wood inlay techniques, burning and other techniques derived from the history of furniture and has also worked with a range of contemporary Australian artists to decorate the boards. Here are some samples of his work.

This is ‘Making Waves’, an older piece not from his recent exhibition. It is decorated by the well-known Australian ceramist Stephen Bowers, who rifs on historic decorative motifs with a liberal dose of Aussie humor and irreverence. Th deep blue pigment references both ‘Willow plate’ and tattooing – two decorative traditions that are  poles apart culturally but remarkably similar visually – I wonder what Adolf Loos would think?

‘Making Waves’ front

‘Making Waves’ back

‘Making Waves’ detail

In a similar vein, his new work ‘Paisley’ brings decorative motifs from textiles which are scorched into the board’s surface. The paisley pattern itself has a rich history of cross-cultural appropriation and conjures the innocent youth of surfing culture in the 60’s.


‘Paisley’ detail

Referencing furniture processes and decorative details –

“Finless Double Ender”

“Finless Double Ender” detail

The following piece “Paulownia Planing Hull” was decorated by Gerry Wedd. It references the cell structure of the wood from which the board was made, as if the water droplets on the surface of the board provide a super powered Leeuwennhoek-ian lens. It also calls to mind other oceanic patterns such as the suckers of octopi or the bleached exoskeletons of sea urchins.

“Paulownia Planing Hull”

Perhaps my favorite piece is “Firestick”. As a kid growing up on the South Coast of New South Wales, it seemed like every summer was a mix of surf and bushfire. It was either salt or smoke in the air. “Firestick” was scorched using hot stones; a process that threatened to destroy the board if left uncontrolled. The resulting image seems to conjure landscape. The title and the work itself call to mind the indigenous peoples of Australia, and their primary tool for managing the landscape  – the firestick. The surfboard is now one of our tools for engaging with and becoming part of the liminal landscape of the oceans edge.


Those of you wanting to probe deeper i can highly recommend the exhibition catalog essay by  Mark Thompson which speaks to the nuances of Peter’s work. I have posted it here. The well known designer, ceramist and surfer Gerry Wedd’s opening night speech at the Jam Factory in Adelaide was excellent and is posted here.

Terrible Noises for Beautiful People

A few months ago I joined the Long Now Foundation and I have been enjoying many of the activities of this engaging organization since.

I previously blogged about the Long Player event coming up on October 16th.

Last Tuesday, I enjoyed Pulitzer Prize winning writer Richard Rhode’s presentation Twilight of the Bombs at the Herbst Theater in SF. One of the most compelling parts of which was the animated infographic by Isao Ishimoto entitled 1945-1998, illustrating all of the atomic detonations of the 20thC – click on the link to watch it but before you do so answer this question – How many nuclear detonations were there in total during the 20thC?

Yesterday, I attended a truly unique event entitled Terrible Noises for Beautiful People organized and conducted by Toronto-based experimental artist Misha Glouberman. It was held at the spectacular Oliver Ranch just outside of Geyserville, North of Bayarea. Steve Oliver is a long time patron and supporter of the arts in Bayarea and has a wonderful sculpture garden with major works by many of the seminal artists of the 20thC which were specially commissioned for his property. You can read more about the Oliver Ranch here. I STRONGLY encourage anyone who happens to be in Bayarea to get themselves to the ranch as a member of a tour in the Spring or Fall. It as a unique art experience!

Terrible Noises for Beautiful people was held in the surprising and stunning Ann Hamilton designed tower. From afar this seems to be some sort of post-industrial architectural folly, up close it reveals a complex interactive environment which has been dedicated to a series of unique sound performances.

Ann Hamilton's Tower

40 members of the Long Now Foundation gathered on the property and then filed into the tower to enjoy, craeate and participate in an emergent sound event choreographed by the brightly enthusiastic Mr. Glouberman.

The tower’s interior has two intertwined spiral staircases leading from the ground level entry immediately above a dark reflective pool climbing with a subtle narrowing all the way to the top parapet which has stunning views across the Alexander Valley.

Inside the tower

Tower abstraction

After taking up positions on the spiral stairways we were drawn into a series of simple vocal ‘games’ that encouraged us each to find our own individual voice while responding and contributing to a group dynamic. The results varied between zoo-like cacophony and transcendent choral symphony.

The most interesting game we played was all of us starting at a cacophonous chaotic state trying our best to make noises that actively didn’t correspond to what any of our neighbors were creating and then to slowly work towards a consensus where we were all making the same sound. The consensus wasn’t determined in advance, we just moved towards it by either responding to a sound we fell into accord with or actively working to create a different sound which we thought might provide a kernel for  consensus. The resulting emergent harmonies reminded me of whale song and I wondered whether these incredibly complex and lasting harmonies sung across oceans are derived in a similar way. Our sounds didn’t carry meaning but the act of making them and having them come into harmony definitely did! Here’s a sample!

We left the tower in time for a golden sunset highlighting Robert Stackhouse’s Russian River Bones.

Russian River Bones