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When I first started surfing, a non-surfer friend of mine bought me a red notebook with ‘Surfers I Have Met and Liked’ written on the cover. Two years in and this is still the notebook I use to jot down surfing-related writing ideas. Melbourne artist and surfer Darren Henderson was scrawled in the pages a few months ago so it was awesome to finally catch up with him to talk surfing, art and our mutual love for beach shacks. I can safely say he’s a surfer I’ve met and liked.

Words by Gillian Hutchinson // Photography supplied by David Bilbrough, Darren Henderson and Cory White
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So, I’m not going to muck around and get straight to the good stuff. Are owls your totem/spirit animal? And if so, why?

Of course! I hope they are anyway. Ha. Owls are amazing animals. I have been obsessed with them for years. I’ve always been interested in birds/nature/wildlife. Owls are a freaky part of nature. They appear in many cultures around the world as markers of gods, knowledge, wisdom or fertility as well as death, famine and destruction. I’d always loved that they are also found on every continent apart from Antarctica—the worldly aspect.

I read you make the frames for your owls then get going from there. Sounds like a dude thing, so tell me about that.

I do make the frames for my owls at my house down the coast, ‘Hendonesia’ in Cape Woolamai. It’s kinda like meditation. It’s like you go to the hardware shop and buy your hardwood, your plywood, your everything then you head back and chop up all the different sizes and do all your 45 degree angles. I have a deck out the back and it’s covered in tea-tree with the saw out there, so it’s pretty chilled. I cut all the plywood, sanding, shellacking that sort of stuff and it takes a while. It’s a little bit laborious, but part of the fun. It’s also a little bit of downtime. If you want a break from painting, or the surf is terrible, you just build some frames. In the morning you’re building something, and in the evening you start painting on it.

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When did you start painting?

I started painting as a kid. Always loved art class. Always made time for drawing or painting whilst growing up. My mum and dad were very supportive. Also the art teachers I had throughout high school were amazing, talented people.

Graffiti was at the beginning and I drew a lot of inspiration from that. I only did a little bit when I was younger at high school. A lot of graff was starting then and I did a few murals. Colour schemes and what to mix and fade and a limited palette of paint made you try to put things together you wouldn’t normally try. I wouldn’t say I was any inspirational graffiti guy, just passionate about it.

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You’ve been flying solo (in the biz sense, I mean) for a while, haven’t you? Was this in part so you could get your work/surfing balance?

Ha! Yes. I love the fact that work can revolve around the swell and wind directions. It’s a great way to work if you can pull it off. But with the flexibility comes working on weekends also. So it all balances out.

 

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According to my internet creep, your last solo exhibition was in 2010. Any other exhibitions coming up? Or are you and the owls going great guns? Or is it a ‘dollas make me holla’ moment?

My last solo show was in 2012 at Unit 44 in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK. It was a lot of fun with a great bunch of people. Easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life so far. The owls still tick along but I have been painting other commissions as well since then. Would love to have another solo exhibition at the end of 2014 but nothing is planned as yet.

I do a lot of commissions. People ask for a certain size or a colour scheme or characters. If I’m in a rhythm it’s fine, but I find commissions always take a little bit longer and it can be a little bit tough fitting them in. But I will usually do two or three and give people a choice. It’s always nice working with more than one.

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“I SUPPOSE I DO LOSE MYSELF WHILST SURFING…I COULD BE HAVING THE WORST WEEK, BUT AFTER A SURF, THINGS ARE CLEARER, IN PERSPECTIVE.”

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How did your place at Woolamai come about? And tell me about Hendonesia!

Aaaahhhh, Hendonesia. I bought Hendonesia about 9 years ago. It’s a little surf shack at Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island. My friend and I had just surfed at Woolamai and stumbled across it on the drive home. It was awesome and within a week it was mine! Great place to hang out with friends and family. And a great place to surf and paint.

There are three bedrooms, a cool living room and kitchen, a big fire, two decks and it’s surrounded by tea-tree. It’s good. I paint near the deck and open the bi-fold doors so the smell of the fumes goes straight out. Or I’ll paint on the lawn or on the other deck.

Can you imagine wedding your art with surfing somehow? Start a little surf company with your own graphics that blows up into something huge, for example?

That would be great. It would be a good way to earn a living from your artwork. I did manage to wed my art with surfing last year for a charity surf comp called the Bolt Blowers. It’s held at Jan Juc and you have to ride a single or twin fin made before the mid-eighties to help raise awareness of mental health. The first competition we held was a day of howling onshore, and if you came off, it wasn’t that much fun, but we all did it. It’s for the fun of it. You surf no matter what. I designed their logo as well as their t-shirts and caps. A lot of fun with a lot of great people and for a great cause. We need a girl surfer on our team! You’re in!

Photos by Darren Henderson
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So you just got back from the Mentawais. Any stories you want to share or from other past adventures?

The Mentawais was amazing. So many great waves. We were lucky to score some amazing, solid swell so it was quite a challenge. Some great waves with some punishing wipeouts.  It’s worth a visit for any keen surfer. Such a great holiday—a heap of exercise, good company, great food and a couple of beers in the evening.

And finally…do you surf to find ideas or lose yourself? (Sorry, Bodhi moment).

I suppose I do lose myself whilst surfing, only to find myself again…ha! The ocean is a source of inspiration. Surfing is a leveller for me—always in the moment. I could be having the worst week, but after a surf, things are clearer, in perspective. Nothing seems to matter. Happy. I always feel respectful of the ocean. You can be the strongest swimmer or strongest surfer, but at any stage you are no match for the power of the ocean.

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If you wanna hit Darren up for a commission, he can be found here. When Gillian’s not busy working, she keeps a classic blog here where she writes about surfing, hot surfer lads and everything in between. Be sure to check out more photography by David Bilbrough and Cory White too.