He laughs with his eyes. Graphic designer, painter, cartoonist, animator and illustrator, author of public space art installations. Besides other things, lover of Paul Bley's jazz. He's won several awards for design, animation and illustration. Coming from Canada, skiing and skateboarding are embedded in his DNA. His work is playful and embraces wit and exaggeration. Rather than spending time at art museums, he spends much more time doing outdoor sports. How does that influence his work?
Los Angeles-based artist Geoff McFetridge is now a regular on the American art scene. Thanks to cooperation with established brands such as Nike, Vans or computer giant Apple, his name became well-known even among those not particularly interested in the art of world affairs. This Canadian comes from the city of Calgary, the mecca of winter sports, which in 1988 hosted the 15th Winter Olympics. He first studied art and design at a college in Calgary and then, in the early 90s, moved to California to study art. His move to sunny Los Angeles, where the average annual temperature is 23°C, wasn't prompted merely by his interest in art, but also by his long-standing passion for skateboarding and surfing.
As a 1980s' teenager, he identified with surfing culture. He would dress like a surfer and he himself says: "In the 80s, surfing was cool-guy culture." This synergic link between art and sport is the main raison d'être behind his work. The list of sports in which McFetridge is actively engaged is diverse. They count up to a minimum of eight: skateboarding, surfing, cycling, trail running, climbing, skiing, marathon running and fishing.
Relaxed attitude to sports
Geoff McFetridge simply loves outdoor, open-air sports air which opens up one's mind to their surroundings, sharpen the senses and excites the imagination. He owns a design studio and he usually goes for a run or bike ride every morning before coming to work. He needs to be outdoors every day. And if he doesn't go for a run or a bike ride before work, one might meet him riding a skateboard. Yet he doesn't approach sports too rigidly. Rather he sees sports as a fun game, and movement as a choice, not a deadly serious business. That's why he doesn't really participate in competitions. His approach to sports stems from his changed attitude to movement as such. "It is not kind of running for me. If I am asked what I was doing in the morning, I might say 'I went to Griffith Park to see the sunrise...' I don’t say I was running. If the purpose is different, it will or won’t get me tired. When the goal is to run, it becomes something tiring. And I am not feeling at all like that I have done exercise too much, or got exhausted when I get to the atelier."
In the spirit of human figure
Geoff McFetridge's work is defined by his continuous interest in the human figure – it is based on the universal human experience of the body moving in space and he takes interest in the dynamics of movement and change, both private and social. His figures are painted or drawn, and from human bodies and their parts he creates colorful crowds, often profoundly geometrically stylized and almost spanning to abstraction. His authentic visual language hence doesn't only encode social meanings but also acts as a kind of independent aesthetic ornament. He builds on the tension between the private and the social body and dissects the questions of social balance and disharmony. Communication (not only interpersonal) is the central theme of his work. He treats with the visual language as a multi-layered code and keeps pushing the boundaries between the known and nameable and what doesn't have a name yet.
How to do a crazy skateboard trick
For this artist, outdoor sports and creative artistic activities two closely tied disciplines. Examining existing boundaries is an intriguing issue when it comes to sport as well. He does individual sports, meaning he’s often just by himself, an experience very similar to the solitary, lonely work of an artist. Sport is an important kind of experience for him, during which he questions himself: how far can I go and when should I stop? The same goes for drawing.
The artist highlights one more, not unimportant parallel between sports and art – the matter of acquiring a skill, finesse. If one wants to learn something, they need to repeat and practice it over and over again. Practice equals progress. As McFetridge says: "...you can't do a crazy [skateboard] trick without practicing it step by step. It is the same in drawing as well."
There is no "paid time"
His approach to the personal time management is also worth noticing. He set firm boundaries between working on commercial projects and his own independent work and for each designated a separate floor in his studio. However, he doesn't compare the "paid time" spent on commissioned work with the "unpaid time" reserved for surfing or his own art projects, because then he'd measure everything by the means of a monetary calculator: his work would gain in value, and surfing, from a business point of view, would be too expensive.
Art and design as means of communication and social change
The essential leitmotif Geoff McFetridge's is becoming aware of paintings' ability to connect people with one another.
For McFetridge, art and design primarily serve as means of communication. They bring about space for sharing common values and building community. McFetridge often creates murals and on one of them, the one he created for a sport stadium in Inglewood, California, he says: "When I'm working on projects like this, I work with how art and architecture help communities grow... how cities change... and how we – just like the cities – constantly change as well."
What the artist sees in art and design is a dynamic, revolutionary potential which can work towards a believable future, if artisans channel their creativity in the right direction and don't see it as a purely individualistic effort. McFetridge emphasizes that when it comes to creative thinking, there's no point in competing for creativity or robbing each other of it. Quite the opposite is true; it's important to utilize it "to form original thinking that could be of value for corporations and thus create a believable future, such which reflects the values of the artist and brings the type of free original thinking we need."
You can view the work of Geoff McFetridge here or on artist's Instagram.
Geoff McFetridge (1971) is an internationally renowned American artist and designer. He finished his undergraduate studies of art and design in Canada, then continued at the California Institute of Art in Valencia. His biography together with a list of his of solo and group exhibitions are available here.