With the rise of film, photography, Photoshop, digital art and the demand for illustrators – the place for paintbrushes and more traditional art forms such as oil on canvas is often deemed out-dated and dying. But as we can still marvel at the mystery of the ocean and the beauty of surfing, can we still marvel at the skill of a ‘traditional’ painter who can make an image look almost like a photograph… or your most vivid dream.
Billa Engelbrecht is a lifelong surfer and artist from Lamberts Bay who despite the changing artistic landscape still rocks it old-school – painting on canvas and surfing single-fin. Billa has has been painting the ocean, its characters, movements and moods, for almost as long as he’s been riding its waves. If he’s not in the water creating body art on his longboard, Billa is on the beach – painting his most long-standing muse. We caught up with the seventies-style South African surfer to find out more about his art done from the beach and the barrel.
Zigzag: Before we get started, tell us when you started surfing, where you surf mostly these days and your favourite surf spot?
Billa: I started riding waves at the age of 12 on a borrowed boogie-board (marshmallow) in front of my parents’ house in Lamberts Bay in the beach breaks, with my good friend Neal. We both had disk-skimboards at the time, and we were the only surf riders / skimboarders in our town at that stage. We then got hold of this red longboard, and had to get a third guy in to help us carry the thing to the beach. We took to it instantly, pushing one another into waves. Once up and riding, we would just stand dead still, arms down and ride it till the fin hooked on the sand, ride over.
What do you ride and are you goofy or natural?
I still surf and skimboard that beach today (Billa’s beach), and the many spots around Lamberts Bay. My most favourite spots are The Reef, Secrets and Donkins. I ride various single fins only. Got a classic 7’2 Lopez Bolt original, and a custom 6’4 Micheal Peterson Mote straight from the seventies. Besides those two favourites, I chop and change boards as the surf happens. My style is a free-flowing, natural.
Tell us a little bit about your art for someone whose never come across it before.
The beach was my backyard and I spent hours there just drawing pictures in the sand, expressing my imagination as a child. All the sea creatures, the local fishermen, the perfect waves that broke in front of our house. I always tried to draw them exactly as they were, and I guess from there my style of painting developed into Super Realism. I paint as I experience life, as I see it, as it is, no weird attachments, as I recognize creation – just as it was made. So I mostly paint the sea, its abundant life with all the sea creatures big and small, the local people of my hometown, and yes the waves I get to style and ride.
From where (or whom or what) do you draw most of your inspiration?
I’m directly inspired by life and creation all around me. Just to be part of it all, and to be able to share mere glimpses of it to other people who are not as fortunate in experiencing it first hand, through my gift and talents as an artist. The ocean plays a huge roll in my life and I receive a lot of inspiration from its ways, tides and rhythms.
What type of art / ideas do you identify with the strongest?
The creations and images of those who portray their worlds and surroundings into visible forms, despite the mediums used. In other words, to catch a glimpse of what they are about, or on about.
What is your favourite medium to work with and what kind of projects do you currently have on the go?
I mostly work with oils but also enjoy various other mediums. I’m about to start painting a series of works called ‘The Best of Africa’. All the top surf spots around the continent.
Do you have a favourite work of art / body of work?
I have a piece of a set of waves, called ‘The Last Set’, that I kept out from my very first exhibition, just to keep as a reminder of that time in my life. Then there is a painting of a humpback cow and her calf I did back in the day. That too holds great memories of a time in my life where I studied and painted the whales while living in Hermanus, finding my feet as an upcoming artist.
Do you have a dream project or that idea you’d like to explore?
To do a trip to some excluded location, far away from the chaos of mainstream mumble jungle, to live with the locals, ride their surfspots and do a range of paintings on their existence from day to bay.
What do you think others find most surprising about you or your art?
I guess the ‘realness’ and detail of the work, but I have received a few wild and radical remarks about my work, and always have to help the viewers or buyers in explaining to them, that it’s a God given talent and blessing to be able to do what I do, so all the credit to my Creator.
Lastly, tell us who your favourite local and international artist and surfer is?
Local favourite artist: Has to be Noel Ashton.
International favourite artist: I have to say Rick Griffin. His whole approach and free-flowing yet radical expression as an artist, free, in control and living his dream. Then definitely Rietveld and also Ken Auster.
Local favourite surfers: Festus Bramwall, Clive Cerf, Grant Baker, The Curnall.
International favourite surfers: The duke Kahanamoku, Gerry Lopez, Buttons, Tompson, Rabbit, Pottz, Occy.
Any pearls of wisdom for the surfers, artists, humans out there?
A big appeal to all wave riders and ocean addicts, to please take care of their local beaches and surf spots. To do their part to help cut down on ocean and plastic pollution. To become active and involved in a local community program that educates, cares and protects our oceans and beaches, or to start or initiate a program from scratch. You as an individual can make a visible and effective difference through your direct actions. Stay aloha!
Viewers can find some of Billa Engelbrecht’s work on Facebook HERE, contact him directly at email@example.com or pull into his spot in Lambert’s Bay for a surf and a parooze. All Artwork © Billa Engelbrecht