New York City and La Jolla. Pop art and surfboards. The Factory and Windansea Beach.
At first glance, Andy Warhol might not have a lot in common with La Jolla and Tim Bessell, one of San Diego’s most renowned surfboard shapers. But as the most famous album cover Warhol designed says, “peel slowly and see.”
Many companies, publications and foundations have asked the Andy Warhol Foundation for the privilege of using Warhol’s images, only to be shot down. But Bessell joined a short list of Warhol licensees three months ago. For his first use of the license, he custom shaped a surfboard featuring Warhol’s 1967 painting Flowers. Last month, the surfboard sold for $18,000 at an auction at the .
“With my history and experience, the foundation gave me permission because they thought I was a good fit,” Bessell said.
Bessell has a background in art and architecture. And like Warhol, he’s a visual artist who works with different mediums and a variety of materials. At Bessell’s shop near , visitors will see furniture, a model shipping-container home, art pieces and, of course, surfboards.
“Warhol used a lot of different materials,” Bessell said. “He experimented a lot, but always seemed to appreciate art that's functional in form or spirit. That’s one of the reasons I idolized him growing up.”
Surfboards are one of the better examples of functional art, in Bessell’s view. The look of a surfboard might be important to a surfer, but above all, it must perform well in waves.
Warhol was exposed to the art of surfboard shaping at the height of his powers. Unbeknownst to many, he came to La Jolla in 1968 to film San Diego Surf, and he even bought two surfboards from local shaper . Warhol making a surf movie? It’s not really a stretch of the imagination, said Michael Hermann, the director of licensing at the Andy Warhol Foundation. (Also note, that the unreleased film might make a debut this year.)
“While his shooting a surf film in La Jolla may sound like an odd fit, San Diego Surf is quite consistent with the arc of many of his other films, which feature the drama of beautiful misfits getting into trouble, having sex and doing drugs," Hermann said.
Soon after filming San Diego Surf, Warhol was the victim of a shooting. He survived, but for unknown reasons, never finished the film, according to Hermann. Another director has since completed San Diego Surf, and Hermann said it could soon be screened at the Andy Warhol Museum. In the meantime, Warhol’s written take on La Jolla has seen the light of day. He wrote in the book POPism: “Everybody was so happy being in La Jolla that the New York problems we usually made our movies about went away – the edge came right off everybody. I mean, it wasn’t like our going out, say, to the Hamptons to film, where it was just a day-trip extension of New York City.”
Citing Warhol’s fondness for surfing and La Jolla, as well as Bessell’s experience as a visual artist, Hermann called the Andy Warhol Foundation’s collaboration with Bessell “authentic” and “natural.”
“The Foundation works with licensees that understand Warhol’s cultural currency and can create products that reflect his maverick approach to art making,” Hermann said. “Bessell certainly gets this.”
Bessell is in the process of hand-shaping 50 Warhol-inspired surfboards, with more to come. While surfers can pick from five different templates, each surfboard will be custom made to a surfer’s requested dimensions. The Warhol image featured on each template corresponds to the surfboard shape, Bessell said. For example, the “gun template,” popular with surfers who hunt big waves, showcases one of Warhol’s famous gun paintings.
“As a tribute to his time in La Jolla, I'm calling it Andy’s quiver,” Bessell said. “The five templates cover the spectrum of conditions that a surfer will see throughout the year.”
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