“The title, Marie, Is That You?, refers to the benchmark of Hurricane Marie,” said the artist and surfer Keegan Gibbs. “Every time a swell comes it’s like, Is this going to be Marie? Marie is this personification of the hurricane.”
We were walking along a stretch of Malibu known as Dog Beach, me, Keegan, and his mutt Dewey. Bright sun beat down on our heads. Messy little waves slapped the shore. A few days earlier I’d seen Keegan’s show at the Depart Foundation in Malibu. There was a short film featuring surfers checking the waves, there were the swell models we see on Surfline and Magic Seaweed transmogrified into paintings, there was an eternally dripping wet wetsuit, there was a shaping room installation, there was a rock sculpture that looked terribly familiar, like I’d passed it on a jog up the point. Which is to say that it captured the surf experience as we know it well.
“At the time I was asked to do the show there were two or three back-to-back hurricane swells that were predicted, and I remember prepping for the show and getting so distracted. All I could do was keep checking the surf, and suddenly I thought, This is the show!” said Keegan.
34 years old, tall and angular, a born and raised Malibuite, a lifelong surfer with a penchant for switching stance, a shaper of fine single and twin fins, Keegan told me that he was reluctant to bring surfing into his art-making.
“I think there was a fear that I wasn’t going to be able to convey anything meaningful. I was afraid that any ‘surf art’ I might make would feel trivial or corny. The feeling of coming out of tube, or a good session with your friends—that feeling is truly ineffable.”
We passed clumps of seaweed that smelled briny, a thousand years old. A sandpiper pranced across the wet shiny sand and Dewey took after it, barking. We got to talking about the anxiety of the surfing life, the way our nervous systems almost align with the ebb and flow of tide, wind, swell.
“Every morning I wake up and check the buoys,” said Keegan. “On my phone I’ve got hundreds of screen shots of swell models over the last ten years or so. I realized I clearly had an obsession with how these models looked—this really crude, automated, computer-generated graphic that’s supposed to tell a story about something that’s completely natural. I had such a close relationship with the colors, the numbers. I just realized that this was a huge part of my surf experience. It’s about yearning for the next swell.”
Check out more of the show HERE.