Sean Tully Discusses Dark Beach: Visions of SoCal’s Underbelly

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 Dark Beach, curated by Innocnts, opens on July 27th at New Image Art Gallery. The exhibition focuses on the underbelly of surf culture, the conflicting elements of fantasy and reality found in the surf culture and lifestyle. And because surfing is so intimately tied to Southern California, Dark Beach reveals the shadows of our lives here, shadows that lurk no matter how bright the glare of the sun. In an email interview with us, Sean Tully, the founder of Innocnts,  delved deeper into Dark Beach and the themes that inspired the show.

Are you a native Angeleno/SoCalian? If not how long have you lived here? How long have you been surfing? What changes in surf culture and in the beaches themselves have you noticed over your period of time surfing?

I was born at the Los Angeles County Medical center near the 5 and 10 freeways close to downtown. A dicey neighborhood at certain hours but otherwise romantic if you take into account the cultural richness and toxic sunsets. As a youth I split time between my father’s in Venice and my mother’s in the Valley. It was an odd contrast of outlooks from one area to the next. I moved to Ventura on my own at the age of 18 and lived there for the next 12 years but recently moved to Silver Lake where I’m currently residing. My father surfs and attuned me to the finer nuances of form and style at an early age. As you grow in years so do the beaches and crowds. Today is no longer as it was then.

How do the idealized visions of surfing, its romanticism, collide and combine with everyday reality?

This isn’t your paradise. We live in a modern society where surf camera’s and forecasts are a click away and you gotta pay to park and use your local beach. And don’t bring your dog or have a bonfire. No beers allowed either. The LA sunsets are tagged with chem trails and the county re-directs the natural flow of rivers so as to benefit urban planning and future development. You definitely don’t wanna go out surfing after a rain because all the raw sewage that pumps out to sea but even if you didn’t care about that and went out anyway, there’s still gonna be a ton of people out to join you. You’ll probably all get ear infections and say “never again” until you do it the next time. I hear professional surfing is rad but you better be mindful of with what those shareholders in New York suggest.

Fact is growing up in Southern California on the beaches is rad and we definitely revel in some finer moments under the sun but there’s also a reality within surf culture that isn’t so polished and presentable. I’ve had friends who were amazing surfers quit and get strung out on heroin or meth. It sucks to see shit like that go down. I’ve had other friends who could of gone pro but knocked up their girlfriends and had to maintain a blue collar construction gig just make ends meet for the family. Life happens and humans definitely aren’t perfect so it’s inevitable that we should expect some inconsistencies in surfing’s pretty image that popular culture likes to perpetuate.

How long have you been developing this show? What were some of the challenges in its curation?

I started developing this show after a brief chat I had with with artist Kevin Ancell. I’d exchanged words with him at a vintage surfboard auction (History for sale! Buy now!) some weeks back. I told him I dug his work and mentioned I’d graduated from CalArts. I think he took pity on me and offered his number. Told me to keep in touch. About month or so later I started reaching out to artists to participate in a group surf exhibition that Marsea at New Image Art asked me to curate. He was among the first I contacted. We spoke briefly about possible work submissions. He made a point to mention that his work was not “happy beach” and was a bit grittier than most. I told him hell ya bring the pain and started putting more thought into what he said. I’ve always been more intrigued by the underbelly of things so the concept for Dark Beach seemed kind of obvious. I had a project that I put a lot of effort into while attending CalArts that never really materialized due to lack of funding. It was sort of an exploration of similar themes as Dark Beach so when I finalized this exhibition concept, I already had a solid idea of what I was looking to put forth. This talk with Ancell was about a month ago. Maybe a few days beyond that. I’ve been working towards this project since. The only challenges I face aside from personal ones are really just coordinating with all the artists involved and making sure the work supports the vision. Aside from that, it’s really just a matter of getting it done.

Could please you tell us a little about Innocnts and some of the other projects under that name?

Innocnts is a lifestyle-based project that manifests itself through various mediums including art, writing, video, clothing, photography, and curatorial efforts. Driven by emotive experiences and romantic conviction, Innocnts engages influence from fringe lifestyles, perceptions of artistic nostalgia, and the interstitial space where “high” and “low” culture meet. Established in 2010 while in attendance at CalArts as a means to facilitate further creative endeavors, Innocnts has grown into being anything it needs to be. Innocnts currently maintains a small commercial space in Silver Lake off Hoover and Melrose where various art shows, bbq’s, and social gatherings have begun to take hold. I’m hoping to transition the space into more of a retail setting over the coming months with a wide range of goods including surfboards, flannels, vintage ephemera, and other odd things that can be purchased. Follow Innocnts on Facebook and Instagram if any of this interests you. You can also check the website for the blog and online store where other rad things are happening.

Does Dark Beach include a wide scope of SoCal/surf art, for example– Light and Space, AbEx, Low Brow, graphic–or do you prefer not to define the show within those (or other) terms?

It’s an exhibition of various artworks from different people. I don’t feel the need to over contextualize it in such defining terms outside the genre of “surf art”. With over 20 participating artists from various age and backgrounds, there’s definitely a good mix of perspectives.

How do feel “surf art” has evolved? (it’s not just tikis and palm trees anymore!)

I’m not sure if “surf art” has evolved really. Still feels a bit cliche to me and typically most “surf art” bores me. Artists have evolved and there are some fresh things happening but more often than not it’s just the same old thing. I don’t think Dark Beach is pushing boundaries or anything just yet but at least we can get some alternative dialogue going.

Anything else you’d like to jump into/say?

Thank you to Marsea [Goldberg] at New Image Art for being herself and thank you to all the participating artists for creating work inspired by their experiences.

Dark Beach opens July 27 at New Image Art Gallery.

Kevin Ancell, Russell Crotty, Will Adler, Nicole Dodson, Vince Felix, Brenden Grace, Shawn Stussy, Cesar Ancelle Hansen, Bella Serrell, Jordan Minardi, Thom Pringle, Kassia Meador, Sean Tully, Tom Adler, David Carson, Susanne Melanie Berry, Jeff Ho, Devin Dailey, Demi Boelsterli, Gothic Dolphins, Alexis Amann, Kyle Albers, Ratty Matty, Thibaut Paruite, Ben Brough, Evan Mendel, Greyson Fletcher, Dion Agius, and Craig Stecyk

New Image Art Gallery
7920 Santa Monica. Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Top image: Brendan Grace


Nicole Dodson


Cesar Ancelle Hanson


Will Adler

1 Comment

  1. Dr. Norman Ross
    July 24, 2013

    You go, grandson, go boy!


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