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Tony Arruza Exhibition Combines Surfboards and Art

Following the well-received premiere of the “15 Surfboards by 15 Shapers” exhibition at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, Tony Arruza will be having a solo show and book signing at Nicole Henry Fine Art, at 522 Clematis St., on Feb. 10 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

West Palm Beach-based photographer and surfer Arruza spent five years collaborating with 15 different surfboard shapers to bring his photos to life on 15 distinctly shaped boards.

Each finished board is a one-of-a-kind fine art creation with a laminated pigment-ink print photograph chosen to aesthetically enhance the boards’ shape, paying homage to the person behind the board. The pieces are in essence functional art where the surfboard could work equally well in the ocean or as a stunning display on a wall.

Arruza also created a book detailing the project, “15×15” ($30 plus $5 shipping) which is available for purchase. For more information, please visit facebook.com/tonyarruzaphotography.

The 15 colorful, eye-catching and wave-riding surfboards in the exhibition and the craftsmen that shaped them can also be viewed online at arruza.com/surfboards.

We recently caught up with Arruza to find out more about the project, the meaning behind it and his inspirations.

Q&A with Tony Arruza

How did you get the idea to combine surfboards and photographs?

It came to me serendipitously. I received an email blast from my printing supplier which advertised a new textile material that they now carried. They illustrated the properties of this material with an example of an artist having prints of his artwork printed on it and then adhering it to miniature pieces of foam shaped as surfboards. At the time, I was having a surfboard made by Firo Surfboards, a local manufacturer, and the idea of placing an image of mine on the board sprang to mind.

I contacted the supplier and asked for a sample of this new material. I then printed a small image on it and took it to Firo to test its properties with resin. To our surprise it worked really well holding all the details of the image – not smearing, buckling with the heat of the catalyzed resin and having beautiful translucent quality.

With testing out of the way, I printed a full size image to fit the entire length of the board and had Firo inlay it onto the board. Upon seeing the finished board both of us were truly amazed at how beautiful it came out. That was the birth of the project though it took a while to come up with the final concept of 15 surfboards by 15 shapers.

Could you tell me a little bit about the concept of the project?

One of the principal premises of the project is craftsmanship, like in hand-shaping! By that I mean that a lot of surfboards these days are made using a computer-guided shaping machine. Granted these boards are perfect! However, I was not after perfect but rather old-school craftsmanship, something with soul. To me the boards are primary and my photography secondary but when combined the finished product is raised to another level. The surfboards give new life to my imagery and my imagery brings greater attention to the surfboard than it may have gotten on its own. There’s a synergy there that is visceral at its core and animated at its shell.

One personal bit about the project is that I wanted to showcase a part of my career in photography. Thus the wide variety of images taken in nine different countries (speaking to my travels) and of different subject matters (speaking to my diversity). Also, I gave the project an international touch by going to Australia for the final board, further exemplifying my travels especially with surf photography.

15x15

What were your inspirations?

Gosh, many: my huge library of images; my love for surfing; my admiration of a beautifully constructed surfboard; my desire to create a body of work that would encapsulate my career; my joy of the process; and overcoming the many challenges the project placed on me.

How did you decide on the photos and shapes for each board?

Simple and not simple. Simple in that I wanted each shape and each picture to be different from any others. Not simple in that it’s not easy to come up with different shapes and designs of boards. As the project grew, I had to make sure that I found a shaper that not only hand-shaped but had a model or style of board that was different to the rest.

And, while I have a ton of photos in my library, only a few can be cropped to work with a surfboard shape. Thus finding an image that works with the specific board shape and was different from all the others in color and subject matter was more difficult than I thought it would be.

Having said that it seems that I’d always find a dozen or so possible images and narrowing that down to just one was painstakingly hard. I took opinions on social media and back and forth between the shaper and myself to decide. The process was never easy and became more difficult as more boards were done.

Do you have any favorite boards in the collections, or any that have a special meaning to you?

No, it’s impossible to have a favorite board. Each one took so much work and energy to create that I could not in all fairness say I like one better than another. It’s like choosing your favorite child out of a litter of 4 or 5.

But as for meaning, yes, there is one. That’s the final board entitled “The Beginning.”

First, the model of the surfboard is called Genesis, which translates to ‘the beginning of something’. This board shaped by legendary Bob McTavish in Australia began the short board revolution in 1968. Prior to this board all surfboards were what are today called longboards, surfboards that measure 9’ or greater. Bob’s Genesis was the first board to measure under 7’ and be successfully ridden in Hawaii where it became famous and revolutionized the surfboard industry.

But the real meaning lies in the photograph. It is of a surfer paddling out at sunrise (the beginning of the day), and it is the oldest image in my archives (the beginning of my photography career). Furthermore, that sunrise photo was taken at a spot called Hollows in Puerto Rico from where a wave photograph became my first ever published image in Surfing Magazine (the beginning of my stint as a surf photographer with Surfing Magazine). It was also taken with my first ever camera given to me by my father. In other words, this surfboard signifies a [lot] of beginnings!

Oh, and one last thing. The first board in this project, the one I referred to in the first question up above, was made using a template from a board that I saw at a surf shop and inspired me to have a board made. That board was a Bob McTavish surfboard!

You recently debuted the boards at an exhibition at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach. Now that that’s wrapped up, what’s next? Did you get any bites from art collectors, or do you have any plans for another show?

As for the show, I took it down and moved it directly to Nicole Henry Fine Art Gallery on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. She had requested the show be placed in her gallery for the next two months, and I jumped on the opportunity.

As for bites, unfortunately not. While everyone loved the boards, they’re not your usual art piece that you hang in your house. It’ll take a special person(s) to purchase them.