Living in Style: Brian Bent

Brian Bent is not pretending or acting. He is what, and whom, he presents himself to be. And he is great.

What he presents, is a hot-rodding rockabilly surfer circa 1968, or maybe 1953, I can’t pin down exactly when. You can find images of him all over the internet riding a checkered surfboard while wearing a striped shirt and captain’s cap, ya know, like the one Thurston Howell III wore on Gilligan’s Island.

The pics look great. But what is even better, is that on any given day you can easily run into Brian out in the lineup at Doheny or San Onofre, and he will look exactly like he does in those photos, and he will ride that log for all its worth. He can surf.

When he is done he will haul that log into the parking lot, load it onto a homemade hot rod, and head home to paint.

His paintings are what first caught my attention.

People have been paying attention to his art for decades. He is not new. His work is a loose mix of what appears to be fashion illustration, shapes, and storytelling. He renders spindly stylized characters like you might imagine would exist if Jack Skellington targeted the world of Gidget. He made a splash back in the 80’s when he was designing the interiors of the Becker surf shops and his work was eventually picked up by galleries. He has been and still is, producing.

Producing as in continually creating. Making. All sorts of stuff.

I met Brian as he and his wife were headed from the beach back to their car. I was (still am) just some soggy kook in a wetsuit hollering “Hey Brian” and they stopped and graciously listened as I told Brian I loved his art. He was gracious. They were nice.

Then last weekend he opened up his home for a “garage sale” and Mrs. Hammas and I went to check it out. The Bents were exactly as they appeared at the beach, super gracious, and their home is the best representation of a stylized life I have ever seen. They execute a designed life to perfection.

In front of their modest sized house is a teal, tailfinned car with anchors painted on the cab, then three steel home-made hot rods, and of course all the vehicles are outfitted to carry a surf board. In the garage are tools upon tools and a quiver of hand painted longboards next to a pile of banged up single tailed skateboards.

The house is a collection of mid-mod vignettes made up of furniture, instruments, and art. Skatalites played on a record player, easy going people not wearing shoes milled about the kitchen, and the Bents appeared sincerely happy we were there. They showed us around, shared a bit about their life, and went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.

And I was. Thanks to them.

This comfort came largely from the Bent’s authenticity. The 60’s, or 40’s for that matter, are long gone and most of us do not dress or design a life like the Bent’s so it might be natural to assume they might be a little… weird. Or act eccentric. But they don’t. They are, again, normal. In the best possible way. In the way that makes a person a real person rather than a performance. In a way that makes Brian a master of style rather than a relic.

Brian is not living in the past, he is living in style.

And I didn’t even get to his music.

Al’s Attire, I should have known and so should you.

This guy makes basketball shoes. As in he takes basketballs, cuts them up, and makes them into shoes. These aint Nike they are Spalding couture. He does the same thing with baseball mitts- turns them into purses. He is designer, tailor, and a brand all of his own making.

I didn’t know about AL before I wandered into his shop. I was just window shopping, sort of strolling along San Francisco’s North Shore neighborhood and it was just the next door in a row of others, I had just gone ga ga over cheese in a spot across the street, so I was already in a good mood. I stepped inside and was struck by what I found.

Let me state clearly that my not knowing about Al’s before I got there was a personal deficiency. I have since learned that not only is he not new, but he has been a front running outfitter for the cool kids since I was a child. When I struck up a conversation with him I recognized the sort of approachability and openness that I have found in so many other true leaders in their field. The ones who no longer need to prove themselves to anyone. The ones who have shown their worth to all who matter long ago and are still doing what they do, but out of love for their craft- not chasing status. Those people are always happy to talk with anyone, even those like me who have absolutely nothing to offer, if you are talking about the work.

Al’s stuff felt new. Not new like fast fashion plastic and tin foil from Forever 21, but new like ideas. New, like a digitized camouflage suit jacket , which would never be my thing, but kept me transfixed when I saw it on his hanger. I will not venture to say that he is the first one to make a camo jacket, but he did it in a way that felt right, not like a gimmick.

That is his magic. He does new odd ball stuff sans gimmick. Sans social media marketing department. Sans pretention.

But with a double dose of creativity and cool.

Birdwell Beach Britches:

In 1961, back in the days of Gidget and the Endless Summer, a seamstress named Carrie Birdwell Mann started making and selling swimshorts at her Orange County home. More than 50 years later the company is still in O.C. making pretty much the same thing, and for the most part- only that one thing.IMG_6570

We call them boardshorts. The world knows about boardshorts thanks to Old Navy and Target, but surfers know about boardshorts largely thanks to Birdwell. Mrs. Mann invented the shorts specifically for them.

Not to take away from what Quiksilver, O’neill, or any other surf brand have accomplished, but when it comes to boardshorts, Birdwell is what all of them are trying to be.IMG_6498

Like any responsible adult, the folks at the factory were a little leary of me when I showed up asking questions. But once they determined that, as they put it, “wasn’t up to any weird @*!!” they were more than happy to show me around.IMG_6492The family sold off the business, or as the current owners say “entrusted” them in 2014. Since then, a couple things have changed, while some other significant things have not.

For instance, they started using actual patters.IMG_6489While this may have removed some whimsy from the whole purchasing experience, it did make predicting if the shorts were going to fit a little more reliable.

They also updated the van.IMG_6597And by updated I mean they painted it not fixed the engine, which is why I found it parked comfortably in the factory parking lot.

What they didn’t change were the people working the floor. They have remarkably low turnover and most of the folks sewing the shorts today, are the same folks who sewed them ten years ago.IMG_6494

This might be in part an explanation for what else hasn’t changed, which is that these shorts are nearly bomb proof. I think these shorts are what the authorities use to identify the victims of shark attacks since the shorts are what always survive.

*I said that not them*IMG_6506

It is interesting that in our modern world of fast fashion and quarterly shareholder returns, there can exist a company and brand that survives without attempting to broaden offerings in order to capture market share or lowering quality to widen the margin and spur more turns.

They didn’t do that and they are still right there.IMG_6566

Like I said before, I don’t surf.

But if taking steps past big box mass retail is a sign- I might be on my way.IMG_6594

Not Afraid to be Cliche: hangin’ ten on the bear flag republic

I am afraid of neither cliché nor dumpster. I may be a little bit afraid of going all Johnny Utah and trying to teach myself how to ride a cliché in Red Hot Chili Pepper infested waters, so I settle for sitting on the couch and painting what should otherwise be a sporting good.bearflahboard

I found it in a dumpster. I saw it as a low rent project that would allow me the tools to learn my next sporting hobby. I had dreams of riding waves and floating just out beyond the break.

Two years later I have ridden very little beyond a sofa and sadly, I float a bit too easily in the pool.img_9405

Then I got an idea.oitq1198

It is still rideable. At least in theory.img_4990

Mom and Mondrian

I have described my mother as the most practical woman alive. She has never wasted her time with whining, complaining, or materialistic foolishness.I describe her that way because it is true. But do not get her wrong, despite having married a mountain man, she herself is an artist.
sinkShe does not bring up artist’s names or offer nasally critiques using words like philistine or vulgarian. She doesn’t try to critique anything at all really- that would be silly. She is not silly.
windowkilnWhat she would do is be the valedictorian of her high school but not attend the graduation.While her husband spent time fly fishing on the Provo River she was volunteering as a docent in a museum.

This amuses me because docent is probably the most high-brow word she has ever used.
pots

Legend has it that the only time she didn’t get an A in college was in pottery. And that was only because the professor refused to give an A to anyone who wasn’t a fine art major. Mom was in education. Because when you start college after having already had six children, going into education is practical.
momandkayBut inside that practical person, that education major about to become an elementary school teacher, is and was my mom. My mom, the 18 year old who hopped on a ship to Europe so she could marry a soldier working as a linguist in Germany. The young woman who spent her honeymoon touring Europe visiting art museums and castle galleries. The young woman who when she chooses a car, picks a yellow convertible MG Roadster.

The woman, who once retired and living in one of the most rural places imaginable, builds a structure that on the outside looks like a one story Lincoln log wood shop, but on the inside, is a studio fashioned to look like you have stepped inside Mondrian’s “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow”.

outside

 

Eat Your Hipster Hearts Out: Dad’s stuff

My father has never been hip. I have not asked him if he was ever cool, but I’m guessing he would happily agree with me. Hip isn’t high on his priority list.

Growing up with him I never saw him doing the cool things, saying cool words, or even paying attention to anyone everyone else said was cool. We lived in a place that we all knew wasn’t cool (Utah) and while in this backwater we didn’t even do the only thing people did there that was considered cool (ski).

rugsrailImagine my surprise when years later I began seeing the cool kids of the coolest place (Brooklyn) doing things I used to see my dad do. I was, and to some extent still am, confounded. To make matters worse, The cool kids were not just doing things my dad did but they were for the most part doing it poorly.

Not everyone (Hollister Hovey does taxidermy right) but I saw dudes buying axes who have never, nor will ever, chop wood. I was confused.

stagmountsI had been away from my Dad’s home for longer than I thought and was struck by the volume and variety of objects in his home that meant something to me, and even more struck that the quality of his collection was even better than I remembered.

throneHis collection of Native American rugs were not purchased but rather they were either inherited or bartered. I remember artisans from New Mexico and Arizona who didn’t speak Spanish or English weaving rugs that would make any Urban Outfitter designers swoon.

kachinaThe antlers on the wall were shot and mounted by either my father or one of his friends. The lattice throne was brought back from Berlin back in the 60’s, kachinas and baskets from off the reservation, and Michelangelo’s Moses from Italy.

statuary

Dad spent hours sitting in the same room as the television completely ignoring whatever was on. He was engraving on tusks of mastodon or walrus, powder horns (either cow or buffalo), and now he even has wild boar tusks. A ship carved into an imitation whale tooth makes sense, but looking at it now, the plains warrior scrimshawed onto a walrus tusk-not so much. It didn’t seem odd to me when he did it back in the 80’s.

scrimshaw

While Dad’s flintlock normally hangs on the wall of his living room, it has also shot an elk.

Recently.

flinthawkhornWandering the loft I touched the objects and experienced tactile nostalgia. I remember the times years ago when those things were part of my environment, and like all things in youth I took them for granted. Now that I am older than Dad was when he created or collected these things, I recognize their value independent of my memories but mostly appreciate them through my appreciation of him.

I look up to him and strangely enough I look up to his things.

His things represent experiences, places, and all the various aspects of him. They are him. They are him so much that as long as he lives he does not collect things as much as he earns them. For instance the the objects from Samoa do not come from my youth but from his old age.

He tells me the staff and fan were gifts. They are symbols or talismans representing speech giving, talking, or pontificating. If you have met my father this makes sense. I don’t need to know anything about Samoa or her traditions to believe my Dad. Not because I trust his expertise in this South Pacific nation, but rather I know for a fact that were he to ever earn anything, it would be for talking.

I appreciate things that are earned. Especially things with a good story. That stick is inherently both.

samoaclose

Those things are cool. They are real in so many ways. They have not only aesthetic value-which I’m glad people are recently appreciating-but more so they meaning. Not a fad. Not an a crafted image. No irony.

Actual cool.

You can’t have a collection this cool without some it it rubbing off on you. Or maybe its more likely that the objects got some of the cool as it rubbed off from him.

Maybe he was cool all along, just not hip.opafisher

A Blanket, Sorta.

Stick with me for a minute on this one. Textiles influence our surroundings much more than most folks realize. Picnics, bedspreads, beach towels, tablecloths, throw blankets, rugs, drapery, etc. They can come to dominate an aesthetic without even trying, or despite whatever else is going on. For instance, you could have a sleek lined modern bedroom, but if you add an Incredible Hulk bedspread,  all you have is an Incredible Hulk bedroom. See what I mean?

For Christmas I would like some blankets… but I have opinions.tumblr_m8ndrp4uJB1qd7xd8o1_500

I like Persian rugs just fine but would prefer to personally collect them from Persia. I have never been there. I have however been to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and California. Not that they are similar places or produce similar products, but replace the image of an office floor draped in Persian rugs with Navajo textiles and that is what I want. Earth tones, hand made, meaningful designs in a western theme in line with my upbringing.

They may not be manufactured but crafted.

il_340x270.702297867_bemwManufacture away with some navy and white striped lightweight sheet-tablecloth-cloth-whatever. I could use large, lightweight (linen would be perfect), navy and white striped bolts of cloth. A day at the beach is great, but a day at the beach where the hodge-podge beach towels are replaced with classic nautical colors just moved up a few notches. It would work the same on summer canopies or sandy picnics. Just remember, thick, navy and white stripes.Texture of a red and white checkered picnic blanket. Red linen c

Add to the list the basic red and white checked linen tablecloth or picnic blanket. This one is for grassy fields as opposed to sandy dunes but pretty much the same as above. Classic, clean, adds to the occasion rather than detracts.Hudson Bay Blanket TXT0233

It does in fact get cold in California. Even if it doesn’t, I do intend to go to cold places occasionally. There is no better answer to cold than the classy and historic Hudson Bay blanket. In my mind this blanket recall French fur trappers and Iroquois. Neither of those are very West Coast but I refuse to completely assimilate. I like the clean lines and simple colors.

Picture your clean line modernist bedroom with the Hulk bedspread, then replace those sheets with the Hudson Bay blanket. Ta-Da! Your modern sleekness is still there but now you have added some warmth and history, which is no simple task with modernism. Hence the power of the Hudson Bay blanket.

Is Somewhere to Sit Down Too Much to Ask?

It is a running joke in my home that all I ever say, or the thing I am most likely to say at any give time is, “I have no where to sit down,” spoken in an exasperated voice. This is due to everyone else in my home using every flat surface available, including chairs and sofas, as a desk or shelf.

Sometimes when a guy comes home from work (where he ironically spends all day sitting at a desk) all he wants is to sit down and relax for a moment without having to compete with backpacks, craft projects, and children for seating space.

For Christmas this year, I want my own portable chair.chair_table

Campaign chairs are not meant for the living room but rather are supposed to help create a living room when one is out and about… on a campaign.

I don’t campaign much, in any sense of that word, but in my mind I intend to go on numerous adventures and at the risk of going soft, I am not above some level of luxury.b667c3ea23820249c79153bf79903cd1

There are plenty of options in travel and/or camp chairs, but I am not interested in a primary or camo colored nylon contraption you pick up at CVS, I have those already. They work fine but don’t look fine.

How strange it is that we venture out into nature with hopes of appreciating its beauty, yet once we arrive in said beauty we vomit out the contents of our camp trailer in a large mismatched pile of trash called “camp”. I think we could do better.tripod-stool-medium-[2]-966-p

I like the idea of the leather and wood tripod. I like the idea that I could quickly fold it flat and slide it into the side-strap of my backpack. I could haul it up to the top of Angel’s Landing or to the beach bonfire and with little effort find a place to rest my weary bones and spoil the wonder of my surroundings.littlemopuntainbrothers

You see, I think there is room in the great out doors for both TR’s “Strenuous life” and the finer things. I’m not really going for the whole TR imperialist have a bunch of servants pack in my personal library and caviar, though I appreciate the aesthetic of that time but rather I think I picked this idea up from American Indians of the great plains. They were not camping per se, they were living.

I spent a large amount of my formative years living in a tee-pee. We called it camping but it wasn’t the same thing as the REI crews with their springbar tents and Bunsen burner camp stoves. We had nice sleeping mats, good chairs, a giant stove inside our “tent.” We were outdoors to enjoy the outdoors, not punish ourselves in some sort of nature flagellation.

I advocate the same in our modern world.XXX_MAIN-01 (1)

There is no law dictating that quick drying, lightweight, nylon and aluminum must be ugly… but most of it is and it would be nice to have somewhere to sit, in the midst of outdoor beauty, without spoiling the view with our presence.