Mystery artist pays tribute to surfer who escaped shark
Pro surfer Mick Fanning recently punched an aggressive shark during a surf contest in South Africa, and then he escaped.
Fittingly, Fanning is reimagined as boxer Mike Tyson in the newest piece from street artist BERT. In “Fin Bitin’ Mick Tyson” behind VG Donut & Bakery, Fanning is sporting a Tyson tattoo and a chunk of the shark in his mouth, harkening back to Tyson’s ear-biting episode in 1997.
In 2013, BERT began taking on topical events in the surfing world with his anonymous art, leading some to call him surfing’s Banksy. The BERT name is derived from Larry Bertlemann, who Bert describes as “one of surfing’s most innovative visionaries.”
This wasn’t the first BERT work to grace an Encinitas wall. Notably, he depicted pro surfer Kelly Slater as a fortuneteller last year on a wall of the Univ shop. His work has also appeared in Solana Beach, Carlsbad, Huntington Beach and even abroad.
For this Q&A, he agreed to answer questions via email.
Q: Why did you decide to pay tribute to the Mick Fanning shark incident?
A: I create a visual commentary based on each of the WSL (World Surf League) contests, beginning with my first piece located under the I-5 freeway in San Clemente in 2013. I was hesitant to continue with this “Fin Bitin’ Mick Tyson” idea out of respect for Mick, as well as anyone who has experienced a run-in with a shark. It’s serious, Mick saw the humor in it and I decided to go ahead with it.
Q: Has Fanning responded to the piece?
A: Mick thought it was cool. He was very clear that he has much respect for all those who have also encountered sharks and could not directly support it, but is also supportive of me continuing with the design in any form I feel appropriate. Mick is an amazing person and he is always stoked to share his thoughts on my pieces.
Q: What led you to put this on the VGs wall and did you get permission first?
A: Location and longevity is key. I look for walls with great visibility, but also for locations that let the art ride. I’m not trying to vandalize. I choose my locations with the intention of adding something cool and creative to a community. It’s like going on a surf trip. I am not going to go through all the effort to get to a place that never breaks. I am going to do my research and end up where I am not only going to score, but also where I am going to be accepted.
Q: Why are you an anonymous artist? Any chance you’ll ever reveal yourself?
A: In a world where personalities sell art, my art is given away for free in the shadows.
Q: What’s your background as an artist?
A: I have been an artist my entire life. I grew up skateboarding, which taught me how the streets work.
Q: How many pieces are under your belt and are they all surf related?
A: I have done 40 plus BERT street installations. I have had one solo art show on the North Shore. I have worked with a number of company collaborations and I donate designs to the Cardiff Elementary School each year. All BERT designs are surf related.
Q: Is social commentary a part of any of your pieces? If yes, how so?
A: Less social and more surf. It’s a visual commentary on the surf culture and specifically competitive surfing. In terms of art, the streets are the largest canvas and we are currently experiencing the largest art movement in art history. The Internet is a large component of the global reach.
Q: Many of your pieces are in Encinitas — why this city?
A: Encinitas is epic. I am so stoked on the support. I choose communities that are going to relate to the content of my art. Everyone from groms to weekend warriors look forward to each of my pieces. Usually these two demographics are together looking for my newest piece. Fathers and kids hit me up all the time with support and I make sure to get back to each one expressing my gratitude.
Q: How long did this Fanning piece take? Tell me about your process.
A: Each piece begins with watching every minute of each live WSL (World Surf League) webcast. The commentators have given me some of my most classic ideas. I sketch while I watch. Eventually a surfer wins and I decide on a final design. At that point I digitalize the design and take that to the studio where a stencil is created. Each piece involves stencil and hand-painted elements. I have a catalog of walls and I choose one depending on the design’s composition, the colors and the content, as well as the community it will be put in.
Q: How much thought went into how to best capture the shark incident?
A: Lots of thought. The Internet had already exploded with memes. When I first began in 2013, no one was creating this type of surf parody. Now it’s flooded with ideas. I won’t put anything out that is not one layer deeper than everyone else. I haven’t missed a contest yet.
Q: Have you had any close calls where you were almost caught putting up your murals?
A: Every night is a close call. I video every step of the creation as well as every piece going up. It’s all documented. It might be shared some day.
Q: What’s the reception been like to your works?
A: People hit me up all the time expressing their support. It means a lot. I have gained many cool relationships through my art. Although many are only through emails, I feel like they are lifelong. I spend a lot of time responding in detail with each one. One relationship that has been rad is working with the Cardiff Elementary School. I donated design to their past ice cream social and have more design collaborations with them coming out soon. The community I work within and the fans I gain keep me in the streets.
Q: Encinitas has quite a few muralists and even a website, paintencinitas.org, dedicated to highlighting them. Do you consider yourself part of that scene?
A: The best part about working in the shadows is that the sun in always just a minute away.
Q: Do you have more works planned for Encinitas?
A: Encinitas is always on my radar. I am currently looking to collaborate with business owners, which will allow me to do larger pieces. Support drives my locations and so far Encinitas has stoke!
Learn more at bertslideart.wordpress.com.
This Q&A was lightly edited for clarity.