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Written by: Deborah Perry
Issue: June 2013 | NSIDE Business
Surfing is a true art form. It is a rhythmic dance where humans use surfboards like a paintbrush on a liquid canvas of moving water. When the dance is complete, the human and board endure … while the canvas dissolves on the shore.
Lifelong surfer John Olvey knows the dance all too well. “I love everything about the sport of surfing. It inspired my life – made me work hard so I could spend my free time surfing and traveling to exotic locations,” says the 58-year-old Coastal Bend resident and renowned surfer.
Growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast, Olvey proved extremely skillful in the watery medium for more than 40 years. He won 17 first-place state titles and three first-place national ones.
Recently, Olvey hung up his competitive swim trunks and moved his creativity from the top of a gliding surfboard to a painting studio in Corpus Christi. The result was a thriving fulltime art business where he creates a wide variety of original acrylics on canvas, prints and murals, as well as painted surfboards – all soulfully inspired by the sun and surf.
Most interestingly, Olvey is quickly becoming known nationwide for his efforts to repurpose and recycle unusable surfboards by sculpting them. Like no other, he paints and carves the boards, transforming them into multimedia works of art. Numerous artists paint on surfboards, but Olvey is one of only a couple of individuals worldwide who actually carves into them.
“When I began creating surf art, I mastered the entire process of painting on surfboards,” he explains. “It rapidly became clear that I was following a trend, not leading one.”
When sculpting, Olvey selects only the most eye-pleasing hull designs to work with. He chooses vintage surfboards made 50 years ago by master board builders from the 1960s to today’s modern surfboards. His process includes bringing the body back to original structural condition and then proceeding to attack the interior of the board.
“I began to explore the innermost limits of the surfboard – its foam core,” he says. “It’s a wonderful medium – easy to carve, yet delicate, with perfect consistency. I began thinking of the surfboard as a wood product and experimented with a variety of tools and techniques.”
When sculpting, Olvey cuts the boards into as many as 20-plus pieces and hand carves each one before reassembling the structure into a new mosaic or form. An application of coatings, color and artistic finishes follows. The process is rounded out with accent inlays of gold leafing, papers, mirrors, fabrics, stonework, tile, exotic woods or glass.
“The board becomes the art rather than just being a canvas for the art,” Olvey says. What began as a discarded surfboard – the most iconic symbol of the sport – becomes a one-of-a-kind piece of art that honors the lifestyle and reflects both the board’s and the artist’s experiences.
“I love that the board comes to life again in deep, sculpted contours, gleaming finishes and shimmering accents, and made into beautiful art for display in a home or business,” Olvey says.
Professional and amateur art collectors, as well as surf lovers, are taking more and more notice of Olvey’s unique talents and purchasing his work. Original painting and surfboard sales have been consistently going up every year, as his creations are being carried in more and more galleries throughout Texas and California – even Hawaii.
Possessing a true business mind, Olvey continually searches out ways to reach new clientele. He attends numerous art shows and takes advantage of a wide variety of unique opportunities. The Rockport Art Fest is on his calendar for early July. And last January, Olvey’s art was incorporated into a “Hawaii Five-O” episode. A producer of the hit CBS show noticed his work online, purchased it and included it in a scene.
Several times a week, Olvey still surfs for fun and, of course, continued inspiration. Coastal Bend residents may see him off Bob Hall Pier, off Packery Channel or along the coast of Port Aransas, among other places.
“Surfing gives me strength,” Olvey says. “It calms my soul and definitely inspires me. I hope to be surfing – and creating surf art – for a long, long time to come.”