Sea Black Prints | Artist Chris Blackway
Chris Blackway has a love for the sea, surfing, creativity, and family; which he channels into his chosen mediums of artistic creation.
I’ve been drawn to Blackway’s art for years now, wanting to gain a better understanding of his process, and we connected during this brutal winter to discuss his life and work.
When did you first start drawing and creating art? What are your earliest memories of creating?
I’ve always considered myself a creative person. When I was young I loved to draw and just make things with my hands. Like many kids, art was my favorite “subject” in school. I’ve also always been physically active, so eventually that became the thing that took up most of my time. When I was in high school I discovered photography and I loved it. I was fortunate enough that when I learned photography we were still using film, we had to develop our own negatives, and print our photos in darkrooms. I found it so refreshing and exciting to be able to use my eyes for composition, while combining the use of my hands to create these images through trial and error. In photography I discovered contrast and composition. I feel like I was able to stand out from the crowd in showing the world what I saw. It was so much easier for me to really get my point across through photos rather than my drawing. I liked to see the “real world” and show people another way to view it. I couldn’t do that with drawing. That wasn’t something I was ever able to do. It just didn’t feel right.
In my senior year of high school I decided that I wanted to pursue photo journalism. I wanted to show the world to people through my stories and my viewpoint. That idea lasted a few years, but after almost two years of classes, I was tired of hearing teachers critique my work from the eye of a fine artist. I don’t think a journalist is focused on the same viewpoint as a fine artist. That was discouraging at the time, so I left the art world, and didn’t do much with it. I still considered myself creative, but there was no direction anymore, and there was no goal in sight with using art in my life so it got pushed aside.
I began block printing as a general curiosity because I found this amazing artist, Joe Hodnicki, at an event that I go to yearly up in Maine called the Surf ReEvolution put on by Grain Surfboards. His work and the idea that he got to use his hands to carve away these beautiful images really struck something with me. I ended up telling my wife that I wanted to try it one day and she ended up buying me a basic starter kit for Christmas. I went down into my basement and came up a few hours later with this insanely awesome wave. She and I were both really impressed with it.
That was it! It started with a single wave.
I posted it on Instagram and a few people commented that they would buy my stuff. What? Really? Like, for real? So, the rest led up to where I am today. I had no plans for this. I had no idea that I would be making stuff as gifts, anniversary presents, gallery pieces, company logos, and everything else you can think of. It’s really humbling. I tell people all the time to just try. Just try and see what happens. I had no training. I had no idea that I could do this. I didn’t ask for this. It really is a gift that I am thankful for every time I get to do something new and meet new people.
I think as humans we all have the artistic impulse, you see it in the openness of children. Why do you think most lose the connection to their inner artist?
Man, I think we as humans have lost the part of our lives that dips into the creative parts of our brains and it is really sad to see. I had an art teacher in 4th grade that really encouraged me to keep going, she spoke to my parents, and featured my work in the classroom. I still can remember her and I will never be able to thank her for the impact that those few moments had on my life. Now that I have kids who are incredibly talented and imaginative, I try everyday to make sure I tell them how great their drawings and creations are. My wife is so incredibly talented as well with her artwork and I think we as a family are just really appreciative of the arts because it’s something that runs deep in our hearts.
I’m so thankful to have a partner in life that helps cultivate beauty in this world through her actions and her support of my incredible little girls.
Balance is something that is incredibly important.
I think the world has always put more of an emphasis on the general classes in school because history has always shown that the artists aren’t the “successful ones”. We put such a huge emphasis on succeeding in mathematics and sciences which are obviously very important, but where is the recognition for those inspiring others through their creations. If kids are lucky enough they can become musicians that inspire others to dance or move forward. If they are lucky enough maybe they become graphic designers and create beautiful logos or eye catching print material. But most kids will lose their imagination and focus more on the logical parts of their brains which in turn lead to less creativity. The world needs this balance because we need all sorts of people.
When we spoke recently, you told me your newest pieces are a play on the concepts of balance, harmony, and peace. Can you get a little deeper on this for our readers?
Last year was very difficult for me.
The last few years has found me working more than ever and the balance of home, work, kids, and individual freedom was completely thrown off. My priorities were all messed up because, well, life and all of its responsibilities had taken over. It took some pretty heavy moments and deep inside discovery to realize that I was becoming something I never wanted to be.
Now, I have a whole new outlook on life.
My walls that kept me safe and in the shadows have come down, now I could not be happier. I feel like I get a chance to now view life through the eyes of an adult that has lived through a lot of experiences, but I have this sense of curiosity and optimism that can only be found in the kids. My newest pieces are reflecting my outlook and that everything has to be in balance or true-life cannot be achieved. There are areas in my life that I am still working on to get anywhere near this idea of truly living, but I can honestly tell you that I am working hard every single day to view the world through optimism and if I want to change something, I will do it.
Right now you’ll see this really simple idea of geometric lines and the sun and moon in the same image. My lines always connect the pieces in ideas that are extremely abstract and most people won’t look into it any more than it’s just some triangles, a sun, and a moon. But, art is subjective and everyone can read it any way they want. Sometimes I’ll have these ideas pop into my head that are so easy to read and it doesn’t demonstrate deep thinking or abstract ideas, but I also have these wild ideas that pop up and they are totally abstract and fun to make.
Another subject that I’ve always been drawn to is the idea of peace. The last few years have been filled with alot of fighting. The current state of the world is so insane right now. At first I was so angry at things happening in our country, embracing the concept of creating these angry and high energy pieces, but it only felt natural for a moment. I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to add to the negativity and hatred that was engulfing everyone’s life. I want to make images that convey peace and bring a sense of calm in people’s homes. I don’t want to be known as that guy who added fuel to the fire. I want to be the guy that puts water on a spark, creating calmness.
How does your passion for surfing and the surf lifestyle find its way into your artwork?
Surfing. Oh surfing!
I have had a love-hate relationship with surfing for a few years. I love surfing with every piece of my soul. The difficult thing for me is that I am an “all or nothing” kind of person. When I was in my early twenties, I was surfing all the time. I would go to bed at 12am and wake up at 3:15am, making sure I was in the water before the sun broke the horizon. I would do this 3-4 days a week when there were waves. It was all I lived for. Then, as it happens for many people my wife came along, then the kids, and then the job that required much of my time. I had a hard time with the idea that I wasn’t the person that I once was. When my art came around it became my “thing” that took the place of surfing. It wasn’t and isn’t surfing though. But, I was able to take all of the images I logged in my head from the years of watching sunrises and barrels while I was in the water, applying it to my art. I love creating surf in my art. I love taking the mental video of the freight train barrel breaking off the end of the jetty and turning it into a wave on a piece of paper. I feel really fortunate that my memories and experiences are able to translate to paper. It is such a simple concept, but it’s something that is hard to achieve sometimes.
Another thing I really appreciate because of my photography background is contrast and composition. When I started making images of waves, I wanted to offer another viewpoint of surfing. Everyone uses these bright blues and greens, I just wanted to bring these black and white bold images to life. I liked the idea of it representing my idea of the East Coast which can be dark and heavy and really require a different idea of what surfing is. It’s not always tropical and playful or even enjoyable. Sometimes I get out of the water totally frozen and pissed that I made the drive after a long night at work, but then I remember its a gift. So its about that balance. I almost always add a rising sun that I apply gold leaf to and that is my idea of hope and inspiration. I can never be mad at surfing.
Do you see surfing as an art, a spiritual practice, a sport, or maybe a combination of each?
Surfing has always been totally encompassing for me. There are times where I sit out there just staring at the horizon, deep in thought, and I have literal speak out loud conversations with the universe. Sometimes I sit there in total competition with the guy on the inside and other times I cannot be happier to be sharing a very short moment in time with someone else. A complete stranger. We hoot for each other and call each other into waves. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to call it one thing or another. Personally, I like to call it a spiritual thing. I don’t go to church. I don’t call the name of any one deity, so when I sit there feeling so small, this unexplainable connection happens I am really thankful. A few years ago the idea of what we are doing in the water really hit me. I sat there bobbing up and down while these lines of energy that have been traveling for hundreds or thousands of miles were engulfing me. It hit me that I was lucky enough to be able to see and feel this. Its extremely humbling to think that I can sit and truly feel raw energy that is so much larger than I will ever be.
I also had this vision of all of the people who lost their lives in the Atlantic over the course of humanity and that there energy is still a part of this beautiful sea. I am honored to be with them. It sounds really out there when I say this, but I believe our energy will never die. They are all out there with us.
You don’t live close to the ocean like most surfers. How do you fit surfing into your life with work, family, other responsibilities, and having to make a bit of a trip to surf?
I have learned to fit surfing in where I can. It’s a full on excursion every time I make the decision to surf. I have to plan out my day with every aspect worked in. I can’t tell you how fortunate you are if you live near the ocean and have been drawn to it. I have had to fight for every minute I’ve spent in the ocean. Part of me really wishes I was able to just throw my suit on at home and run out the door to the beach. But, it has shaped who I am and I’ve learned to appreciate the little things about waking up at the beach when I’m on vacation or a surf trip so I’m lucky in that way. Most people in my life have learned that surfing is a part of my life and if I’m gone for a few hours they generally understand. If I have to get up at 3am to surf for a few hours before being at work at 10am then so be it. I’ll do what I can to be out there, when I have the energy or time to make it happen.
I think that one of the biggest and hardest lessons that I’ve had to learn is that surfing does not define who I am. I used to believe, like a lot of people do, that you are whatever you like, and that is the only thing that defines you. Through a lot of hard lessons I have come to realize that surfing or art is only a fraction of who I am. I love it with everything I have in me, but it is not what I am. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for all that we are able to accomplish and how dynamic we really are. I think it took a lot of frustration and rough times in order to realize that I am a pretty incredible person. It sounds like an ego trip to say that, but I’m proud at what I’ve accomplished, and it’s taken a lot of looking inward to realize this.
I’ve made the drive over countless times because of a forecast only to find the surf flat, blown out, wrong direction, or whatever other possible reason. I’ve been so mad, frustrated, and wanted to throw my boards to the curb just to get rid of the thing that I love, but sometimes can’t stand. It’s passion. It’s passion that keeps me going and it’s the feeling I get from sitting in the water with nothing but thoughts and freedom and the visual pieces that I try not to forget. I can’t give it up no matter what is telling me it’s too much sometimes.
What do you feel the greatest gift Surfing has given to your life?
Surfing has given me everything. I’ve traveled to incredible places. I’ve met incredible people. I’ve seen incredible things. Surfing has literally shaped every piece of my life in either a direct or indirect way. When I was 18 I had decided that I really needed friends to surf with. I have family on the West Coast, so I was desperate to find someone to surf with, or I was going to move out there. I saw this girl behind the counter of a store and I just walked up to her because she had that “surf” look and blurted out, “hey, do you surf”. Of course she didn’t but she was really cool and became my wife! So surfing has literally given me everything.
This past summer I got to watch all three of my girls surf down in Puerto Rico and they got to float around with a sea turtle and paddle into their own waves. I will never ever forget that moment. I just hope surfing brings them as many experiences as it has me.
As an independent artist, what are some of the challenges and triumphs of the path?
It’s funny because I accidentally became an artist. When I first started this and I was making sales through Instagram, people started throwing out terms like, “professional artist” and I laughed it off. I don’t think of myself like that at all. But, here I am answering questions to an interview! Life is amazing! I think artists have never had it easier in some respect. The world domination of social media has made anyone available to everyone else in the world. I’ve had sales to customers in London that would have never known who I was ten years ago. That’s a pretty incredible thing when you think of it. But, I also think social media makes it more difficult because anyone can make art. I think in most situations your art will separate itself from the pack, but it is challenging. Sometimes I get frustrated when I can’t get more exposure, but I always find a way to check myself and remind myself that I wasn’t in this for anything but fun and making other people happy. It’s a pretty simple concept if you always go back to the origins of why you started creating in the first place.
With your work, what is your greatest aspiration, your greatest dream?
I don’t really know where my art will take me. I try to take it one moment at a time. I’ve been able to take my family on small trips because of art sales and to me that’s mind-blowing. I like to measure my life in experiences. So far I’ve lived up to my expectations. Hopefully, it’ll help me afford a few new boards, and some incredible trips. I just want to show my girls the world so they can appreciate every aspect of other lives. If I can make a name for myself through art then I have achieved more than I would have ever thought possible.
Finally, what are your hopes for the upcoming year?
This coming year is all about optimism and growth. I have some cool partnerships coming up that I’m excited about so we’ll see what happens. One day and moment at a time is all I can hope for. I can say that I really hope to surf more this year. I’ve expanded my ideas of what surfing should be and hopefully the universe responds to my positivity and optimism. And, of course, I just hope this year is way more peaceful than last year. The world needs a down year where we can all regroup and just re-evaluate priorities. Let’s hope for understanding and peace and optimism. That should get us through the year and we’ll all come out better for it.