An Interview with Thalia Surf collaborator D. J. Javier
Thalia Surf is stoked to team up with talented Santa Barbara artist D. J. Javier on a couple of awesome new tees and art prints. D. J. bounces between fine art, public art and graphic design work, when he's not stealing away for a surf at one of his local point breaks. We stopped by his studio to talk about making meaningful art, a changing surf culture, the importance of community, and how he stays inspired.
Check out all of the collab tees and artwork in our online store here!
What does a typical day in the life of DJ Javier look like?
I tend to get into my studio in the Funk Zone here in Santa Barbara around 7:30-8AM most mornings and start working. I’ve realized that I’m much more efficient earlier in the day, and try to jam in my work early since my focus is much more sharp. I’m currently Art Director for the footwear brand SeaVees, so most of my work bounces between doing creative work for them, my own personal freelance design, and fine art work. I think having multiple things to work on that all span different subject matter and execution keeps me creatively on my toes. They all begin to influence and support one another; an idea or a failed execution for one project I’m working on, might just be the seed of an idea to help something else flourish that I’m working on.
What are you passionate about?
I think at a surface level, I’m very passionate about my creativity and surfing, those 2 things keep me going and are very much so intertwined with who I am. But also creating a platform via my work to talk about things that are important to me has become a shift for me lately. I’ve realized at the end of the day, if you can make something thats visually cool thats great, but if theres no meaning and heart behind the work, then whats the point? Much of my work lately has been exploring my cultural identity as a Filipino, and an Asian-American; my hope is to create more and more work that take symbols and subject matter from my heritage and framing them through my creative style. Creating work that the young version of me can see and feel empowered by. Growing up I fed into the stereotype of being a “Model Minority” and the idea that “asian people are passive and weak”, and my focus is to create work that rewrites that narrative and destroys that stereotype.
How did you get started making art for a living?
I had always been drawing / painting since I was a kid, but wasn’t until later in life where I had taken it seriously. I went to college at Azusa Pacific University to get my degree in design, and spent most of my early creative career specializing in graphic artwork for apparel mostly. When I graduated from college I ended up at a packaging design firm, working with large scale clients, basically doing packaging design mostly for Frito-Lay. It was a great first job, but realized that my creative fire started to get burnt out. I started drawing in these little Field Notes notebooks on my lunch break or when my computer would be loading, and from there it grew to drawing a little more, painting again, and my personal style began to develop. My creativity almost got shifted into overdrive, and the lack of creative energy I felt at my day job, was supplemented by my new desire to create art. It pretty much snowballed from there to where I am now in my career.
Have you faced adversity in your life or creative career? What have you learned from that?
I’ve definitely faced adversity in both my life and career. In regards to life, I think growing up as a POC, I’ve had my own uphill battles. Theres a long list of different instances that I’ve experienced, from growing up differently than my peers as a kid, to things I still face on a daily basis as an adult because of the color of my skin. I struggled with being and looking different growing up, but as I began to enter into adulthood, I realized that these differences are the things that make me unique, and something that I should not be ashamed of. I fully embrace my differences.
In regards to my career, I truly had to start with no foundation or help. Pursuing a career in the arts was not something that was supported growing up, and I wasn’t really plugged into a thriving creative community. By the time I figured out that this was something I wanted to pursue, I had to work hard to make it happen. I’m a first generation immigrant, my parents came here in the 1980’s. To see them work so hard for a better life for their family, is something that was a driving factor for me, and still is to this day. I’ve learned that no one will give you anything, you gotta go get it. Whether its a project, client, career, etc. You are responsible for making it happen.
What feeling or message do you want people to take with them after viewing your art?
My work is a combination of all aspects of me. I’d love for people to see my work and to hopefully see me in a way. Art is like a language specific to the artist. I’d hope that my work is something that you can pick out is mine regardless if you know it was me who painted it or not. And even more so lately, my work is reflective of this internal dialogue I’m having of my own heritage and culture. Like I mentioned before, my hope is to create work that empowers the Asian American community that I’m proud to be a part of. Something that destroys the narrative and stereotypes that society has placed on the community, and rewrites the script.
What role does surfing play in your life?
Surfing is totally intertwined in my life at this point. I was a late adopter to surfing, learning at the age of 18. I hadn’t learned how to swim until a year before that. Surfing has become a moment to reset during my day, whether the waves are good or bad. Its evolved from a hobby to something that helps me decompress, whether I had a good or bad day, the act of surfing helps me take a break from the busyness around me and helps me recenter myself, before jumping back into life.
What are some things that you are grateful for?
I am most grateful for my wife who continually supports my work and challenges me to grow at the same time. Our faith is very important to us, and she helps to keep me grounded and to always be appreciative that my career and work is a major blessing and gift. She is a daily reflection of God’s love towards me. I tend to be overly critical of myself with most things, and she truly is my better half.
You have been active in elevating awareness around BIPOC in both surfing. What has your experience been as a Filipino surfer? Do you see attitudes changing in regards to BIPOC in the lineup. How can we move forward to make surfing more inclusive?
The surf community is not the healthiest environment. I’ve been met with resistance for being more outspoken about having the water be a more inclusive space. Its unfortunate because people mistaken that for recklessness and “doing whatever you want in the line-up” which is not the case at all. I’m all for learning and practicing proper surf etiquette, waiting your turn, and being respectful in the water and on the beach, especially if you are surfing a break that is new to you or not your home break. I’m grateful to not have experienced anything gnarly in regards to race in the water, but I know many folks who have not been as lucky.
I love the physical act of surfing, but the baggage that comes with surfing is unfortunate. Surfing is a one-man sport, all competing for the same wave. I think ego’s begin to flare up because of the competitive nature, and its sad to see grown men act like children because of it. I think a big step forward to make surfing more inclusive is by getting more BIPOC in the line-up, and just more comfortable in the water. I thought surfing was a “white kid sport” growing up because I saw no one who looked like me, and so I wrote it off for most of my life. So my hope is that by being out in the line-up, being more outspoken, and more involved within the community, that it could help encourage BIPOC folks to follow along as well. I’ve been able to meet and connect with a wide array of BIPOC surfers and its been awesome to chip in and build this community.
Its been cool to see attitudes change in the line-up, and see people begin change their mindsets and want to support the BIPOC surf community. But there still is alot of work to do.
You started Bayan Surf Club. What is your vision for that?
Bayan Surf Club is the name of my creative studio, and physical studio space. It was an opportunity to just formalize my creative practice, since it spans from graphic design to fine art to mural work. My hope is that my work continues to grow and build a creative team to grow with it. Until then its just me answering all the emails, doing the design work, and mopping the floors here!
In regards to the name, the word Bayan comes from the Tagalog term “Bayanihan” which derives from this idea of “Being in Bayan” which is like being in community. Its rooted from this practice in the Philippines, where a whole village would help move a family’s home (bamboo huts) by sliding bamboo rods across the house, and picking it up as a village and moving it to wherever it needed to go next. Basically 15-20 people all carrying a bamboo hut on their collective shoulders, on a road to its next destination. Then the family would cook a large meal feeding all those who helped. That same feeling of coming together to support the people around me is a huge driving factor for my work. Whether its supporting my local community, Asian-American community, or anyone or group who’s been marginalized.
Do you have any plans or projects that you are looking forward to in the future?
I got a few big projects in the works that are under wraps for now, but am very excited about! Aside from that, not many plans besides continuing to make art and grow as a creative. But hopefully more art shows and mural gigs as the world begins to return back to a normal state!
How do you stay inspired?
Working on multiple projects at once keeps me inspired. Having to shift your perspective between different things helps freshen your creative perspective. Laying out an email design for SeaVees could help reframe how I look at a painting. How I lay colors out on a painting might be the thing that helps me rethink how I adjust the visual weight of a logo I’m working on. Its good to step back and look at something differently. Aside from that, I think getting connected with other creatives is a massive part of staying inspired. When you get connected with other creative folks, you guys can trade advice, and feed off each others energy.