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Sarasota Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2009 11 years ago

Profiles of Summer: The Gnarly Artist

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Chris Lundy reaches for his laptop computer and pulls up a statement he typed 24 hours ago. He says he’s afraid he’ll stumble over his words if he doesn’t at least look at what he articulated in size-14 Helvetica font.

He says he wants to express how the fluidity of surfing mirrors the fluidity of painting. How painting waves and surfing waves are both impulsive and calculated. How one wave can travel thousands of miles before it breaks and one painting can take a dozen years to complete. How rendering a globule of water is as instinctive and consuming as raising a child, and how painting and surfing are, at this point in his life, the same thing.

But, as Lundy begins to read from the document, he remembers he created a Facebook page earlier in the week and instead gets sucked into showing off his online photo albums.

“I got like 70 friends in one day,” he says with a bemused chuckle. “Are you on Facebook?”

Behind him, a 6-foot-tall canvas looms, its orange, red and turquoise waves are an angry, ominous swirl, crashing and spraying in a deliberate pattern that, when viewed from a distance, reveals a dragon.

The painting, titled “Mama’s Mad 2,” reflects the Earth’s changing global climate and belies Lundy’s casual exterior: floppy cargo shorts, black T-shirt, flip-fops, Hawaii driver’s license, Facebook profile.

He painted his first “Mama’s Mad” in 2003, pre-dating the tsunami that killed 230,000 people in Southeast Asia one year later.

The painting, which ran on the front cover of Juxtapoz magazine in April 2006, sticks out among Lundy’s other work. It’s fiercer and more apocalyptic, and when asked to discuss it, Lundy clams up.

“People don’t understand that kind of cynicism,” he says. “It confuses them. The painting is a commentary on what’s going on as the world heats up and the sea level rises, but it’s not the main thrust of my stuff. I’m more meditative and contemplative. What you see up there is my dark side poking out.”

He laughs nervously and again averts his eyes to his laptop, clicking on a Nike poster he designed for Hawaii’s 1994 Honolulu Marathon. The image of a hulking Tiki man running up the beach is almost cartoonish in comparison.

“If my art crosses over into pop culture, that’s fine,” Lundy says. “Painting can be a very inward, self-immersed thing. If it jumps over and communicates with people, I’m fine with that. It’s nice when someone can look at a painting and instantly recognize it.”

A 53-year-old surfer from Sarasota who has lived in Hawaii for the last three decades, Lundy has spent his entire career painting the Pacific Ocean as if it were viscous slow-moving mercury.

“There’s an element of wonder to his work,” says Daniel Petrov, education program coordinator at Art Center Sarasota, where Lundy’s “H20: An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints” exhibit is currently on display. “The sheer spectacle of water, especially when it’s moving, is definitely something that holds a viewer’s attention.”

Lundy grew up surfing on Siesta Key beach, hardly the best place to hang 10. The son of acclaimed Sarasota School of Architecture disciple Victor Lundy, the young artist spent much of his childhood with his mother, Shirley Lundy, who split from her architect husband when Lundy was 3 years old.

“I was aware of the gut-level aesthetics of my father’s buildings,” Lundy says. “He got a lot of attention for his curved structures. I never made a conscious effort to emulate that, but I guess there is a rhythm and architecture to the ocean.”

He describes Sarasota as a ragtag community of “wacky artists” who were all friends with his mother, a painter and a longtime actress at The Players Theatre.

Five days after graduating from Riverview High School, Lundy, then 18, moved out to the North Shore of Oahu carrying only a backpack and a surfboard. For 10 years he competed in Hawaii’s famous pro-surfing circuit, working as a custom surfboard designer on the side.

In 1983, he dislocated his left knee surfing in Oahu’s notoriously dicey Pipeline Masters competition. The injury, says Lundy, put him out of commission entirely, so he decided to enroll in art school in Pasadena, Calif., and pursue painting on a full-time basis.

He spent the 1990s creating large-scale canvases and designing event posters for A-list surfing events all over the world, garnering a following that landed him a gig designing sneakers for Nike.

He mentions that he's taking a break from Hawaii, that he plans to stay in Sarasota for awhile, spend time with his mother , reunite with old friends and take pleasure in his first hometown-art show.

“I had a feast out there,” Lundy says. “But there are lots of other places in the world with better waves. There are places with nicer, longer, dreamier waves.”

Turning back to his computer, he minimizes Facebook and remembers that an hour ago he had intended to read a prepared statement about his art.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I got off on a tangent, huh?”

He opens the idle Word document and slowly reads a passage of it.

“I would say,” Lundy begins, “that my paintings are essentially meditations in and of themselves and, through that, hopefully, they serve as a glimpse into the rhythmic, radiant, liquid sanctuary that is the true home of many.”

if you go
Chris Lundy’s “H20: An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints” is on display through Sept. 12, at Art Center Sarasota. For more information, call 365-2032 or visit

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