“This is what I live for, to work with so many amazing artists.” - Charles Adler
“This is what I live for, to work with so many amazing artists.” - Charles Adler
Nestled next to the Storytellers Stage, The Cove Gallery housed a collection of 180 creative masterpieces from different artists across the world. All displays were intentionally curated for the 2022 Ohana Festival by Charles Adler — a humble artist, professional art curator, installer, and designer.
As the festival began, Charles was casually draped over a concrete table reading “The Cove Gallery”, in preparatory relaxation before the soon-to-be crowd started their morning exploration of The Cove. His eyes teed from piece to piece as he mapped the layout of his exhibit, with every detail perfectly tended to. To the non-artist, this exhibit was ethereal. The mix of medium and color inspired some gravitational movement towards the exhibit – largely due to the artwork showcased – but somehow, the design of the space just popped.
Once festival-goers surged in, The Cove Gallery harbored its own underbelly of roars, drawing curiosity from the main music stage directly into the exhibit. Those wandering into the space brought their own hows and why’s, and Charles was happy to oblige. Eddie Vedder was one of those wanderers, and although he did draw his own crowd, most onlookers were too awestruck by the artwork to notice his presence.
Charles and his exhibit created an imprint on the festival. His artists, sourced from a valley of deep relationships built over a lengthy career in the industry, embodied the heart of Ohana through their work. Sharing a space with Charles Adler was easy. In a brief exploration of his mind and heart, it was clear his passion for art, design, surf, and music culture was abundant. As both curator and creative, Charles Adler is truly one of a kind.
“I've always loved art. I've always been inspired by art. My grandma was a painter. She taught me how to oil paint. My dad always drew with me. I went to art school. I actually [almost] kind of failed out of art school in Seattle in the 90s because Pearl Jam and Nirvana and all these amazing musicians [were] going on, so it was really hard to focus on art… I moved away to the Midwest. Long story short, I came back to the West Coast and migrated to California, and I was working down here in the business. I was an art director for QuickSilver and Roxy for a little bit. And I had a really good friend, Will Pennartz, who had a surf gallery in Laguna [Beach], and instantly made a great friendship with him. [I] Started working at the gallery and helping curate shows. Next thing you know, we're in New York doing big shows, and then we got the financial backing to start traveling the world with guys like Jack Johnson, Matt Costa and Mason Jennings, a bunch of amazing artists, Thomas Campbell and Alex Cops, Wolfgang Block. I think we did that for three years or so and then the Surf Gallery closed its doors, but we still kept doing shows. I opened up another gallery in Huntington and I [kind of] still did some collaboration work with Quicksilver. Then I just started making more connections and got asked to start working with Pearl Jam a little bit and some Surfrider Foundation. I just feel really lucky to work with so many amazing people. It's pretty mind boggling.”
“I think [it’s] the combination. I mean, I've loved surfing since I was a little kid. I was introduced to it by a cousin many, many years ago. Actually, on a trip to California. To me, it was interesting to see that people made a living making art based around surf culture, skate culture. And I think that was kind of an amazing draw… it was ingrained pretty early and hard to get away from.”
“Well, so oddly enough, I attended a bunch of shows and I met the guys years ago in Seattle, I’ve been Surfing with their manager for over 20 years ... And then their manager's wife, Laurie, actually found an article somewhere about me and asked me to curate their home and archive everything. I jumped at the chance to do it. As we continued this discussion, she found out that I did a lot of big shows and had traveled with musicians. And she was just kinda like, ‘Why don't you do Ohana?’ And I was like, ‘I don't know. Why don't I do Ohana?’ And she's like, ‘Well, get ready, fasten your seatbelt. We're gonna set you free.’ So she and Mark within a couple weeks pulled the trigger, and that was 2021. And then I just finished my second year with Ohana as well, which was amazing… they've asked me to come back again, so I'll be back in 2023.”
“Well, I mean, it wasn't even real. Cause like I said, after growing up seeing those guys from such an early age and I guess being a fan, to actually work alongside Eddie and help raise money for the Vitalogy Foundation and just to be asked to be a part of that. I guess it was a lot of nervousness. A lot. The last thing I want to do is disappoint not only Eddie, but Mark and Laurie – I've known Mark for a long time. For them to put me in that situation, they gave me a really big chance. So I didn't want to disappoint anybody… And I think it went well.”
“It's funny because I actually wanted to go a lot bigger than I did the first year, but I think because Mark and Laurie brought me in such last minute – you gotta tap your brakes. So it started out a little slow, but it was a mixture of photography, sculpture and painting, illustration mixed media. It was just a really good collaboration of all sorts of art, not just surf art. It was skate culture; it was a lot of music culture. Anytime I do a show, especially with something in Doheny, I want to bring in the history of the area – so a lot of early Doheny, a lot of the surfers and pioneers of that area. It's the evolution of surf; the evolution of skate; the evolution of music… I want everybody to be involved and excited. I want somebody that's 14 years old to be just as excited as maybe somebody that's 70 years old. [I want them to say] ‘I wore those shoes, I rode that ramp, I listened to that band.’ How many ways can you make a connection and tell a story that just really gets absorbed by so many different people and cultures? And to have Ohana, which is an amazing venue that draws so many people from all over the world – I mean, you have your Pacific Northwest people, you have your East Coasters, you have people that are coming in from Peru, Brazil, Japan and Europe. So it's like all these people are coming together at this venue to celebrate music and now art. It's an amazing weekend.”
“A lot more art, a lot more artists – 2021 was about 75 pieces of art; 2022 was 180. So it was probably a serious four day, 16-hour day install. I'm pretty crazy, I guess, when it comes to installation. If I'm doing a big salon style, it takes a long time. I'll spend a full day just moving art to make sure that colors match against colors. I don't want a lot of photos next to each other – I want a skate photo next to a surf photo, next to a painting, next to a sculpture so your eye is constantly wandering. It brings people back because you see something new every time you come. So this last year, to have a gallery that big was really impressive.”
“Well, obviously, who are you? How did you get here? Why did they choose you? - And then it really goes into, who's this person? Why are they here? How do I get involved? How do I buy a piece? Lots of random questions, but there are a lot of people that are generally curious about the process… Every artist has their own way of being creative. So to bring all that together into one little venue is pretty amazing. And, I think people are just genuinely inspired by the different works, the different artists.”
“He did buy a couple pieces. He always does a really good job at just coming in… Last year he got to come in on his own and spend some time. He came to the gallery this year at peak hour, which was great to see him leave that VIP area and come into the masses. But, it only took a few minutes before everybody's like, ‘Oh my God! That's Eddie Vedder!’ So then it was a barrage of questions and signatures and photographs. But yeah, he really liked a piece by Derek West that he got [and] Jeff Ament, who's Pearl Jam bass player, and is an amazing artist. Jeff was a part of the show last year and continued to give me work throughout the year [for] some of my collectors and some of his people that are really enamored with his work. Eddie bought one of Jeff's pieces, which was really cool to see [it] kind of staying in the family.”
“I was really trying to bring more visuals into the storytellers because you have all these amazing people that are on stage, but sometimes it's hard to actually visualize what that story is. I guess that's what I'm continuing to do, [to] tell that story visually, to be able to walk through the Cove Gallery and see so many amazing artists and different stories from different people's pasts. And so many different genres of art and music and surf and skate and whatever. So I mean, to me, The Cove is just so amazing.”
“Ultimately, everybody that was in those non-profit booths is where the Vitalogy Foundation goes back to. So to me, it's kind of like a continued family or brotherhood of that, because all the funds that I raised from the gallery go back to the Vitalogy Foundation, and then it's dispersed between California State parks and Doheny State Beach and Surfrider and Surfers Healing. Eddie does such a good job of just giving so much to so many people in need, whether it's to home shows in Seattle [or] when he was traveling. Every place he's on location, he has a great cause that he gives to.”
“I guess with sustainability– I do have a lot of artists that reuse materials [and found objects] as much as they can. Wolfgang Block is an artist that I've worked with for several years…he has the ability to just find these pieces of vintage wood or an old sign or a piece of metal, and to be able to turn that into an amazing, beautiful piece of work. And when you look at his painting, you wouldn't even know it until he tells you that. But the way he can separate a horizon line and a skyline and just break it with the tiniest little wave, or just the way he'll gloss over a piece of wood…it's a part of that painting, and it feels so natural, but it's actually a piece of reclaimed or saved from going into a public waste facility. So I think there is some sustainability, but like I said, I guess that's the continued fight that we're all trying to do. There is such a surge with Surfrider bringing these art shows that are all just about sustainable art – it's found objects, found items on the beach reclaiming those things.”
“Well with Ohana, the basis is music and that's what it's really all about. To me, I think music is that common denominator. We listen to music to get inspired. We listen to music to get excited to go surf or to skate. We listen to music, to make other music, to make art too. It's just such a big part of our lives. So to me, it makes sense to have that be that common thread that weaves through surfing [and] through skating, because that's what inspires us all to be creative in our own facets in life. So with 2023, I think it's just gonna be more art and more music, more surf, more skate! And I'm always trying to include the Pearl Jam family. I'd love to get Eddie to bring in some of his paintings, or to have Stone bring in some originals [because] to have Stone Gossard in the show this year was amazing… But to really explore and to bring that [Pearl Jam] family more on display, because when I tell people that Eddie paints, nobody really knows that. And it's something to me that's very inspiring, now that I've got to spend a little bit of time with the guys, to hear that they all kind of have their own little corner that they go to be creative on a piece of paper or on a canvas when they're not making art. And you talk to Jeff, his art studio backs his music studio. When he has a slow moment creating music, he goes in and starts painting. Sometimes, he's playing something musically and it inspires something creatively on canvas. So to just hear the way that weaves back and forth with art music I'd love to dive deeper into the family and just see what we can bring up from there as well.”
“Keep plugging away. I mean, there's no shortage of artists. You just have to find your niche of where you fit in and who you can collaborate with. And I think that the best part is just find a collaboration, get together with your friends, and do a little pop-up gallery. It doesn't have to be grand scale. Start where you can and just start moving forward.”
When Adler first started out on the West Coast, he rented out vacant retail and gallery spaces to showcase his work. Now being in contact with over 500 artists, he believes that the best advice he was given, was the bad advice.
“Don't let people tell you no. I was told when I was young that art was kind of a waste of time, and I'd never go anywhere with it. So, I never want to deter anybody from following their dreams or being an artist. I mean, art is in the eye of the beholder. There's art that doesn't speak to me, but the person next to me is like, ‘Oh my goodness, that's amazing!' There were some artists that came in this year at the request of Eddie and some other people that I wouldn't have normally looked at. But then when I got in the show, and it was part of the whole continuous wall, it fit in well. And people were just amazed by that.”
“There's a lot of people there. Obviously I'd have to thank Will [Pennartz], because he got me into the mix and meeting people. And he opened up a lot of doors for me in the surfing world. I would have to say one of my favorite storytellers would've been LeRoy Grannis who was considered one of the godfathers of surf photography. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with him while he was still here.”
Charles became his right hand man and out of appreciation, Grannis would gift him on-of-a-kind photographs he’d taken of well known surfers.
“I'm never gonna say no to a photograph. So LeRoy would go in and pick out a photograph, and it was always a special photograph to him, which made it even more special to me. Then he would get a Post-it note and he would go, ‘Okay, Charles, this is Johnny Fain, or this is Greg Noel, Jerry Lopez, whoever. This is their phone number. You have to call them. And you have to go there and say, LeRoy sent you to sign this photo, and when they sign the photo, they need to tell you a story about that day or about that photo, and then you need to come back and tell me so that I can make sure.’
Grannis made sure promises were kept so that doors opened. For that, among many other reasons, Charles considers himself incredibly fortunate to have worked closely with him.
He is also inspired by John Severson, the creator of Surfer Magazine, John Van Hamersveld, Ron Stoner, Art Brewer and Rick Griffin. In the early days of Surf Magazine, John Severson paved so many opportunities in the industry and taught aspiring artists and creators that you can make a lifestyle and a living doing what you love.
“Growing up in Washington, you don't really know how fortunate you are until you step away from it. To me, I was so inspired by Early Surfer Magazine and Thrasher Magazine and to look at these surfers and these photographers and these artists and to just think, ‘Oh my God, those are so amazing.’ And then now to be here and to get a call from one of those people and be like, ‘Hey Charles, will you help me with this? Or will you help me with that?’ That's the game changer. I mean, that's why I'm doing it. It's so amazing to call some of these people friends now, icons that I've looked up to forever. So I don't know. I don't think I could have asked for a better career, a better life.”
To this day, Charles Adler continues to carry on the name and the legacies of those same icons – LeRoy Grannis, Art Brewer and John Severson – who laid the foundation for the evolution of art and surf culture.
“Every year it blossoms and our community grows. And so to see it unfold – there's no shortage of creativity and it's just amazing.”
Charles has many collaborations in the works and on the horizon. He is working closely with Wrensilva, a record player company based in San Diego. Charles also had a laundry list of incredible and inspiring work in the queue for 2023 – most of which was sworn to leave unspoiled until the New Year. But as for Charles, he’s currently on the path to becoming a household name by sharing an extraordinary piece of his creative self, which his patrons both admire and deserve.
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