They are the egg men.
Is John Van Hamersveld The Most Significant “Surf Artist” Ever?
How designing The Endless Summer poster led to artwork for The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan and more.
John Van Hamersveld’s original Endless Summer artwork is arguably the most iconic image in surfdom.
But, that's just the beginning.
After taking a forgettable photo of Bruce Brown, Robert August and Mike Hynson standing on the beach at Salt Creek, Van Hamersveld infused it with bright, day-glow colors and contrasted a brilliant setting sun against the romanticized silhouettes of the three intrepid surf explorers. He created the poster in 1963 for a design class at Art Center College.
“I had already created a surfing magazine in my bedroom called Surfing Illustrated, going so far as to design the advertisements,” recently recounted Van Hamersveld in an interview with Stab. “By 1964, I had designed three different surf publications while learning about advertising and editorial design at school. I found I could make a living at design while in art school at night.”
A photo which would later become the definition of iconic in surfing.
Growing up in Palos Verdes, alongside another of surf’s visionary artists, Rick Griffin, by the time Van Hamersveld was in his early 20s he was well entrenched in the L.A. art and design scene.
“I found a job in the building next store to the Ferus Gallery in the center of the new art scene where Warhol’s work was being show,” he explains. “I wasn’t painting, I was designing for an agency.”
His Endless Summer work helped open doors. And if timing is everything, Van Hamersveld always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
“I took the elevator to the 6th floor and showed the Endless Summer poster to the art services vice president at Capitol Records,” Van Hamersveld recounts. “Just like that, I had a job as the personal art director for Brown Meggs, the vice president of the Capitol Records Distribution Company, who had signed the Beatles to the label in 1963. He would not let me turn him down. From his perspective, I was able to see the larger picture.”
In August 1967, Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager, died.
“Meggs gave me the Magical Mystery Tour album campaign to take home and work on at my Coronado Studio in a graphic, psychedelic style,” he says.
Exile on Main Street. 1972.
From beach rat to designing Beatles' album covers, Van Hamersveld’s stock was rising. He did the famous Exile On Main Street cover for the Rolling Stones. Designed at Keith Richards’ Nellcôte mansion on the Côte d’Azur in France while the Stones were living in self-imposed exile (owing a boatload of dough to the British tax collector while consuming a boatload of heroin and other drugs), the raw, graphic nature of the artwork is said to have later influenced the Sex Pistol’s debut album art. Another of Van Hamersveld’s images, entitled “Grinning Johnny,” is considered to be the inspiration for the Stones’ iconic tongue logo.
Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, you name it, Van Hamersveld’s aesthetic was omnipresent throughout the ‘60s.
“I worked with Bob Dylan on the 1973 album cover for the Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid album project,” he adds. “From the art student status of the ‘60s I made my entrance into ‘70s, leaving the hippie culture and lifting into a new world of graphic imaging.”
For the better part of 60 years, Van Hamersveld hasn’t stopped creating. He didn't fear technology and adapted. While others ran from computers and digital images he embraced it. He recently released a book with Electric Sunglasses that showcases his work with a point-and-shoot digital camera that is seemingly always within reach. He’s been commissioned for numerous other high-profile projects, from artwork for the Pipe Masters to big public displays in the South Bay of Los Angeles.
From rust to lush!
Living back in Palos Verdes, his latest endeavor was the beautification of a rusted-out water tower in nearby El Segundo. Designing a 510-foot, 360-degree mural with 51 different panels, Van Hamersveld dedicated it to the late Hap Jacobs and Dale Velzy.
“I just keep doing my thing, keep creating,” he says. “There’s so much to be excited about. I can bring images into my computer and manipulate them in so many different ways, it’s almost limitless what you can do now.”
From his childhood studio overlooking Lunada Bay, to The Endless Summer, to the Magical Mystery Tour, to Exile on Main Street and now a dilapidated water tower in the South Bay, Van Hamersveld’s creative fire has always burned bright and touched our lives in unknowing ways.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve spent my life doing what I love, creating, it doesn’t get any better than that.”