By Terry Fitzgerald
Like many others, Art’s lifetime career of documenting surfing grew out of the ‘forgotten years’ of surfing. The early ‘70s, some call them the ‘black hole’ years, between the 1970 World Titles and the launch of the professional era later in the decade. I would call them the ‘Individual Years’. On so many levels, individuals launched off the mainstream’s wheel of fortune into what they loved. Creatives, heretics, lunatics, fine young men and women being, doing, what they loved, with a difference. Passion.
Art joined a to-be pantheon of surf photographers (Bud Browne was the beacon) including Jeff Divine, Steve Wilkings, Merkel, Bolster. Capturing the transition of surfing from innocent escapism to corporate professionalism. Snapshots of that blur is Art’s stock in trade.
Art didn’t suffer fools, didn’t waste time, but always made time. While nervous energy had surfers wired pre-jump-off, Art was at his calmest in preparation mode, processing, cleaning gear, running through a mental checklist to have everything needed at arm’s reach, anywhere and everywhere.
On a trip, if you needed anything for running repairs of any kind, “Hey Art, you got a ……” He would have exactly what you needed (or better) in one of his Halliburtons, or a soft case compartment, his pockets. “You want a band aid? Here’s some duct tape!”
I had a Surfer magazine cover, my first year in Hawaii, at Velzyland. A water shot. Didn’t know about it until publication, an Art Brewer shot. Art’s first year as well. He would have been 20, maybe 21. Those Hawaiian adventures began Art’s lifetime association with Surfer and The Surfers Journal. Art’s work captured so much of those ‘Individual Years’ – think the ‘Mr. Pipeline’ images of Gerry, that BK bottom turn at Sunset, and way, way more.
When Art pulled into Jeffreys riding shot gun on Bunker Spreckles’ wild African safari, had to ask the question…. I knew Bunker from Kauai and the North Shore. Art was on the trigger. You want images, you go along for the ride, no matter the fallout. That week was one of the most outstanding J’Bay swells I was lucky enough to experience, Art wrote a piece years later for TSJ titled “The Best I Ever Saw”. Yup, my week at Jeffreys. Art’s heartfelt story, was, well, pure Art. All heart!
Wayne Lynch and I were doing a Rip Curl run through California, dropped into Surfer with Claw and Singding, along with Ensenada and the Channel Islands. One stop was at Art Brewer’s new studio, to do I don’t know what. The place was arctic white with lights and here’s Wayne and I getting prodded into playing fashionista. I never did get to ask him WTF? But Art did go onto assignments for Sports illustrated shooting Real, or was it Barca? I remember seeing some iconic boxer portraits. I’m thinking Marvin Hagler but, may be wrong.
Always a waterman, Art would carry excess baggage to the max. Don’t know how he got away with so much on every sector for so little. Years of experience working the ‘have I got a deal for you’ line on the airline and knowing the best check-in tricks I guess, like every photographer.
Joel went to stay over at Bjorn Drollet’s place in Tahiti one school holidays, surfing with Manoa and Poto. The kids were about 16 at the time. Bjorn had told me about a spot across the bay that Joel would love, a perfect lefthander. Little did I know! The next thing I did know was the poster of JF barrelled at Teahupo’o. And who got the shot, in the water playing turtle? Art Brewer! I called him on having Joel out there… “He’s a big boy, I had him covered!” Joel went on to spend time with Art and Kathy at their home in Dana Point. Art was like that, you became family.
We were on an early-days trip into One Palm. Art brought CR Stecyk along as writer, baggage handler and all-round amigo. Our boat out of Carita was diverted due to an epic storm in the Sunda Strait, so we bussed it down the coast to another take-off spot. By the time we got there, the tide had dropped and our new boat was waiting for us outside the mudflats – about a kilometre away. Art carried all his gear (and maybe even CR for some of the way). No way was the big guy leaving anything behind – or – trusting anyone with any part of his precious equipment.
Finally we make it to camp, a dormitory type building in the National Park. Setting up camp beds at one end, Art heads off to the far reaches of the other end of the hall and starts blowing up his air mattress. “Hey Art, s’up? We smell or what?” Art was in a caring-kinda-guy mood. “Nah, I snore, don’t want to keep you guys awake… “ Well, that hall actually acted like a megaphone on Art’s trumpet. We ended up sleeping outside on the veranda.
Art got some awesome water shots of Kye, then decides he wants to shoot from the beach. So he loads up his watertight cases, blows up his matt, gears up and just rides on into the coral. Fearless, anything to get ‘the shot’! Did the same sort of thing on another trip… Bali, Temples. Joel was tearing it up, Art wanted to shoot from water level, not from the cliff top. Couldn’t get front-on from the beach because of the tide. Art spotted a track that seemingly just went over the edge, and then a fisherman/villager popped up. A track down the cliff… this is before warungs, villas, anything. Art just grabs all his gear and over he goes.
As much as we were a part of Art’s family, Art was part of ours. Like many people and their friendships, years could go by, then a hook-up and it would be just like no gaps. Art got tagged ‘Uncle Buck’ for his wisdom, built on good humour early on. We loved him for it all.
Last time I saw Art, he was digitising his trannies. Art will live on through his images. A while ago I got an email from him suggesting we go on another adventure… he’d already done Antarctica, so heaven knows what he had in mind. Now he is gone, I wish I had gone.
We will all miss you mate, Master of Light.