Week 5 Art Seen: Free Radicals


Free Radicals – Trevor Coopersmith

As I was biking home from a long lab session Friday afternoon, I decided to peep into the glass boxes as I’d heard the current exhibition was “pretty rad” from a friend. I poked my head around the corner, not expecting anyone to be inside, and was mesmerized by the scene before me.  The entire floor of the glass box was blanketed in sand, which immediately made me want to kick my sandals off and burrow my toes. A pentaptych of spray paintings featuring vibrant, sweeping strokes depicting the by  ocean by sunlight and by moonlight jumped from the wall.  Four surfboards, each unique in stature, shape and 2-D designs on their bodies, leaned against the walls. A  surfing video compilation beamed from the projecter onto the only free wall, indie beach music blaring, and in the very middle of the sandy floor sat a boy, fitting perfectly into the small, laid-back surf microcosm.

He asked me how I was doing, and if I’d like to sit in the middle of the floor next to time, where the sand was softest. I gladly agreed, and after ten minutes of chatting about the art realized he was Trevor Coopersmith, the artist of the exhibit.  He told me about his inspiration for the work as a whole. He explained that surfing and creating spray art are his two passions, and that he wanted to create a space that embodied the vibes of the “free radical” subgroup of surfers and skaters in Isla Vista, which he found to be a tight-knit, alternative community.  He went into great depth explaining why he loves surfing so much, saying he enjoys nothing more than getting barrelled or surfing a perfect wave after hours of waiting. He remarked that a quote he liked was one about how “surfing is the closest humans get to flying.”  I asked him about his artwork and he spoke about designing, shaping and sanding the Alaia wood board behind him himself.  I really enjoyed the mystical 2-D spray paint pieces on his surfboards lining the wall. He said he enjoys depicting outer space, the sun & moon, and the ocean.  He spoke about how in addition to surfing, painting has provided him with a space in that free radical community in IV. He said that much of his time creating 2-D is spent on commissioned work painting BP tables as well as the “Little Free Library” in front of the Co-op and an electrical box on Camino Del Sur.

I found the exhibition particularly inspiring because of the experience I derived from it. Everyone’s experience in a gallery will be inherently different, but the intrigue of Trevor’s exhibit is that each time someone experiences it, the footprints in the sand will be changed, different people will be laying or sitting or digging the toes in the sand, and a different song will shape each moment. The exhibit is successful in its message because it is a whole environment that brings the outdoors inside, an brings even an entire Isla Vista community into a “glass box,” which is the epitome of a human-made indoor space.  The combination of multimedia in the room, complimented by a sandy ground, twangy electric guitar and corona bottles in the corner, speaks to the free radical part of the spirit. I believe every alternative soul has a speck of that desire to be accepted into a community, ride in a perfect wave, and experience the unknown of the cosmos that are depicted in Trevor’s work.

Trevor gave me two pieces of advice that resonated strongly:

  1. Make time for art. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. If you love it, if you want to create it, make time for it.
  2. Get involved. Go to community art events, ask local shops if they’d like a volunteer to paint or create art for them, do commissioned art for friends and get your work out there. Your art will start impacting your peers before you even notice it, it will bring people together, and you’ll be doing what you love.

In those 20 minutes, talking to Trevor about his artwork and his passions, I felt completely relaxed, content, and accepted, which I found to be a very successful part of his exhibit. I thought back to when I first walked in and asked Trevor if him sitting there in the middle of the sand, watching the video he had compiled of his surf inspirations, was part of the art.  He chuckled, explaining that he had just come in to relax for a minute and enjoy the environment he had created. I told him how striking the space was for me upon first impression, walking into a scene that felt like a peaceful Isla Vista beach in the 70s, with a surfer dude who happened to be the artist sitting right in the middle of the space.  I left feeling more strongly connected to Isla Vista and inspired to do something through my art that brings the community together.


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