Surf Life: Talking art, inspiration and a life shaped by waves with photographer Matt Titone.

0
232
PETER SCHROFF Venice, CA

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer | Photos by Matt Titone/Indoek/Italic Studio

Artist, photographer, designer, surfer: Matt Titone contains multitudes. From a young age, the East Coast native loved art and the aquatic environment, and has incorporated both into his life and career. Now a resident of Oxnard, co-founder of graphic design studio ITAL/C and, more recently, owner of Indoek Gallery in Ventura, he has ample opportunity to follow his muse across the creative coastline.

One of Titone’s passion projects is his “Surf Shacks” book series, first published in 2016. He found that many of the people he got to know in the surf community had a style all their own, reflected in their distinctive and ocean-inspired homes. So he took out his camera, hit the road and began documenting the most interesting residences of his fellow wave chasers.

CHARLES ADLER Long Beach, CA

He’s currently working on a third volume…as well as a home goods collaboration and possibly a docuseries…while continuing to showcase contemporary coastal art at Indoek Gallery and maintaining his many projects at ITAL/C. Titone spoke with Ventana Monthly about his love affair with the ocean, developing his design chops, shooting the “Surf Shacks” series and more.

VENTANA MONTHLY: Are you from Ventura County originally?
MATT TITONE: No, I am originally from Delaware, East Coast born and raised. From there I went to college in St. Augustine, Florida, then Savannah, Georgia. I lived in New York City for a couple years out of school, then moved to California in 2006.

What brought you to this area?
Ever since I moved to Los Angeles and would road trip up and down the coast chasing waves, I knew I wanted to move to Ventura County. I never wanted to live in a major city, but that was always where the jobs were in my field as a designer. Really, the access to nature is what drew me to this area in particular. We have it all here; empty beaches, point breaks, good surf, foothills, hiking, etc.

JEFF JOHNSON Santa Barbara, CA

Have you always been interested in art and design?
Yes. When I was in high school I used to make bootleg t-shirts and cassette tape sleeves to sell in the parking lots at Grateful Dead and Phish concerts (my hippie days). Even as a kid I was always drawing in my room — making up comic characters, illustrating comic books, making portraits, etc. I’ve always loved fine art and photography, too, but I’d always gravitate to logo design, posters and album art. It took me a while to find my way into focusing primarily on design, but once I made that my intention, there was no going back.

Where did you study and learn your craft?
Out of high school, I first attended a small liberal arts school called Flagler College. I struggled with my focus there, but after taking a darkroom/black and white photography course, it was clear to me that I needed to follow my passion deeper and pursue a career in the arts. I then transferred to the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), where I received my BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration. On a senior trip to NYC, I got my first job at Young & Rubicam, an ad agency in midtown Manhattan. Working at an ad agency wasn’t exactly my dream job as a young designer, but I couldn’t believe they were willing to pay me what they did to essentially do what I loved. From there, I worked at many other agencies, design studios and production companies, before starting my own studio, ITAL/C, in 2012.

When did you first start surfing?
Oh man, where to begin. I didn’t come from a surfing family or have anyone who really taught me how to surf. I just always was attracted to the ocean and the surf lifestyle growing up and I wanted to be a surfer.

For me it all started with the first time I rode a REAL wave down the line. I was 18 years old. My new friends at Flagler College (in Florida) who I had just met days earlier were my only means of escaping the dorms. … One day, my friend Shannon Waller drove me to the beach in his gold Volvo sedan to surf the first signs of a hurricane swell. Florida in September is moist and humid. The ocean temperature felt like bath water — it was super inviting. … I finally eyed a wave, pointed my board down the line — a left. I caught it, fluidly rose to my feet and rode the wave down the line on a clean face for longer than I had ever experienced before. … It felt like minutes that I rode it, but any surfer knows it was likely just a couple seconds at most. However, those fleeting moments were seared into my consciousness for all eternity and shaped everything about my life henceforth. This is by no means an overstatement. I have been chasing the feeling I got from that ride ever since it happened.

JAMIE SMALLWOOD Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

You have a particular interest in “contemporary coastal art” — does that come into your design aesthetic at ITAL/C?
Absolutely. My business partner, Ron Thompson, and I are always finding inspiration and taking design cues from the art world. Museum and gallery visits have always been part of our monthly — even weekly — routine. That is the one thing I miss about living in a major city: the access and proximity to art institutions and cultural centers. That is also one of the factors that led to opening Indoek Gallery in Ventura; it was something I was craving personally and seemed like something that was needed in the area.

What inspired you to start your “Surf Shacks” book series?
As a graphic designer, I spend a lot of time working in front of a computer. I’ve always loved photography, but needed a specific project to get out and allow me to practice it regularly. My friend and former partner in Indoek, Drew Innis, and I had the idea for “Surf Shacks” because we knew so many creative surfers with cool stories and homes. These were mostly our friends: fellow designers, photographers, directors, artists, etc. and we wanted to celebrate them somehow on the Indoek website. I had also just bought my first home around that time — which was a total fixer-upper, so I was always looking for inspiration for my own constant renovation projects.

I shot the first one back in 2013 and since then I’ve shot over a hundred surfers’ homes to date all over the world. My approach has always been super casual; just me and a camera, all natural light, one to two hour shoots, no staging, tell it like it is.

The “Surf Shacks” project has really evolved over the years; it’s gone from a web series, to a bestselling book collection (Vol. 1 was published in 2016 and Vol. 2 in 2020), to home goods product collaborations, and now we are even making a pilot for a docuseries TV show. It has introduced me to many new friends and opened many doors professionally as well.

AAMION AND DAIZE GOODWIN Kauai, HI

You’re currently working on “Surf Shacks Volume 3” — when can readers expect to see it?
Well, I should start by saying that I am nowhere near ready to publish a third volume. I think it’s actually too early to even talk about it, really. I have shot maybe a third of a new volume, but I have a lot of folks still on my list to shoot before I can even think about designing the book. The first two books took four years each, but with my kids being the ages they are and the gallery as an added factor in my life these days, I’d say the third book is still a couple years away.

Have you noticed any trends emerging over the three volumes that you’ve put together?
Not really. I’m not as attracted to design motifs, though, as much as I am the creative subjects themselves. That said, I really do try to cover a diverse range of surfers from different geographical locations and walks of life.

Do you have your own “surf shack?” What’s your own home like?
Ha! I love our current home in Oxnard, it’s walking distance to the beach, which is a dream and something I’ve been working hard towards my entire life. Unlike our previous home, which was a fixer-upper that we really brought our own style to with every renovation project, our current home was built by the previous owners so it doesn’t have as much of our fingerprint on it. That’s ok, though, it feels like home.

ITAL/C
hey@italic-studio.com
@italicstudio
310.421.4917
italic-studio.com

Indoek Gallery
Bell Arts Factory, Studio 30
432 North Ventura Avenue, Ventura
indoek.com

“Life” featuring work by Jim Ganzer will be on exhibit through May 11.

“Surf Shacks” is available for purchase from the Indoek website at indoek.com/series/surf-shacks/.