For those of you who don’t know him, Neil Erskine is an artist, somewhat of an elusive character, spending his time immersed in his art and the ocean. Over the past year, Neil and C-Skins have been in collaboration. The result was Solace – a summer project of artwork which was then dissected and incorporated into every suit in the ladies range, with special edition Solace steamers, boyleg and hi-cut spring suits. These suits are unique due to no piece of artwork being identical, meaning each wetsuit is truly individual.
I’d arranged to meet Neil for an interview regarding his art, surfing and transient lifestyle he’s always loved. Driving up a Cornish coast road, you’d do well to find the farm where Neil lives when he isn’t out on the road, travelling the many varied countries and landscapes of Europe and beyond. After half an hour of driving around trying to find the remote field in which Neil lives, I was successful and I pulled up to his house on wheels, a homely van. Neil invited me in and I sat down. My eye was instantly drawn to his collection of beautiful retro surfboards perched on the dashboard, framed perfectly by the light from the windscreen. A yellow single fin, which must have been around 6’4 in length, grabbed my attention particularly. These stylish old school boards sum up Neil perfectly. He is someone of refreshingly simple values. Not bothered by the trivia of modern life, Neil prefers a simpler form of life on the road. I’d previously met Neil surfing the point at Constantine, where he was styling it out on lovely looking single fin longboard. Neil first found his passion for the ocean as a kid, growing up near Bantham in South Devon. His dad, a ship wright was one of the first shaping boards there at South Coast Surfboards. “He was working with fibre glass and resin when other people weren’t, so he was making boards and surfing all the time, pretty early doors for people making surfboards then”. As a result, Neil’s fascination with the ocean and surfing initially came from his dad. “He was surfing, spear fishing, diving, showing us that it was a pretty fun thing to do, so my brother and I were always at the beach. We used to live in a van down there every weekend”. Surrounded by this environment, Neil was in the water at every opportunity, even before he started surfing. “We were always at the beach, always in the water, that’s always been my thing really, jumping in the sea”.
“I was always drawing, always painting. I’m much more visually stimulated in the world than anything else… visual stimulation is my thing. Always looking at stuff you know, colours, shapes, but I’ve always painted, always drawn stuff”
Neil has been a creative type for as long as he can remember. “I was always drawing, always painting. I’m much more visually stimulated in the world than anything else… visual stimulation is my thing. Always looking at stuff you know, colours, shapes, but I’ve always painted, always drawn stuff”. To Neil, art is as much about the process as it is the end result. “I like the process, I like the action of watching how paints react with each other, how colours react with each other”. Asking what influences Neil to make art, he says it’s all about nature. “If there were to be an influence, nature is the ultimate one, that’s where I spend all my time, I’d rather be outside than inside. It’s almost like a mirror reflection in a form”. He goes on to explain this; “So, whatever I see or am experiencing, with colour and light, shapes and forms, what I do is kind of like play backs of that, if you know what I mean. That’s kind of how it feels to me”. This is why his artwork, is so heavily focused on the ocean and ocean forms. “Generally it’s always about the ocean, that’s where I spend all my time, and if it’s not in the ocean then it’s in trees or hills or mountains. I try to primarily be in reasonably uninterrupted environments, not too much concrete or development”.
“I suppose I’m looking to kind of try and recreate the balance of what you see, the harmony of colours with nature, nothing ever seems to be wrong”
All Neil’s art is a mirror of the natural world. “I suppose I’m looking to kind of try and recreate the balance of what you see, the harmony of colours with nature, nothing ever seems to be wrong”. This is why Neil likes to play around with collage, as he can keep moving shapes and colours around until he finds a balance, replicating what he sees in nature, where nothing seems to be in the wrong place. Developing more on the idea of influences from nature, Neil goes into more depth, “it’s the same kind of fluidity that you find in the ocean. One thing doesn’t generally happen without the other. I find the constant is kind of being in the water, and then the reaction from that is to make something. I like to follow suit with that kind of fluidity, and as a result the process is continual, and everything is an ongoing process. One thing I’ll do will lead to the next thing, and there’s no set point to it”. This returns to the idea of process, he doesn’t work to a goal; it’s about the experience of doing it more than anything.
Finally, I touch on the subject of surfing as an art form. I personally would regard surfing as art, as would many, something which Neil would agree with too. This connection with the ocean and art runs deep for Neil. “There’s a beauty, a dance, many have said it, it’s not really a sport, it’s a feeling and a pleasure, it’s cleansing, restorative, a connection with nature on a very uninterrupted level. It’s an energising interaction with the planet that really can be art”.
Words by Alex Whitbread, pictures by Alex Whitbread, Matt Vaughan and Fran Miller