Artist Brian Bent cuts a striking figure in and out of the water. He’s unapologetically as Californian as they come—known for pulling up to the parking lot in a thirties hot rod, as he does on the day of our shoot, with an era-appropriate wooden “kookbox” surfboard sticking out of the back. His look is at once retro-inspired yet completely original—a reflection of his devotion to his art.

Bent and his artwork are informed by a lifetime in California, the seamlessly coalescing influences of skating, surfing, punk rock, classic car culture, and everything in between. There’s an innate style that transcends these subcultures, and it's one that Brian seems to have been born into.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Bent.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Bent.

BM: Brian, thanks for taking the time. Tell me a little bit about yourself – where you grew up, what you did as a kid, etc.

BB: I was born in England and grew up in South Bay until I was about seven when I came down to Capistrano Beach. I had a full surfer/skater childhood deal. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother in Dana Point, and my uncle Rocky [Sabo] was a pro surfer at the time. There were pictures of him surfing and his trophies in her house. I was an only child, so I had art and creativity and my own world in my brain.

BM: Tell me more about what you like and what inspires you. It’s such an eclectic list – it’s so interesting to see all this variety from punk rock to jazz and the 50s to the 70s.

BB: It started with my mom skateboarding down hills, and my uncle, who was a pro surfer. My whole family is into cars. My grandmother drove a ‘68 Mustang fastback. My grandfather was a welder and he built hot rods for fun. He’d also bring over records, and in high school, I got into punk rock. I saw “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando, and he was the coolest cat ever. And of course, I saw Miki Dora in the summers, and he was the coolest surfer. I wanted to be like those guys.

BM: Were there any specific eras that really stood out to you?

BB: The ‘50s. Like cuffed jeans, white T-shirts, etc. That's always going to be my thing. Do you remember when John Travolta put on a leather jacket and those black shoes and he was going to try to impress the girl in Grease? That’s me.

Photo of Brian's uncle, Rocky Sabo by John Ker.

BM: I read you got super into welding and did all these elaborate sculptures for Becker Surf Shops.

BB: I started redoing the women’s clothing displays, and I realized I could re-do the whole rack system. I randomly caught this TV show about Abstract Expressionism and [sculptor] David Smith. I thought, ‘That’s the ultimate’ because it was really simple to me. I was also reading about Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation at the time, so it kind of put it all together. Becker gave me the freedom to do it.

BM: I love the idea of you showing up to the beach in a hot rod from the 30s with a surfboard from the same era. Tell me more about that.

BB: One day I’m down at San Onofre and I do a donut in my hot rod in the lot and almost hit [pro surfer] JJ Wessels’ truck. He had a kookbox [Ed’s note: an early surfboard design from the 30s] in the truck. That’s where it kind of started for me. When you ride a kookbox it's like you're watching this whole big wave unfold in front of you. When I first started riding kookboxes, it was crazy. People didn’t know what to think at first.

BM: How does driving a hot rod compare to surfing a kookbox?

BB: They’re fast, they rumble along, and they're edgy. They're challenging. You’ve got to be spot on and aware—they can hurt you. It's scary, but it can also be the ultimate. The same goes for surfing kookboxes.

In Conversation: Brian Bent two images - 1

BM: It seems like all these things seem to blend together for you. Whether it's a surfboard, a car, clothing, or your art. On one hand, it’s such a broad range of interests, but they're also related. How do they all fit together in your head?

BB: Now I'm a full-time artist, but I still view myself as just a guy trying to get his point across, whether it’s surfboards, canvas, wood sculptures, cars, or whatever. I just feel God gives me my inspirations, and I go with them. As an artist, people go—and not in a mean way—“Oh, you’re trying to stick it to the man.” I’ve never tried to stick it to the man.

BM: We’ve talked so much about things in the past and how they inspire you. How about the future?

BB: My wife and I are gonna be working together after her sabbatical. Another bout with the 50s and these Malibu Chips that I’ve been riding, shaped by Chris Ruddy. I’m painting a big mural at the end of May. My daughter and I are in the Bent Duo band and we’re still going. My wife just got a 1961 Comet with the Batgirl tail lights in the back. I’m always trying to paint the ultimate cool painting. I think we’re just gonna live life this summer, and continue to stoke people out, hopefully.

Now I'm a full-time artist, but I still view myself as just a guy trying to get his point across, whether it’s surfboards, canvas, wood sculptures, cars, or whatever