You have no idea what you are about to get into. The home of the Brothers Adler. It's crazy. From the outside, the apartment, a modest two-bedroom affair on the second floor of a well-manicured and well-gentrified complex around the 2000 block of Santa Barbara's State Street, screams boring on the approach and gives no reason to disagree. Get past the front door unit 3, however, and you are instantly transported into a sunny and creative, and obviously energized, madhouse. Bizarre surfcraft objects crowd the corners, fixed-gear bicycles lean against the couch, a well used water color set hogs the coffee table adorned with doodles galore, large prints of photography, still unframed, lounge on the love seat. The dinning room table is occupied by a makeshift audio/video recording setup that makes the word "Frankenstein" comes to mind. A blur of paintings, prints and battered old books, by people like Bukowski and Fante, clutter the bookshelves. It is a simultaneously overwhelming and inspiring abode that serves as ground zero for the wildly artistic and salt-water soaked lives of two brothers, Will and Travers Adler.
The oldest, Will, is 28-years young, freshly minted. Technically speaking, he is a photographer. He drinks Budweiser, and can open that can of suds by pushing his thumb effortlessly through the side. He drives a darkly tinted mini-van with a bed in the back. Despite developing his self-taught digital camera chops, Will works almost exclusively with film, black and white film to be exact, and available light. His photographic method: capturing "free flowing, natural, and generally just shooting things that I find interesting or funny," he says.
Will is a calculating sort of cat, whose creativity is rarely hemmed in. He dabbles with collage, self-produced 'zines, and whacked-out video projects that overlay VHS, digital, Hi-8, and sound effects generated by his aftermarket noise machines--think children's toy guitar that has been ripped apart and reassembled to make awful and strange noises. Long before Instagram took the world by storm, and landed that billion dollar deal, Will built a website called "i-phart" that allowed his friends to instantly upload and share pictures taken on their cell phones. He says "the internet" as his chief artistic inspiration, only half-joking at the vagueness of the notion, and has a digital portfolio that includes images of donkeys, people in bunny suits, man-eating waves in Tahiti, and offbeat snapshots--and a few truly romantic images--of Southern California's beach culture. His work has been featured in galleries from Japan to Malibu and in ad campaigns and catalogs for major surf labels like Roxy and Patagonia. On raw talent alone, he ended up accidentally scoring a gig this past year working as a photo assistant for renowned fashion mogul Bruce Weber. But Will is quick to admit, "I'm still just trying to get my shit together and do things a bit more seriously."
Three years younger than his big bro, Travers, an underground style-merchant of the highest degree in the surfing world, charts a bit different of a path. Slight in build, suspiciously tan, "T," as his friends call him, doesn't spend much time on the internet. Instead, he incredibly adept at finding four-leaf clovers. And, as rare as it may be to run into Will without him having a camera in hand, it is perhaps even more rare to find Travers without a guitar near-by. He doodles endlessly, has an obsession for whimsical fonts and letter boxing--he actually has spent the last couple years working part-time alongside Shawn Stussy, the man with perhaps the most famous handwriting in the world. T keeps a regular journal because, as he puts it, "it's nice to spill things out on a page and hopefully see them more clearly." His bedroom is a classic artist rats nest, the walls a constantly changing display of paintings and drawings, the floor a mosaic of records, books, and simple recording gear, and a cluttered desk and an easel looking like they get more use than his bed. He points to the talkin' blues style of Woody Guthrie and the artwork of the late Margaret Kilgallen and John Severson as a few of his artistic guiding lights.
A sneaky sort of perfectionist, Travers consciously searches for the deeper meaning of the stuff he creates, whether he's finger picking on his beat-to-hell old Martin guitar or splashing around with his water colors, creating portraits of the people in his life. He is often his own worse critic and, when pressed to explain what it is about creating that gets him excited, he smiles and says, "You know, that is exactly what I've been trying to figure out lately." In short, he lives a life of reflective simplicity, like a cash-strapped sahdu of art both in the narrow, his painting, his music, and his letter boxing, and in the broad, his unequivocal kindness and devotion to what he calls "passing it along". Be it a portrait in the dust on the back of your truck cap, a handwritten poem on a torn paper bag left on your kitchen table or a simple high five and emphatic shout out of "Groove on!" as you pass him on the trail to the beach, his is a currency of goodwill so genuine it shines.
And then there is his surfing. T likens his approach to wave-sliding as "dancing" and, should you ever get the chance to witness his aquatic act first hand, it is hard to disagree. It is high and beautiful art. Period. Often hooting loudly and cheering on the rides of strangers and friends alike, Travers' surfing is high lines, torso-erect Phil Edwards-esque hand jives, and single fin grooves from an era that came and went long before he was born. His old school style crashes up with the more modern bucket-filling, layback power hacks, rodeo flips, fins free disco of modern times, executing the occasional chinup, arms down penguin-style board left behind backflip dismount. The dissonance of such divergent styles is entirely erased by a nuanced form and flow that could only be cultivated in Santa Barbara, the land of legendary sufer, Tom Curren. While people with only a portion of his natural ability are able to cop a paycheck with their surfing skills, the youngest Adler, though regularly scrounging pennies to put gas his car, is wealthy with praise from the surfing world's style watchdogs. As Australia's Derek Hynd, arguably the world's most feared and revered surf critic, opined recently about Travers in a blog post on VSTR.com, "Travers Adler (phenomenon) leads the way at Rincon on any manner of old craft mostly without leash and wow is he unleashed. Saw a soul arch into lip float the likes of which I'd never seen before when over there 20 months back. What Trav is doing isn't done in the mainstream no matter who the surfer is...I've only got a memory of Trav's turn. Still, worth the trip across the Pacific to see."
Together, the brothers Adler make a compelling pair of artists, a duo that lives and breathes and hustles to make ends meet in the underground, but also hangs increasingly often in the upper echelons of international fine art. But don't expect them to ever admit the latter, as both the boys are loathe to claim any real uniqueness in the swirling and occasionally intersecting landscapes of surf and art culture. "Ahh, we're just fiddling around with different things, there's nothing very special about that," Travers says. And they may very well be right; after all, much like the saying, "there is art in all things," there is also art in all people. Some of us know this truth more intimately or, at the least, more immediately than the rest. The Adler brothers know. They days spent creating, always creating, and surfing, always surfing for one simple reason; because they can.
Top Image: Will Adler.
About the Author
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