by Michelle Michalak July 10, 2018

It's been 4 years since Slyde 1st interviewed underground street artist BERT.  

During that time he's been memorizing surfing history in an epic fashion. Most recently as the featured artist for the Founder's Cup at Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch.

We've been frothing to catch up with BERT & share the latest ⬇️:

How would you describe your artistic style?

Lots of artists today are stuck in the legal mural scene. Many started out sneaking in the shadows, but eventually "grew up." I like the illegal shit. That's street art! I paint using stencils, brush and wheat paste. I like to combine hand painted and shaded brushstrokes by hand with crisp outlines of stencil-work. I try not to get too clean with my work because they walls I paste on are usually weathered, peeling and dirty.


If you’re not creating art how would you be spending your time?

The BERT project takes a lot of time, I've also had to fit a full time job since day one, and have a couple groms of my own. Some create art as a hobby, some do it as a job and others do it as a passion. I couldn't stop creating even if I tried. The BERT project started in 2013, but I have been showing professionally for over a decade, and creating bodies of work my entire life. That being said, besides family time, work, surf and skate, I and creating art, both for BERT and beyond.


How did creating the main pieces for the WSL Founders Cup come about? What were 3 highlights from that weekend?

One day, I received messages almost instantaneously from Steve Sherman, Chris Cote and the WSL Creative Director, all telling me that the WSL was trying to get a hold of me with an idea. Once I got in touch with them, all I had to hear was the Founder's Cup at the Surf Ranch.

I had a month to create all the full body wood cut out portraits of each Founder. It was a lot of work, but a pretty sick experience.

WSL Founders at Kelly Slaters Surf Ranch
The weekend was epic. The WSL put me up in the Tachi Casino in Lemoore. My wife and I got to the room, opened the blinds and saw Filipe directly below at poolside. Through-out the next days, I saw Fanning and Parko at the slots, Wilko clamming for an early morning coffee and pretty much the entire CT cruising the casino. I have created relationships with them over the years, but I am not in the industry.

I don't even look like someone who would surf or know the difference between a WSL champion and a Baywatch extra. It was cool being able to creep shoulder to shoulder with everyone without anyone knowing who I was. The only trace were the stickers I littered around the entire casino and the full body Slater wheat paste at the entrance of the casino.

Ya, the wheat paste was also a highlight even though it was the sketchiest piece I have ever put up. I spotted a cement pillar at the entrance of the casino when I arrived. It is on the main road and traffic is constant so I knew I would have to hit it at night. After a long night at the slots, I headed toward the pillar. I parked on the side of the road right at the spot, popped the hood and turned on the emergency lights. I hid on the back side of my car and began prepping the paste as a constant flow of passing cars sped by.

It was about midnight, but the scene was crazy active. I got the piece halfway on the wall, when the lights of the house across the street turned on and dog starting freaking out. A bunch of dudes filled the front yard. I froze not knowing how the locals would react to an out-of-towner leaving their mark, especially on Indian land. I ripped the piece off the wall, through it in the car getting paste everywhere and took off.

They didn't follow so I decided to go back. I hid the car in the casino parking lot and walked through the farmland and along the road back to the pillar. I got the piece up in plain sight of passing cars and the house across the street, then sprinted through the farmland back to the casino without any further sketch.
Kelly Slater The Surf Ranch
I remember walking through the lobby of the casino with hands dripping paste, black fingers and a black spray can almost hoping someone might put it together. It was a sketchy, but I kept my 5+ year 40+ piece streak going uncaught!

The main highlight was meeting all the Founder's at the art. Sherman organized all the Founders to meet at the art for a photo shoot. They were completely blown away, totally stoked and we became instant friends. Up until that day, they were just legends I have only read about. We shared stories, took photos and became friends. It was sick. Sherman really came through. Such an artist, always anticipating the shot. He is a genius and this highlight would not have been possible without him. 


If you had to choose 1 different theme for your street art aside from surfing or skateboarding, what you pick?

It would have to be something I am stoked on and follow. I could do some cool parodies on the street art culture. That might be a little too close to home, but I know that inside and out. The BERT project is a close analysis of a specific culture. I have to really have a pulse on it to do it right. I could get political, but that shit is depressing.

Skating would be sick since it is a lot like street art—using the streets, often illegally, to showcase your art. Plus, the skaters provide a little more to work with, though the WSL seems to be really pushing to get some more personality on tour which would make my job easier.


What's the biggest misconception about you or your art?

That it is easy, the misconception is that I followed every contest for years with a unique design in mind and get it up in the streets illegally immediately after.

That shit is tough. Coming up with the idea alone is a mind f**k. Often finding a banger idea out of a contest with shitty waves and a clean-cut winner takes time and lots of research. It's never easy and that is just the design. Then I have to produce it in my studio and get it up in the streets without getting caught. There is a certain skill needed to get it up uncaught.


What advice would you offer to the groms of the world?

In terms of street art, use the daylight. Just walking around at 3am is suspicious.

What type of music do you listen most when creating?

I don't. Lots of people say multitasking is impossible, that you can't dedicate enough energy to perform two tasks at a time adequately, that's bullshit. While cutting tedious stencils for hours, I also think of my next projects, draft press releases and work through marketing campaigns.

The studio is silent, but I have an orchestra of ideas in my mind. Nothing profound, but so far I have produced some classics. I find that music tends to interfere with my thought process. Don't get me wrong though, music is still a big part of my life, just not in the studio.

What’s next on the horizon for BERT?

I have been super stoked on the prints I have been releasing of the designs from year one. That first year produced some epic ideas. BERT fans have always asked for those releases. I plan on releasing more of those, plus some original canvas work, hitting the streets when inspired and potentially doing another show like the one on the North Shore back in 2013.


Long term, the past five years of BERT has been crazy. A lot of shit has happen to me including starting a family, losing a BERT partner to the North Shore surf and my battle with cancer. It's a story with telling, and I am working out the best way to share it.

Michelle Michalak
Michelle Michalak

Michelle's diploma reads BA Psychology with a minor in English, and her license plate reads #CaliforniaDreaming4Life. She begin her career in the NYC fashion industry working with fashion and internet pioneer, Bluefly.com However, due the constant "nagging" of her entrepreneurial spirit, her crush on surfing, and hardcore love for the ocean, she chosen to call San Diego home for the past 10 years. On the west coast she 's chased waves & enlightenment working alongside "Gurus" in the online marketing & personal development industries. It in May 2012 she found her true Zen & Stoke, and joined the Slyde Handboards Team.


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