“My Mom put me in painting classes when I was six. At that time, and throughout my childhood and into high school, I was drawing and creating things constantly,” recalls Wade Koniakowsky.
Growing up in Texas, today, the 64-year-old artist continues to paint and surf. Living in Carlsbad, California, his speciality is ocean-inspired painting. His oil paintings of tropical interpretations are the cornerstone of his work.
“Growing up in Texas it was all about football, baseball, hunting and fishing. I wasn’t into any of that,” recalls Koniakowsky. “Surfing and art were alternative passions that fit me. In 1966 my dad got the plans for a Tom Blake kookbox out of Popular Mechanics Magazine and made a board for my brother and me.”
That was in 1966. When it came time to “grow up” and get a “real” job, Koniakowsky’s creative eye carried him into the world of advertising.
“I spent 20 years in advertising, first as a graphic designer, then as an art director and creative director. I loved it,” said Koniakowsky. “The only reason I got out was that I went through a period in which the agency I owned was working through some business challenges and I started painting on the side as a creative outlet. Painting got a hold of me and I decided to try it as a business.”
Koniakowsky has kept his lines both on the canvas and in the water clean ever since. Of course, like most any artist, it’s not always easy. Convincing surfers to buy art is anything but a sure thing.
“Surfing has provided inspiration and a tribe of interesting people to hang with. Commercially, not so much. For example, let’s say I was really into NASCAR and it inspired my art. There would be a much wider audience, and perhaps, more commercial success. I really don’t go after surfers as a market. I’m part of the culture because I like to surf. As a market, I want to reach people that have an affinity for the ocean.”
The strategy appears to be working. Most recently he was commissioned to do the artwork for the 2018 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in Hawaii.
“I try to come up with a solid concept for a painting, kind of a ‘why am I doing this?’ question to be considered,” explained Koniakowsky. “The sketch is pretty critical. And the frame of mind, am I distracted or can I focus? This is why I do a lot of painting at night, there are fewer distractions. But you want to make sure there’s joy in it. If there’s no joy, the work suffers. My artistic influences include Michael Cassidy, Rick Griffin, Ken Auster, John Singer Sargent, Sorolla, German poster design, lots of graphic design, mostly older stuff.”
“I make my living solely from my art. If I can’t provide for my family, then I have to go do something else. So, I work hard on the business side of things. You just have to think strategically, because making money at art is the hard part,” continued Koniakowsky. “Creating the art is the reward. So, daily rituals include many things I do to tend to the business, then I’m free to paint.”
“Surfing is very sensory and very visual. It naturally inspires art. Almost every time I’m in the water I see something worthy of a painting. I know a lot of artists who surf, it kinda fits. There’s a lot of beauty in surfing or chasing waves, and beauty inspires art. I made lots of surfboards as a kid, which was an art form I was drawn to.”
“I’m having fun doing some abstracts now, which really isn’t that new to me since, as they say, every good painting has an abstract element in it. Nature is full of ‘abstracts.’”