OUTER CAPE PORTRAIT / FULLY COMMIT
ANDY JACOB / PAINTER, SURFER & OYSTER GROWER / WELLFLEET
Andy Jacob has been making art since elementary school. In his teens, he became a graffiti artist in the vibrant Boston scene. He’s a prolific fine art painter, an obsessive surfer, an oyster grower, and self-described family man with two young boys. Please listen!
Probably around 12 or 13, I really started practicing graffiti, still really not knowing what it was. The Hell's Angels owned this building, and there was a huge wall. It was maybe 400 feet long by 20 or 30 feet tall, and they let us start painting there and practicing. So, after school, we would go to this wall, and we would paint. And then it just became like the epicenter of east coast graffiti. People would travel from New York, from Maryland, people started flying in from Europe.
Once we got older, we would pack up a backpack full of food and a tent, and you would just walk the commuter tracks into Boston. You'd camp out, and then you'd get up the next morning and you try to paint some trains and some walls. This wasn't malicious stuff. We were trying to be artistic and paint things that were kind of decrepit. I think most graffiti artists’ intentions aren't to upset or anger anyone. You're trying to add some color to the world.
It was all about the mission. I'd figure out where I was going to cut a hole in a fence, or where I was going to jump over a fence. You want a strategic in and a strategic out. If you're going to go into a train yard you never leave the same way you go in, because someone might've seen you. You don't feel like you're committing a crime, but in the eyes of the law you are and most of society you are. You never know what's going to happen. You might have this idea to paint this train, and then there might be a detective there that knew you were going to come, and he's been watching you and trailing you. And the next thing you're arrested, and you're on your way to Rikers Island.
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My whole life has been engineered around surfing. I'm self-employed. I can't have a nine-to-five job, because I need to drop everything just to go and surf. With my roots in graffiti, that's a lot of the adventure. There could be big surf one day and the wind is kind of coming out of the wrong direction. And then all of a sudden, the wind switches, and if you're not at the beach for those two or three hours, you miss it. As a New England surfer, you have to be on it. You have to know when the winds are going to switch. You have to know the angle of the swell. You have to know the right tide, the right reef, the right beach break. There's all these elements. And yeah, you have to have a lot of strategy, and being a family, man, it makes it a little trickier, but it's just another element in the excitement of it all.
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I've really dedicated myself to art. I paint every day. I draw every day. You know, as a young kid I loved these names and these walls and things, but then you start to realize, Oh, it's so much more sophisticated than that. You start to learn about the history of art, say like Basquiat or Egon Schiele or Hieronymus Bosch. You start to learn about Gauguin and Van Gogh.
I feel like I have one of the world's best studios. It's at a very historic building, The Beachcombers club in Provincetown. It’s an art club for men with a long history of artists going back to the early nineteen hundred’s. It's not necessarily a secret club, but things are pretty well guarded in there. It’s in such an iconic space that’s right on the water. It's like a dilapidated shack from the outside. But once you go inside, it's got like this glowing energy. It's electric in there. You can't deny it, just the second you enter that door. There's art all over the walls. There's dust in there definitely from a hundred years ago. And these old pool tables in there. I mean, you could walk in, no one could be in there, and you just feel the action. I mean, there's a lot of ghosts in that building.
As the cabin boy of the Beachcomber club, I have the studio, which I mean is a real privilege, but my duties are to keep the place tidy and clean. The Beachcombers have a big dinner every Saturday where usually one or two guys cook. In COVID times, we only have 10 people in there, but traditionally on a summer day it could be hundred people. As the cabin boy, I've got to clean up that mess come Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Maybe before I clean, I’ll start a painting, kind of work out some ideas. I'll clean, I'll come back up, and I'll have a little more time at that painting. I've been thinking about it while I'm cleaning, and that way I'll make more deliberate brush strokes and approach the painting in a different manner.
I just have an urgency to paint, because I know life is short, and I'm trying to create as much art as I can and get it out. My paintings are very layered. Sometimes they're like 20 layers of acrylic and marker, and I'm drawing, I'm painting. I'm always working on multiple paintings at a time. If I'm working on one painting and I have a little extra blue, I'm going to start a new painting and just apply some of that paint to a different surface, so it just doesn't get dried out and go to waste.
The colors I choose in my fine art paintings, they tie right into like my graffiti roots. I've always painted like these pastel-y, bright colors, kind of poppy, and happy, and positive. I kinda have a surf theme that I've been working with over 15 or 20 years now, where it's just these kind of rolling, bubbly waves. My backgrounds will be like kind of splattery. A lot of different colors are getting bounced around, and then I'm building structure to them like letters in a graffiti piece. As I build those structures, I'm trying to balance the colors that are inside my waves into the sun or the cosmos or, beams of light, or just different beams of energy.
Sometimes it's just totally free form. I'll just get some colors, and I'll just throw it around. Other times I might have a particular color scheme in mind. I certainly find the ones that are free form that I just kind of am going for, those are the most liberating, and those usually are my most successful paintings. At least for me and maybe for the viewer, I feel like the best art is just something honest, so when you are really striving for a particular idea you might be overthinking it. It just looks too worked.
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I love the life I have. When I'm not painting, I'm with my kids. I love my oyster farm. You're laying your oysters out in a certain row, and it's very dynamic, just like graffiti, you know, anything could happen. You're at the hand of mother nature. So, you might have these grand plans like, Oh, I'm gonna put my oysters here. They're going to grow like this. And then all of a sudden, like a freak hurricane comes in the middle of summer and destroys all your gear.
When I wake up, I try to play a chess game or two, like first thing in the morning to kind of get my mind going. I wouldn't call myself a good chess player. I'm pretty average, but I'm slowly getting better.
I play three-minute chess. It's like these split decisions you have to make, and the pressure's on. You're making these decisions in duress, and it's a lot like surfing. You can't hesitate. You're going to paddle for a wave. You need to fully commit to what you're doing, or you're either going to get the best ride, or you're going to get destroyed and potentially drown. And the same with graffiti. You're just committing to getting there, painting, getting out, and trying not to be arrested.