Stepping back into our own cognitive history and recording the events that occurred around us is the means of preserving the future. That is the tactic of John Van Hamersveld in his recent autobiography release, My Art, My Life. In Southern California, the beach and suburban communities have spawned a web of financial institutions, film and media groups, the music industry, universities, surf companies, and a respectable art scene. In the middle of the social, cultural, and political adaptation occurring from the pivotal periods of time that are the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s in America, was the long-time SoCal artist, John Van Hamersveld. Through these influential decades, Van Hamersveld captured the culture in his designs, all while standing aside other artists like Bruce Brown, Rick Griffin, The Rolling Stones, and many other social icons that helped create the surf/hippie/rock culture in Southern California.
As a young child, Van Hamersveld left the East Coast and joined the ranks of the Palos Verdes, Santa Monica, and Malibu surf crowd. Adolescence brought him in contact with the likes of Velzy and Miki Dora, both of which cast the ultimate image of a surfer to the teen. This surf lifestyle combined with a budding artistic talent lead Van Hamersveld into collaborations with Bruce Brown of The Endless Summer, and John Severson of Surfer magazine. With the inevitable inclusion of the outlying film, media, and artistic communities of Los Angeles, the progression of surf culture into pop culture began.
Leaving his surf roots behind, Van Hamersveld headed towards the music industry. Corporate hierarchy was being erected in the music business during the ‘60s just as he was entering as a design and print maker. After classes at the Art Center, came the creation of Pinnacle Productions. Van Hamersveld and partners were able to build a successful concert production company that hosted musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and the Grateful Dead. But as the rock stars became marketed by the growing industry, the hippie masses that funded the drug culture began to be manipulated by the image of their own rebellious behavior that was being recreated and sold back to them by the corporate businesses. After less than a year, Pinnacle felt the echo of this descent and absolved.
Located in his personal studio near the Sunset strip, Van Hamersveld was able to absorb more art classes at Chouinard, and eventually secure a strong artistic relationship with Capital Records. Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and Kiss were just a few of his album cover clients. But after a hectic run in the underground art scene, Van Hamersveld found himself in Silverlake in the early ‘70s, in his Johnny phase, escaping the web of illegal drug activity occurring around him, attempting to shut away and make album art like Exhile On Main Street for The Rolling Stones.
Throughout the pages of My Art, My Life, Van Hamersveld offers a timeline of Southern California from an eye that is constantly configuring how to capture humanity is his designs. In the retelling of his journey from the surf industry to hippie culture, Van Hamersveld remains blunt and honest of his friendships, business accounts, and artistic counterparts. As he reaches the late ‘70s, the corporate world had taken a stranglehold on the youth by effectively manipulating them through pop culture images. The loss of innocence at this time leads to the downfall of the counter culture, and the rise of the corporate world. But by stepping back with John Van Hamersveld through his adaptation, perhaps the younger generations can deconstruct the social structure he faced, learn from his trials and tribulations, and reconstruct pop culture, free from corporate puppeteers.