By Kinsee Morlan
Harry the Hat is as whimsical as one of the characters he brings to life with a few perfectly placed lines and splashes of color. He’s been known to introduce himself by drawing a quick sketch that makes its way from his hand to yours before he and his mop of bouncy blonde curls disappears back into the crowd. He’s been seen carrying his art from one place to another in tattered vintage suitcases. He stays up late, climbs roofs to look at sunsets and stops to smell flowers (right before plucking the prettiest one from the ground to tuck into the band of his old-timey hat).
The quirky artist methodically twists the tips of his handlebar mustache as he listens to music so carefully and intensely, it’s as if he’s been transported to another dimension. He surfs - always has; probably always will - and the feeling that swells up inside of him when he’s in the water or sitting on the sand is something that has inspired his artwork for years.
“There’s something in the air down there that’s enchanting,” he says, trying to put into words the allure of the ocean, a deep feeling so many surfers can’t seem to elucidate for those who don’t ride.
The Hat is known by a few pseudonyms. His effortlessly sublime surf scenes are most often associated with Sketch Holiday or Harry Holiday. It’s his bread-and-butter gig that’s brought him work from big brands like Volcom and Roxy, and musicians like Jack Johnson and Matt Costa. When he’s twisting lines together to form his art-nouveau-inspired creatures - friendly looking things that seem like they were ripped right out a child’s overactive imagination - he’s Harry the Hat. He admits the latter body of work is the harder sell, but says he holds it in a higher regard. The name change was meant to separate his fine art from the commercial design work he churns out for the surf industry. He has no problem slapping his blissed-out surfers on board shorts and bikinis, but he always pictured something more for his other work.
These days, though, Harry the Hat is beginning to embrace his place in the surf-art world rather than compartmentalize his art styles by associating them with his various names.
“I fought it for a while but finally got caught in its undertow and swept out to sea,” he says. “I like how surf culture is evolving and changing and getting better, even though some part of it... how can I say it? Some part of it gets kookier and kookier, but there’s a pure spirit in it that is consistently inspiring. Some of the best, most classic artists of our time are surf artists - Rick Griffin and Bill Ogden - and I strive to get to that level of surf-art culture.”