John Severson, well known as the creator of the internationally acclaimed SURFER Magazine, grew up surfing off the beaches of Southern California. He began his career as a painter, selling his first works while finishing his Master’s Degree . at Long Beach State College.
In the ’50s he became the first person to create a large body of art relating to the Hawaii-California surf culture. Since then he has provided a steady output of oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints.
In 1958, John used his art, photography, and surfing passion to create a popular surf movie series. His films included SURF SAFARI, SURF FEVER, BIG WEDNESDAY, and PACIFIC VIBRATIONS.
The posters, smash hits in the ’50s and ’60s, remain collector favorites.
As a surfer, Severson was known for riding big waves, and for his innovative performance style in big surf. In 1961, he won the Peru International Surfing Championships and was a finalist in the U.S. and Hawaiian Championships.
With the founding of SURFER, John’s art focused on the magazine and graphics. His painting “Surf Bebop” was selected as the outstanding cover painting of 1963 by Communication Arts.
C.A. devoted five pages to Severson’s magazine and film work in 1970. During the ’60s, he authored two surf books for Doubleday. In 1968, LIFE Magazine ran 10 pages on Severson’s family and surf success.
Over the years, John has continued a parallel career in photography; his work has appeared in LIFE, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, PARIS MATCH, GERMAN STERN, and others and was selected for a ’60s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SPORT-IN-ART show in New York.
John Severson was voted into the Surfing Hall of Fame in 1993, the Walk of Fame at Huntington Beach in 1995, and given a lifetime achievement award by the Surf Industry Manufacturers’ Association as Waterman of the Year in 1997.
He continues his painting and printmaking of surf themes, with Aloha Shirt textile designs the most recent passion for both John and his wife Louise. Daughters Jenna and Anna are accomplished artists and designers–Jenna witha women’s bathing suit line out of Paris (Jenna de Rosnay). Anna Severson was the Art Buyer/ Art Director for Yves Saint Laurent in Paris for 6 years and went on to be a successful freelance artist and designer.
From an artistic standpoint, John Severson is a true original. Every mark, from the smallest doodle to the largest gestural brush stroke on a major oil painting, is clearly his own individual statement. There is no doubt in my mind that John Severson’s art works will pass the test of time, both as unique artistic statements and as an important visual record of the developing surf culture.
-Gordon T. McClelland Author, Art Historian Santa Ana, California
Check out the SURFER’S JOURNAL Vol. 9, No. 4 for an in depth John Severson article, written by Drew Kampion