It's hard to imagine a nicer place to grow up than the sunny, idyllic beach communities of Southern California. However, for those who call this place home, the glow of paradise begins to fade. Going through adolescence in a place swarming with tourists and recent retirees enjoying their golden years, you become jaded to the utopia forced upon you. Artist Ed Templeton's work embodies that tension between the picturesque scenes and the reality hiding underneath with his new Memory Foam exhibition at Roberts & Tilton.
Growing up in Huntington Beach, Calif., Templeton came from a fractured family background, but found refuge in skateboarding. In contrast to the wholesome story of Tony Hawk, he found success as the founder and driving force behind Toy Machine Bloodsucking Skateboard Co., an adverse reaction to the misrepresented and highly corporate images of skateboarding in popular culture. His perspective as an artist and graphic designer created a visual aesthetic that struck a chord with teenage misfits, or as Ed so lovingly calls them, the "loyal pawns." Skaters unimpressed with the "Flame Boy" decks that filled sporting good stores ate up images of big red monsters, strange alien creatures, and the awkward "Turtle Boy." With the rising popularity of Toy Machine came countless tours throughout the U.S and the world.
Child Runs Under Pier, HB 2011, 2011/2012, Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, Calif.
It was at this time that Ed began to vehemently document life on the road, capturing skaters running amok, but also turning his lens on the locales that he and his team toured. Templeton remembers,
Even when we would go on tour, if we were in Europe, every free moment of walking around I would switch from shooting skateboard kids to other people around me, to shooting Paris life, just like any old time photographer would. I've always been influenced by all of those famous street photographers.
His fascination for overlooked slices of humanity only grew, culminating in an entrancing series about teenage smokers and another on teenagers lip-locked in moments of unbridled lust. For years, Templeton continued to pull double-duty as an artist and skateboarder.
Kissing Kids, HB 2012, 2012, Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, Calif.
I've been wearing both hats for so long now. I had a solo show in New York in 1994 and started showing in '93. So, from '93 until now, I've kind of been doing both. I've been skating, going on tours, painting in the studio and doing a show and sometimes a mixture of both. Sometimes going on a tour and then leaving for a few days to go to my show. It's been chaos in a lot of ways.
He is often recognized as a central figure in the documentary, Beautiful Losers, alongside artists such as Barry McGee, Thomas Campbell and Harmony Korine. In addition, Templeton has exhibited everywhere -- from New York and Paris, to Belgium and Spain -- all the while maintaining his dual role as an artist and skateboarder. However, earlier this year fate intervened when he broke his leg at a demo, limiting him to his artistic pursuits. On the rare occasions that he made it out to the Huntington Beach pier accompanied by his wife Deanna, Ed would continue to shoot the scenery. At one point Roberts & Tilton approached him to put together a show and the potential theme became obvious.
It was hard because the archive is massive and I could choose any one subject to do a photo show on. I could do this exact thing with a whole different theme or subject, but this one was easy. We've been walking and shooting so much down there that the archive of Huntington Beach, particularly, is huge to the point where I had to actually narrow it down.
Ashley Looks Off Pier, HB 2011, 2011/2012, Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, Calif.
For those familiar with Templeton and his thoroughly entertaining Instagram account (@tempster_returns), Memory Foam serves as a thoughtfully edited grouping of images collected over the past few years. They provide an unfiltered representation of the pier and its neighboring main thoroughfare. While it may initially come off as a sort of anti-tourist brochure, showcasing the less-than-glamorous aspects of the community, Memory Foam is actually much wider in scope. Though much of his previous work has dealt with suburbia or the opposite end of the spectrum, Memory Foam is intent on presenting a broader picture of this small beach town. The artist explains, "That's the part that I'm looking for, those props that try to hide the fakeness of suburbia. Having said that, these photos are specifically from the pier and the beach, more so. There's not as many 'suburban' sort of scenes."
From the model citizens avoiding Templeton's ever-present gaze to the young teenage punks provocatively displaying their raging hormones in full view, every nook and cranny of the Huntington Beach community is explored. Yet, behind their eyes, Templeton's subjects display a flicker of uncertainty, as if this moment frozen in time is the only thing between them and an ambiguous future. Assessing the expressions on their faces, we see longing, indifference and elation; emotions that make us feel uneasy because of how closely they hit home.
Coral, HB 2012, 2012, Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, Calif.
Through his careful and labored editing, the artist paces the sequence of soothing melancholia and offbeat characters to give us a glimpse of not only Huntington Beach, but of every community. He spoke on the larger parallels that these photos evoke, "In the cities the problems that surround humanity are a little more open. You see more people sleeping on the street. The poverty is more apparent, but humanity is the same wherever you go." For me, a primary goal of photography has always been to confront with an unnerving tension, framing a moment as timeless, yet leaving the viewer hungry for a larger context.
There is a desire to know more about each subject, but there is a fear that peeling back the layers may reveal all of the same emotions that are welling up beneath the surface of our own facades. This could be you, regardless of your location. While the exhibition is swayed heavily by its setting, the realization that the bathing suits could be substituted for wool sweaters or cowboy boots eventually rises to the surface. It becomes impossible not to share something in common with each subject, and for that reason, I found Memory Foam compelling.
In addition to a display of the individual, the exhibition also illuminates a changing city. Huntington Beach is entering a new phase, one of gentrification. Where once were skate shops and dive bars, there now exists the telltale signs of a transformation. Through Templeton's lens, we can feel how his relationship to this place is changing as well, though Memory Foam attempts to find remnants of the past in the present.
The physical place has changed. The core is still there, though. There are still surf shops. There are still local-type places, but I mean within that framework there are a lot of chain stores sprouting up and micro-breweries. It's a lot more family-friendly than it was before. Basically, the only thing that is the same is the thread of when I was a kid hanging out and that's what I'm interested in shooting now.
However, even those aspects of growing up have changed since Templeton was young.
When I see the punk kids, it's kind of interesting because all of that stuff is available in a store. All those patches and things are so easy to get. The music is so easy to access. When I was a kid there was a certain authenticity to those people's outfits, I guess. Now, a lot of the time it's just dress up. It's like Halloween all year round."
Memory Foam gives us a snapshot of a place caught between extremes, going through growing pains and still fascinating to the artist that calls it home, for better or worse.
Kid Lays on the Sand, HB 2011, 2011/2012, Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, Calif.
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