Article

John Van Hamersveld

| posted on July 22, 2010
John Van Hamersfeld in the '60s.

John Van Hamersfeld in the ’60s.

John Van Hamersveld was an illustrator and graphic designer from Los Angeles, California, best known to surfers as the creator of the Day-Glo poster for Bruce Brown’s 1966 crossover hit movie The Endless Summer. After Graduating from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in 1963, Van Hamersveld spent just over a year as the Surfer magazine graphic designer. In the mid-’60s he made handbills for rock acts like the Velvet Underground and the Who, then went on to design album covers for the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, and Kiss, among others. In 2000, copies of a limited-edition 35th-anniversary run of the Endless Summer poster, signed by Brown and Van Hamersveld, sold for $750 each. A lithographed copy of the original orange-pink-and-yellow poster is in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

Surf magazines to surf movie fame:
In the Sixties, I was entering the world of Surfer Magazine. In October 1962, I was 21 years old, and an abstract expressionist painter, training in publication design. John Severson hired me to be his assistant; Rick Griffin was my close artist friend.

In 1962, Rick Griffin was 17 and still going to Palos Verdes High School. At the time I was living in the Hollywood Riviera Apartments, just three blocks up from Torrance Beach, which was a meeting place for surfers. At the time, I had left Art Center College of Design and was working for Northrop in Aviation, in Hawthorne, in their publication department.

Rick Griffin and I would meet at Torrance Beach to surf. He would tell me stories about working with John Severson on his Murphy Cartoon Strips for Surfer magazine. Rick would draw the cartoons and John would write the stories for him. As the weekends passed and I continued working at Northrop I decided that I could generate a surfing magazine out of my bedroom studio in the apartment and use the printer down the street to publish it. I told Rick I was going to start a surfing magazine (which was to be called Surfing Illustrated) and Rick said he would draw some cartoons for it as well.

Soon John Severson wanted to meet with me. Rick set up the phone call, and I talked to John briefly. He said, “I’ll meet you at the Tahitian restaurant in Long Beach on PCH at 6:00.” That was in July 1962. You would think this was a secret rendezvous of the artists and publication designers. We sat in the restaurant, talking about the surfing publication I had recently done. I had become experienced as a publication designer through my job at Northrop Aviation and the development of the look for Surfing Illustrated. Severson offered me the opportunity to work on his new Bi-monthly Surfer magazine. He wanted me to move to Dana Point.

I talked to John briefly. He said, “I’ll meet you at the Tahitian restaurant in Long Beach on PCH at 6:00.” That was in July 1962. You would think this was a secret rendezvous of the artists and publication designers.

Rick Griffin helped negotiate my worth with Severson, who felt he was eliminating competition in his market by hiring me. I went with the deal and built a position for myself by designing nine issues for him. Meeting everyone you wanted to know in the small surf industry, I saw how the surf trade was made up of characters that not only surfed, but were able to develop a business out of their relationship with their product and the ocean.

As Bruce Brown is quoted in the book, Stoked! “What became lifestyle later was just how we lived without giving it much thought. We knew we had to live by the ocean and needed to figure out a way to make a living there. Hobie made surfboards. Gordon Clark made foam blanks, John Severson started the Surfer magazine, and I started making movies.”

While The Endless Summer poster was designed at the Art Center College of Design in the contemporary style of its time, the image grew out of my relationship with Rick Griffin and our deep relationship to Surf images. I still think if I hadn’t ask Rick Griffin to make the phone call to John Severson in Dana Point I would have not met Bruce Brown.