"Dream. Fail. Succeed. Repeat." Inked on the right forearm of Huntington Beach artist Sam Bernal, this sequence of life events has been the key to his creative freedom and conscious creation. Quantum physics, unity consciousness, Kundalini yoga, homemade soaps, Bruce Lipton and fluorescent paint pens are all topics a conversation with the lighting engineer might cover, leaving the visitor more open-minded, lost in brilliant geometry and possibly even scratching his head—in a very good way.
Bernal's high energy psychedelic landscapes are undoubtedly magnetic, waking up the eyes and mind of the beholder with their fluorescent hues, deep colors and intricate details. They also include a key element of discovery and sometimes require the help of a magnifying glass. "I like making the pieces so that months later you can find something new," says Bernal, laughing while pointing out hidden creatures in his pieces. "People really respond to my art," he adds, noting that one of his biggest inspirations is surf artist Drew Brophy. As we follow him through his sunny garage studio and home gallery, recurring themes of robots, sunsets, waves, volcanoes and dinosaurs shine apparent in his work. "When I was a kid I had a fascination with dinosaurs," Bernal tells us, also revealing his affinity with the Polynesian Islands. These attractions influence the unique names of his pieces, which range from "Volcanopolis" to "Sunset Overload" to "HB Dazzle."
A Riverside native, Bernal spent large chunks of his childhood at his grandmother's home in Huntington Beach. During visits his uncles beckoned the young skateboarder to the salty sea and taught him how to surf—a lifestyle he still practices today. "It was only natural for me to eventually move here," says Bernal, who, before making his shift nearly five years ago, obtained his BA in Physics from Eastern Washington University.
Although Bernal grew up around artists, the longtime musician embraced his artistic skills post-college after a rock climbing accident left him with a long road to recovery—and a lot of extra time on his hands. And so those hands got to work, grabbing Sharpie and Posca water-based paint pens and inking geometric patterns and shapes. Over the past several years, his work has evolved into more organic shapes and mixed media pieces, and his vibrant designs have grown louder, evoking sounds with every colorful curve and carefully drawn line. Bernal's patterns rely heavily on black outlines, which, he says, allow him to paint in any color he damn well pleases. "It gives each color its own space, and that's how you can get away with putting a bunch of disparate colors next to each other," says Bernal. "It doesn't matter what colors go together. I break all the color rules all the time."
His physics wisdom translates into his art, which, along with the aforementioned themes, also commonly includes the flower of life. The sacred geometric symbol "describes how reality comes into existence from nothing based on geometry," Bernal tells us. Along with penning and painting them into his more "trippy" works, as they've been called, Bernal recently created a line of palm-size flower of life stencils.
While many observers of Bernal's painted murals, canvasses, shoes, surfboards, skateboards and leather cuffs deem certain that the artist consumes copious amounts of LSD during his creation process, Bernal promises he's never opened his mind to psychedelic drugs. "It sounds fun," he says. "If you believe that psychedelics allow you to experience a different state of consciousness... that sounds cool to me." He has, however, welcomed the philosophy of conscious creation. "My art is mostly about letting the observer—my consciousness—take over and do it," says the spiritual optimist. Bernal doesn't judge his work, a rule that governs his life and has improved his personal, professional and artistic worlds immensely. "Every one I work on is a practice piece," he says. "If I go into it with that attitude, I don't judge it. The other rule is I always have to finish it."
These rules echo the sentiment of Bernal's tattoo, a permanent work of art that inspires him and likely anyone who sees the inked phrase daily. "This is the process that everyone has to go through whenever you make anything happen, even if it's something small," Bernal says of the tattoo. "It's only a failure if you stop trying."
Bernal's work can be viewed on his website, the monthly HB Downtown Art Walk and Avantgarden in Santa Ana. His 2014 hopes are to collaborate with more artists and surfboard shapers, as well as expose his craft at more local venues and shows. He'll surely continue putting out good vibes, and we hope the community returns them.