Born in Whittier, California, artist Rodney “Rodrigo” McCoubrey didn’t wait long to leave his hometown to hunt down world class surf. The current Encinitas resident has been scoring waves around the globe since the age of fourteen and, along the way, fell in love with the different types of art that the world has to offer.
After spending time in Australia, Bali, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Panama, Rodrigo decided to move to a remote beach in Baja, where he discovered the large amount of trash pollution that covered the beautiful beaches. It was then that he decided to combine his passion for the arts with his love for the ocean.
Now 30 years later, Rodrigo has been using discarded materials as medium for recycled artwork, turning waste into collectables. From dumpsters to roadsides and empty lots, Rodrigo incorporates all kinds of surprising finds into his art.
The Surf Channel had the chance to interview Rodrigo and dig into his life as a surfer, San Diego resident, and recycled artist that is making a difference in the world.
When did you start surfing?
Rodrigo McCoubrey: I’ve been riding waves since I was fourteen. I don’t know how many years that is- a lot! Pretty much traveled a bunch of the world. I lived in Australia, Bali, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. When I was 19, I did a solo trip through Mexico, all the way to the far tropics. When I was 22, I drove all the way to Panama, left my car, and went all through South America. [When I’m home] I surf local. I surf all of the Leucadia spots, and I’m still an avid Baja traveler.
When did you become an artist?
RM: Oh boy, I think the day I was born! It’s something I’ve messed around with literally since I was a child. I used to do a little bit of mixed media art, and then I became a potter. I was a production potter for almost ten years, and I painted surfboards and women’s clothing. Then when I was living in Baja on a desolate coast, I discovered trash and I never stopped. It’s been 30 something years in recycled art.
Why is using recycled objects so important to you?
Rodrigo: Well, to me, it simply just makes sense. There is so much trash and to be able to reinvent something that is going to go into a landfill and give it a shelf life, and make people happy doing it. That’s what recycled art is to me. I just love taking trash and making things out of it. Trash always changes, it’s never the same, and my ideas keep changing.
What inspires your work?
Rodrigo: I think living. I love texture. I love the rhythm of life. I don’t quit working when I have a trauma or someone has died. I just keep working through all the emotions, all the feelings in it. You know, some days you look around and you see how bad people are doing and you want to hold up a piece of trash art and show them, ‘hey, look c’mon, you guys, we can do something different. Change yourself, change your attitude.’
What artists inspire you?
Rodrigo: All artists. I think we are kind of a sacred tribe.
Tell us about your favorite piece.
Rodrigo: Some of my favorite pieces are the altars I have created for people who have lost loved ones. Having lost both my parents, I’ve made altars and I think what is cool about altars is that it’s there everyday on your wall and you can light a candle or put flowers on it, but it’s something sacred. I like creating sacred pieces of art for lost loved ones.
Tell us about the awards you have won.
Rodrigo: I remember winning my first recycled art contest and just going, “Wow, I can get paid to make this stuff! I walked out and got first prize, and at that time, they paid 600 bucks for first place, which was a lot of money. I walked out and two people had wanted to buy it and that was the first time I thought, “I’m going to make something out of this.”
I won other prizes at the fair and stuff with my art, but I think one of the most coveted, wonderful ones was when we won the Youth Honoree award in San Diego for doing an art project with 400 children called ‘Fish for Thought’. The exhibition was called ‘Fish Sticks’ and we did recycled fish and we did a mile and a half on the coastline in Del Mar. That was probably one of the most unreal things, that someone honored them, and thought of something cool. It was all about the children.
How does the ocean and surfing inspire your art?
Rodrigo: It’s the blood in my veins. How do you ever go to an ocean and not take away something positive? It’s just in me. It’s the not knowing. Are you going to make that wave, are you going to drop in, are you going to get the best wave of your life? All the not knowing in the ocean excites me. With that incredible infinite part that never stops moving. I love that part of the ocean, always moving.
What advice can you give to artists just starting out?
Rodrigo: Never ever, ever, ever let someone tell you not to do it. That you won’t make a living. Trust what is inside of you, and forever be creative. It helps the individual and in a really unique way it helps man. Every piece of art made was shot out of the dust and is delivered by someone who felt something, or passionate, or whatever, but they felt it. So I think it’s important.