February 12, 2008 (RALEIGH, NC) – What started as a whim between a couple of friends is about to become big business as Raleigh artists Clark Hipolito and Tony Ramsi, along with attorney Steve Gugenheim and marketing expert Ryan Hedspeth, launch ArtCo Surf, a new company offering one-of-a-kind and limited edition surfboards, plus skateboards and apparel.
Hipolito and Ramsi have become well-known over the past two years for their “Against The Grain” collections of hand-painted, wood-grain surfboards. Hand-shaped by Brian Wynn of Wynn Surfboards in New Jersey, those boards fetch prices in the thousands. As commissions have rolled in, along with a demand for slightly less expensive yet still one-of-a-kind boards, the two have expanded their work to include original photography on signed, limited-edition boards. That idea grew to include skateboards as well an apparel line, which they hope to have ready for the market by this summer.
Hipolito also owns The Art Company, an interdisciplinary design firm specializing in interior design and hand-painted faux finishes. He chuckles when he recalls how he and Ramsi began the ascent to ArtCo Surf down in his basement where, on a whim, they painted some old surfboards, coated them with resin, and took them out to the beach to see if they would work. The experiment was so successful that they thought if they kicked it up notch – with new, hand-shaped boards, rather than old throw-aways – there might be a market waiting out there.
They debuted their first collection in Wilmington, NC, at Deluxe, an upscale downtown eatery. When all the boards sold after an ongoing auction format, some for more than asking price, they knew they were on to something. A subsequent show in Raleigh at the former April & George wine bar and multiple articles in national publications including Waterfront Homes & Design and Line up Magazine, brought commissions from around the country.
The artistic inspiration for the wood-grain boards is both the Polynesian surfing legacy – when all surfboards used to be made of wood — and Asian art. “There’s a fine line we’re dancing between invoking classical elements and keeping the design hip,” says Hipoito, 37, of Filipino descent. “The point is to focus on the artwork in conjunction with the application of timeless wood grains.”
For the limited-edition boards, Hipolito has turned to his “muses” – or, as he puts it, “my gorgeous friends who keep me inspired” – who pose for photos that are then printed on rice paper and laminated onto the boards.
“I’ve always been fascinated with figurative art,” he said, “and I’ve always wanted to take it beyond paints on canvas. Since surfboards became a medium, I decided to experiment with it on them. So far, they’ve turned out great. And this way, we can keep the cost down while still offering signed, original art on quality boards.” They intend to produce between 300 and 500 of these boards a year, with prices set between $1200 and $1800 each.
Steve Gugenheim of Raleigh is handling the financial end of ArtCo Surf. Ryan Hedspeth, director of client services at FWV Distilled in Raleigh (a collaborative advertising agency between French West Vaughn and Distill) is in charge of marketing. Artist Dawn Capron, of Anderson Capron Ltd. in Wrightsville Beach, is helping with the printing and laminating process.
ArtCo Surf is also gearing up for trade shows and other opportunities to introduce the their work, including the Washington Boat Show to be held February 14-19 in Washington, DC.