The Walls of Swell

The Salt and Sea by Gene Rogavitz

Swell Taco is an intersection of the Mexican cuisine, surf culture and local creativity. To highlight that local creativity we want to give everyone a more semi-formal introduction to the creators behind the art adorning the Swell Taco walls. Each is part of the Swell community, part of the local surf community and a true individual whose art reflects the essence of what makes this restaurant so totally unique.  

words by John Angiulo


To kick off the ‘Walls of Swell’, we have Eugene Rogavitz, owner of The Salt & Sea. He grew up with one of the founding members of Swell Taco, Scottie Jankow, he’s been surfing on Long Island since he was six years old and he has a truly unique perspective that he infuses into his art. He creates work with lines that sway and slash across pages to relay an abstract perspective that displays Eugene’s journey to capture the essence of what he observes.


John Angiulo: I know you’re a local guy, but where exactly did you grow up on Long Island?  

Gene Rogavitz: I grew up in Lindenhurst

JA: What influenced you to start surfing at such a young age? 

GR: My father got back into surfing when I was six.  He surfed before he went to Vietnam as a teenager.  After that he didn’t start back up until I was young and he was the one who really got me into it.  

JA: Is your work Influenced by the ocean?

GR: Absolutely.  It is all about capturing the essence.  Long northeast winters required therapy and I found ties to the ocean and how water moves off itself and flows and pushes across space and time. My goal is to capture that in a cool abstract way.

JA: When did you begin creating art?  

GR: I began creating art as a kid. I always enjoyed having fun with it. I began with abstract line art. 

JA: Who influenced you? 

GR: At an early age my dad gave me books on Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.  They basically opened my eyes to the fact that art could be whatever you want to make it.  They showed me I could do what I wanted, not just what was shown in art class. 

JA: How did your style evolve. 

GR: I started doing this style art again maybe 12 years ago. It started as creative outlet. It was an organic evolution to putting the art on shirts because I have a natural affinity for clothing apparel and finding different ways to show art. One day a friend asked for a shirt design as a print. Then more and more people asked for print. From there it blossomed into its own business. 

JA: Is it difficult being both a teacher and an artist? 

GR: Keeping balance is the biggest art form. My goal is to grow the business to be able to have someone run it and then just focus on the art. 

JA: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from creating art? 

GR: The biggest thing he learned is patience. Sometimes we want something right away but we have to work days, weeks or even years to accomplish that thing. My job teaching actually taught me to be patient and enjoy the journey.

JA: What do you think your work is trying to capture or say?

GR: My work is trying to capture the essence of something rather something replicated.

JA: Do you have a piece of work that stands out to you or that you’re most proud of?  

GR: “Self Containment” not naturally dedicative of something we see in real world.   It’s paying a tribute to board builders in a non-literal way. Most often its described as a flower captured in a seed. but I like having work that doesn’t have a typical outcome. Up to your interpretation. It can be good to have my backstory with it but let it go where it wants. 

JA: All of the artists have been part of the swell crew for a long time. When did you first start coming to Swell?

GR: I started coming to Swell right from the beginning.  My ties to Swell come from Scottie Jankow.  Through West Islip football and the beach we connected and then Brooke reached out when they opened.  Scott’s sister also married my cousin Johnny.  

JA: What do you think makes Swell Taco a special place that we all keep coming back to?  

GR: Broke and Steve really captured the vibe. All these details coming together. Good feel, good music, good conversation. All the little things coming together was fresh and new.  Also, we did a fundraiser for Memorial Sloan Kettering and swell really   hooked it up. They brought down the food truck and helped raise money. They are always down to give back to their community. 

JA: What’s your favorite thing to eat at Swell?

 GR: I’m a bit fish taco fan. All the fish tacos they make. I kinda of can’t get     enough.

JA: Can Art and Tacos, together, save the world.  

GR: Absolutely. Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that we over look so why  not.

JA: What would you tell your 20 year old self if you could communicate back one thing through time? 

GR: Be braver. You have one shot at life, be braver. 


To check out more from The Salt and Sea head to thesaltandsea.com

Do You

BY JOHN ANGIULO

Recently, I was in Los Angeles. It’s a fine place. Beautiful most days. Occasionally, a historic fire or unheard of torrential down pour destroys everything. Also, there’s homeless tent cities down the block from six-million-dollar beach bungalows. There’s a sixty-year-old restaurant serving artery clogging meat slabs fifteen feet from a brand-new vegan eatery that claims it will “turn your insides into a new born.”

But of all these oddities, the thing that was strangest, to me, was the fakeness. 

 

I met a ton of people, and it seemed that in each conversation there was an underlying itch to find out if I was worth their time; if I could do something to help their career. (Must be a massive disappointment for those people to know that I am NOT someone that can help their career.) They would name drop and test me to see if I knew this person or had been to this place. In the end, no matter what they really thought of me, they put on a fake smile, did the small amount of conversing they had to and then slid out of my life, pretending we might see each other again. 

 

By contrast, when I came back to New York and went to a local bar I was greeted with a, “Oh my god your hair is so long I thought you were a bearded chick that escaped from a circus.” I stood there for a second, momentarily flabbergasted, and then I just burst out laughing. The person who had said it was wearing sunglasses in a bar at night and was swaying on his stool laughing as though he’d been sitting there for a few hours. That is when I realized something.

Real is always better. 

I like being in a place where people don’t care who you are or what you think. I love places that people can be themselves. These places have flair and diversity. New York city has it, nature has it, good parties have it, Swell Taco on a Tuesday night has it. 

 

The changes from being in an atmosphere that was fake, to one that was real, got me thinking. I started pondering a bit about the world we live in, some of the problems we all face and I came to a conclusion. I think people discovering and being their authentic, realest selves is the most important thing any one of us can do. It’s those real people that find their passion and purpose and put it into motion. 

Being real is how Muhammad Ali became the people’s champ, how Neil Armstrong got to the moon, how Jackie Robinson played major league ball, how Doctor J got that afro, how Phil Edward first surfed Pipeline, how the boys in Venice started skating by breaking into people’s backyard pools, how Aretha Franklin hits a note that stick in year soul, how Steve Jobs started Apple and how Christiana Figueres became the architect of the Paris Agreement (look her up). 

All of the things above, pretty much every dope thing humans have done, are possible because people decided to look inside. These decided to figure out who they are, what they really wanted, and then went out into the world determined to make it happen.

In a world that has fake and phony people running around, what I’m saying is, be real. Figure out what it is you want from this life and go out and put it into the world.  Do you, and see what dope gifts you were made to add to the earth. Cheers. (insert beer emoji) 

 


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