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. 

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