I first met Zee in Indonesia, where we lived as neighbours for nearly 2 years.
Her love for the ocean and compassion for animals is inspiring. She is true to herself and is a great friend.
Zee has worked hard to become a full time artist and you can find her in Newquay, Cornwall, deep in her element in her studio creating unimaginable works of art. For those of you that haven't seen her art in person yet, trust me when I say that they draw you in, almost like hypnosis, you cant take your eyes off of them, every time you look at one of her pieces, you see something completely new!
It hasn't been an easy ride for her to get to where she is today, so I wanted to ask some questions about her journey:
Local Break: Whipsy
Zee holding a large commission “Odyssey” (100cm Ø) / Photo Anthony James
Originally from the Netherlands, when did you first fall in love with the ocean?
Growing up in an industrial town three hours from the coast wasn’t exactly the ideal place to get inspired by the ocean, but as a family we always took holidays all over Europe, usually by the sea. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I started travelling to different kinds of destinations and that’s where my love for the ocean and nature really started.
What did you do for fun before you found surfing?
I’ve always spent a lot of my free time outdoors and being creative; making jewellery, painting, writing and drawing. I also had jobs to save up for my next foreign escape.
You are an incredible artist and I know you have worked hard and been on a long journey to get to where you are today, tell us how it all started:
Thank you so much! Haha yes, you were there from the very beginning and you know it was an interesting ride to say the least! Back in 2014, I was introduced to the first surfboard shapers in Lombok (Banyu Surfboards), where I was asked to create an artwork on someone’s surfboard. I realised that surfboards are a perfect canvas and just knew I wanted to do more of that. Eventually, the shapers taught me the craft of ‘glassing’ (where you use resin and fibreglass to make the board waterproof and strong) and this is where I fell completely in love with my current medium of choice. The guys at Banyu gave me free rein to create all the surfboard art, including taking custom orders, which I actually did for free the first year or so. During this time, I also became obsessed with the idea of making abstract artworks on flat wooden panels, using resin. I was ‘living la vida broka’ at the time, so investing in proper supplies was a huge risk for me, not to mention the complete lack of infrastructure and resources. There were precisely zero art supply stores on the island and even the wood I needed had to be sent over from Bali. The rest had to come from Jakarta and Australia. You’d think that’s pretty straightforward, but it wasn’t back then, especially because we lived off grid and our sandy ‘road’ didn’t even have a street name.
Eventually, with lots of patience and struggle, the materials arrived after nine months and I began my experiments, creating my first bunch of abstract pieces. I didn’t have a dedicated space for it, I just made art wherever I could find some empty floor space. I nearly set our house on fire because of it, oops! After three years of living in Lombok, Anthony and I moved to Australia where I held my first exhibition, during which I was unfortunately deported from the country... And that’s how we ended up in Cornwall. It was here that I decided to rent an art studio and fully go for it, without any jobs on the side. I am now very happy and proud to say this has been my full-time career since 2018, with my art being collected in 22 countries worldwide.
Zee surfing her local break when she lived in Lombok, Indonesia
Any advice for anyone who wants to become an artist full time?
The most important one I think is to do it for the process. Fall in love deeply with your process and create to express, not to impress. True authenticity will always shine through, as will the opposite of that. Creating art is a vulnerable practice and sharing it with the world even more so. That’s why I think it’s extremely important to find your own style and voice and to not copy others. Stay true & stay curious ;)
You have spent years living and surfing in Indonesia. How would you sum up your experience?
In one sentence, plus 100, minus 100! I felt so alive, like my life was plugged into an amplifier. It was one of the most incredible and life-changing experiences. It started when I went on a surf trip to Lombok in 2014 and it ended up being a completely new chapter of my life. Actually, a different book entirely. On this little island I learned to surf, found my soulmate, discovered my passion and purpose. And of course, I met you Allannah, when we both worked at Surf camp Lombok. Those days of feral living in our tiny bamboo jungle shacks are unforgettable in every way possible. From surfing perfect reef breaks with friends under neon-coloured skies, to finding bleeding and shitting monkeys in our house and dealing with salty, worm-infested cold outdoors showers for three years. It was a vivid and wild time. I feel extremely lucky to have experienced it all and to have met so many interesting humans & lifelong friends along the way.
Zee in her studio, Newquay, Cornwall
Your partner Anthony James is an amazing surf photographer, do you draw inspiration from his work?
He is! Yes, I always have and will. His lifelong knowledge of and experience in the ocean combined with his artistic eye are a match made in heaven... He can see things most people can’t and capture them in a way that makes you wonder what you’re even looking at.
On a scale of 1 -10, how obsessed are you with dogs?
Are there any artists, people or surfers that inspire you?
Well, you guys inspire me to always have fun! And some of my favourite artists/photographers are Supakitch, Mitch Gobel, Arthur Brouthers, Ben Thouard, Chris Burkard, to name a few. Some favourite surfers; Moana Jones Wong, Tia Blanco, Leah Dawson, Asher Pacey, they have such amazing style. If I could have 1% of their surf talent, that would be fantastic.
Zee & Charlie / Photo Anthony James
Tell us about some of your biggest accomplishments:
On a personal level, it would be overcoming my eating disorder and restoring my relationship with food, body image and exercise (all thanks to surfing and becoming vegan).
You've been in the water for 5 hours, the hanger is real, what's your go to post surf meal?
Ant’s GF lasagna + a salad, or a huge rice noodle buddha bowl with all the toppings. And a massive coffee.
Any embarrassing moments in the water?
One time in Lombok when I was working as a surf photographer, I was sitting on the roof of the boat in the channel (from where I took the shots). It was very early in the morning and I only had a coffee, and well… I didn’t have time to go for a “number 2” before we left. So I did what we all did back then: I hung off the side of the boat and made a lovely “brown sea snake” - not realising that another boat was just about to pull up next to me! So I quickly jumped back into the boat pretending nothing happened. From the corner of my eye I could see my sea snake floating towards their boat… I just continued taking photos and prayed they wouldn’t notice, hahaha!
“Where The Heart Is” 90cm Ø Commission by Zee / Photo Anthony James
What inspires you to create art the way that you do:
My process is more like an urge, I just have to do it. This has been a call from within me ever since I discovered it, I just answer to it, translating visuals in my mind into something tangible that I can share with you. They are an ode to mother nature. My artworks are abstract interpretations of the ocean, a merged perspective of the sea as seen from above and below the surface. My colour palettes are drawn from the sea, sky and earth - all blending together into layers of organic textures and details with a glass-like finish. The process itself is tactile, reactive and intuitive. Even after years of experience with this medium, there is a level of unpredictability and there is no room for perfection - which I love.
Hahaha thank you! Honestly, if someone saw my playlists they’d probably think I need serious help. It can literally be anything from (progressive) metal like Northlane and Thornhill to explicit hip hop and Disney songs. Trippy electronic and deep house to classical piano. It really depends on what mood I am in or what mood I want to create.
What plans do you have for the future?
I can’t say too much yet but it may or may not include moving to a warm country again, building an art studio and adopting dogs.
Photo Anthony James
Thank you so much Zee for being open, honest and for telling your story, your art work is amazing and we cant wait to see what you do next!
Follow Zee on Instagram or check out her website for commissions, originals & Prints: