Chances are, if you follow Paul Tyler’s journey up the east coast of Australia, you will find his art adorning something or another, whether it be surfboards, murals or stickers posted on beachside lampposts.
Known by many as Tyler, the surf artist is notorious for living the nomadic van life and trailing behind vibrant, quirky canvasses wherever he goes. Inspired by coastal landscapes, his life on the road and ocean conservation, Tyler’s psychedelic paintings were originally a colourful way to relax during a not-so-colourful time in his life.
In a far cry from his current lifestyle, Tyler used to live in Torquay, Victoria where he owned a few businesses including a skate shop, restaurant and café. Tyler said everyone goes through things in their life that change their direction, and for him, it was bankruptcy and divorce.
“After that, I sort of questioned everything that I was doing in my adulting. I guess when you live with all these materialistic things like money and houses and then you lose it all, you realise you can’t go through life doing the same and expecting a different result. So, I did everything differently.
“As I was going through bankruptcy, I didn’t have anywhere to live. I guess you could say homeless, but it depends on how you approach homelessness. Some people sleep on the side of the road, whereas I had a little tent that I set up in a park in Byron.
“It was kind of sad, but then I started drawing my art, and I think that brought me both happiness and something to ground myself with. More importantly, my art kind of kept my mind still and made me focus on drawing with bright colours and happiness even though personally, I was in a pretty dark place.
“From that, I learnt how to live really basically – with needs and not wants. I have learnt so many lessons living like that, which I am still learning today five years on. The solitude is hard sometimes, but you also learn a lot about yourself. You need to be comfortable in your own skin and in who you are as a person, and you have to be humble and happy with living simply.”
Everyone is so insistent on telling you what you can’t do in life – you can’t surf, you can’t take your dog, you can’t stay in your van. If there is a rule that hasn’t been made yet, they put it on a sign.
After living in a tent in Byron, Tyler said he travelled to New Zealand and lived in the mountains near Tongariro Alpine Crossing, where every morning was like walking out the back door and seeing a volcano in his backyard.
“When Covid came along in 2020, I was required to head back to Australia, which turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, because I got back and had access to money. So I bought a van and then just started travelling the east coast of Australia while dodging lockdowns. Everyone else had to stay home, but I was free, so I went all the way to the top of Australia and back.
“It was bizarre, because I went through Cape Tribulation and there were a lot of people in vans and being nomadic, but no tourists. I also remember driving to Airlie Beach and just being wowed, because there was all this beautiful blue water but no one around.”
Tyler’s art is best described as psychedelic snapshots of Australian surf culture, with each having a meaningful message behind its madness. A great example is a beautiful piece of his depicting whales being taken away by UFO’s over a desert. He explained it was about aliens taking their pets back home before humanity made them extinct, which gave an impactful meaning behind its title, ‘Homeward Bound’. Tyler’s soft spot for whales and their conservation is seen in many of his pieces, as well as his advocacy for more freedom on Australian beaches.
“My favourite piece would probably be the one with all of the signs. Everyone is so insistent on telling you what you can’t do in life – you can’t surf, you can’t take your dog, you can’t stay in your van. If there is a rule that hasn’t been made yet, they put it on a sign. Seeing the signs and people breaking the rules right next to them always gives me a bit of a laugh and inspires heaps of my canvasses.
“I can paint every day for hours on end and can lose days so easily. It’s very peaceful and such a nice way to relax, because when you’re focussing there’s no room for clutter in your head. To immerse yourself in art and then share it with other people is such a positive thing.
“The selling of my art just came about on its own, someone simply came up to me and offered to buy one of my canvasses. My intention was never to really to sell my art. I just drew because it made me happy and kept my mind still, but then the more that I drew the more I started putting myself out there.
“I think people also don’t expect to see someone with all of their canvasses spread out all over the footpath and drawing on the spot. People will stop and chat and it’s the conversations that come out of it that are so special.”
After travelling to just about every gorgeous beach and national park on the east coast of Australia, it would’ve been an oversight not to pick Tyler’s brain about the very best his trips had to offer. With a map in front of him, Tyler easily pointed out his gem locations, which included Wilsons Prom in Victoria and Jervis Bay, Blue Mountains and Newcastle in New South Wales.
“The east coast has so many beautiful, stand out beaches, but I would definitely recommend Cape Tribulation. I love it and keep going back to it. It’s where the rainforest meets the ocean and reef – where two national parks meet each other. The entire Great Ocean Road is also just beautiful.
“A few places are really strict. In the Gold Coast I had a ranger stop me because they consider what I do a commercial business. I am just painting out of a van, I just want to spread art, colour and happiness, but I get asked to pack up a lot, and it’s whatever. In the Gold Coast, I got fined $667 because I was sleeping in my van, and it’s a similar fine with my art on the beach.
I just want to spread art, colour and happiness..
“Over the last three years, I have done 90,000 kms on the east coast. So I mean that is a lot of laps. I am at the point now where I struggle to think about what beach I haven’t been to. Now when I travel I’ll start driving up some random road and see what’s at the end.”
One of Tyler’s new avenues is drone photography, which allows him to view the beaches he has visited so many times from a new perspective. He has also found a lot of success after releasing his first jigsaw puzzle and would love to create more, although he will be travelling to Asia and cannot make sales until he gets back in June.
When asked about his long-term plans, Tyler said he simply doesn’t have any besides continuing to travel, spread colour and leave a trail of vivid artwork in his wake.
“It’s just finding a balance between my projects and the life that I live. I am also going to Asia, so hopefully I save money being overseas and find some inspiration for my art.
“I just wish the universe sends me something amazing every day, but then, it does that anyway. I don’t know if I’m ever going to settle, or even what that means for me. Every day is just another day, and it can bring anything,” he said.