Reif was born on the island of Maui, Hawaii in the early 90s. His mum was an established artist from Perth (West Aus) and his dad, a professional windsurfer from California. They met in Bali, a special place he calls his second home now. They met doing what they love, his mum was painting artworks in a Kuta bar called ‘Tubes’ and his dad was on a surf trip.
"We spent the first few years of my life in Maui before moving back to Yallingup then Perth in Western Australia where I grew up. I’ve always lived by the beach both parents are ocean people."
Having an artist as a mother, Reif was always surrounded by artwork, and every wall in the house was filled with colour. He would spend most mornings surfing before school and the afternoons at her studio where she would give him a canvas and paints to play around with.
"I think the first photos of me painting were around age 6, mum would come into school and do an art project with my class once or twice a year. My year 2 project in 1999 I painted ‘The Troll’ which is still hanging in my house today."
In high school at Scotch College in Perth, Reif designed a pair of boardshorts as a school project that eventually took him down that career path. It led him to study Commerce at the University of Western Australia after school and it was during these years that he really began to pursue his career as an artist.
If you were a movie, what is your story?
Boy finds his passion early on he goes through the highs of lows in business during his final years of school. Studies finance at university to have a high paying corporate desk job like his peers but ends up taking time off after graduating and realizes he would rather earn less and enjoy life with a job he loves.
How would you describe your personality?
I’m pretty quiet but I like to have fun and have a laugh. Since graduating I work from home most of the time so I end up spending a lot of time by myself, which I think has made me a little bit more introverted. I’m very laid back but saying that I also like to go out and socialize with friends and have a laugh on the weekends, I’d rather do something outdoors or adventurous rather than hit a nightclub. The tropical life is for me….
What has been your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge to date would be discovering what I was going to do with my life as a career. It ended up being easy and in front of me all along but there are always people telling you that you have to go to university get a good job and make money. I followed the crowd and studied Corporate & Investment finance at Uni but showed no interest. I graduated but my heart wasn’t in it, I couldn’t stand spending a couple weeks studying in the library let alone 40 years at a desk with 4 weeks holiday a year. That’s when I realized I had a good to use the skills I already had to continue to grow my board-shorts business and try my luck at painting.
Tell us about Ocean Zone.
I began Ocean Zone in the latter half of 2006 aged 14 as a School project at Scotch College. We had a year to work on anything we wanted to outside of school then write a report on the process so I chose to combine something I enjoyed that happened to be art and surfing.
I loved the old Quiksilver boardies by one of my favourite artists, Peter Webb. He would transfer his paintings onto shorts rather than a standard plain colour. My project was to paint an artwork and make a pair of board-shorts to have on display.
The day after the project showcase I arrived and had an order list on my table of 20 people and their sizes and Ocean Zone started from there. I ordered a bunch of stock and approached my local surf shop that took it on and slowly began to grow from there. At the time it had been compared to a new aged mambo in terms of being outside of the box design-wise. It has never gotten anywhere near the popularity or growth of Mambo but they are one of my favourite ever art/fashion lines so I was stoked with the link. I continued with OZ Boardies after school and kept it ticking along through university but now work on it as a full time job alongside my painting. With recent trends in the industry I now sell solely online in my own e-commerce shop www.oceanzone.com.au as well as having pop-up shops.
How would you define your design style? What do you think has shaped the way you design?
I would best describe work as modern art using vibrant colours. I like to combine my characters and icons in busy and abstract ways through lots of colours. They are conversational pieces, rather than have the viewer walk by and have a quick glance, the busyness and colour draws them to stand there for a few minutes at least and point out different parts. Kind of like 'Where’s Wally' in a sense.
Top 5 favourite artists/designers.
1. Jos Myers (mum) She has always been the biggest inspiration since I was young, she taught me how to paint and being surrounded by her artwork growing up, it had a big say on the type of art that I enjoy. The bright colours, humour and flow that you see in my paintings are all influenced by her work. She started painting surfboards and t-shirts for the surf brand Insight in the 80's so she had taken a similar path to me but much more of a pioneer. Brett Whitely is her biggest inspiration.
2. Peter Webb – He was an artist for surf wear giant Quiksilver since the beginning. An artwork he did on a pair of boardies was what gave me inspiration to design my own pair of board-shorts. He paints tiki men type figures using bright colours and whacky shapes. We own four of his artworks which sit amongst our own at home. I even have his self portrait piece above my bed.
3. JM Basquiat – When I was 19 mum bought me a Basquiat book with all of his work. Surprisingly I had never heard of him but at that stage I wasn’t really focused on art or the art-world besides having fun with it myself and enjoying the art around me. I loved his style and characters and the way he was not afraid to paint over things. It was this book that got me into painting as a career; it is definitely my favourite type of art.
4. Mambo – Growing up, Qantas airlines used to give kids an art pack on planes to keep them busy, the art was all drawn by Reg Mombassa from Mambo. Similar in ways to Peter Webb they drew weird/abstract characters that really got the imagination going. Mambo was a large team of artists with very different style but all of it was cool or funny in its own way. Mambo was one of the biggest surf brands throughout the 80s and 90s due to its different approach using crazy colourful artwork.
5. Picasso – I just love the way he paints eyes on things, it doesn’t make sense and gives the painting a bit of humour and a different element to it. Although I appreciate how talented artists are that paint realistically, I for sure can’t but its not for me I’d rather something random like Picasso that gets the creative juices flowing.
Name a mentor or someone who impacted your career and life. And how?
Patrick Leahy – I had known Patrick since I was a little kid, he was the founder of West, a wetsuit and surf brand from WA. I used to love going into the warehouse and getting a wetsuit or clothes when I was little it made me feel special. He was the first one I went to after I had interest from the pair of shorts I designed. I wanted to ask his opinion and he was really supportive and helped me get started with his 30+ years knowledge in the industry .
Is there something you would do differently if you ran a design school? What do you think there should be more emphasis of in design schools?
I would lean it towards more creative style of painting. As I mentioned before I really appreciate the skill of realistic artists but I enjoy artwork that is more random and doesn’t make sense. I would encourage people to let their imagination go wild and paint outside the lines.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Starting the business as a school student would have to be up there, it has really shaped my life so far in terms of the path I took. In saying that hopefully my first solo exhibition in Dubai will be my greatest achievement, it’s the first time I have solely dedicated 3 months to just painting and I think it is some of my best work yet.
Talk about a time you failed at something or thought you did – but how it molded you in some way.
Back around 2010 we accidentally ordered about 5 times as many shorts as we thought we did, it was a human error with the order sheet so we had to take it on the chin. This meant we had to pay 5 times as much as we should have and didn’t quite have the demand to sell it all so it was a big write off. It taught me to double/triple check everything before I send the orders off and to also only order realistic amounts we hope to sell.
A quote you live by… or a quote you love.
If you love what you do you will never work a day in your life
The hardest part of your job is….
The hardest part is getting the name out there. The thing that has frustrated me the most especially with the board shorts is that it takes a lot money for people to discover your product, something I don’t have. The shorts are a really cool concept with the designs however nobody knows about it. You used to be able to grow organically on platforms such as Instagram but because of the new algorithms you either have to pay a lot of money or take a photo of someones butt to be seen or they will block it from showing up.
The part of the design process you love most.
Starting on a blank canvas is easily my favourite part of the painting. I usually don’t plan before I start so moving paint with the sponge and seeing what shapes pop up is the most fun.
The part of the design process you least like.
The bit just before finishing is the hardest. On a lot of occasions there will always be something that makes it look unfinished to me and most of the time it will be my favourite thing in the painting. Sometimes you need fresh eyes and some balls to actually just paint over that part and then it will free up the rest of the flow in the artwork.
Do you have a dream project? What is it?
To have an art exhibition/ fashion parade with some of my best mates who are photographers. Somewhere over seas with a bit of exposure or publicity would be unreal.
If there is one thing you want people to know or be inspired by from your story – what is it?
To follow your passion and try to find a job
that you love.
Are there any other outlets you express creativity? How did that come about?
In Bali there is a huge waste problem, a lot of plastic washes up on my favourite beach, my friends and I have made sculptures out of all the rubbish we found on the beach to make a bit of a statement before taking it up to the bins.
What makes you happy?
I love the ocean so anything to do with that usually makes me happy. Surfing, swimming, exploring, being on a boat, fishing etc
What is your morning routine before you begin work?
Back home in Perth my routine would be to jump in the ocean for a dip or surf but recently here in Dubai I enjoy my sleep-ins then work later into the night.
What music do you listen to when you work? (If you listen to music)
Usually I will throw on Spotify and choose music depending on the mood I’m in. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Led Zeppelin but Coldplay, RUFUS du Sol and Tash Sultana are favourites.
What are you most excited about for what’s coming next?
I’m really excited for my upcoming exhibition in Dubai on June 19. I’ve spent the last 2 months here in Dubai working towards the show. I get really distracted back home with the beach so close and other commitments so I have never worked full time towards an exhibition, being here has allowed me to be more productive and creative.
This is my first time painting and exhibiting outside Australia so I’m really interested to see how it goes.
What is an important lesson you’ve learnt over the years as a designer / entrepreneur that you would like to share with others?
I’ve learnt to stick to my own vision and not copy trends, you've got to go with what you feel is right, that’s what makes it unique.
Reif Axl Myers is exhibiting his first solo art show, 'Seagull in my drink' in Dubai on the 19th of June 2019. As an artist and designer for over 2 decades, Reif's story is about a love for nature, following your true calling through art and making people look cool in boardies. His work is a reminder that life is a celebration and a riot of colours - and if you look closer you'll find lots of things to smile about.
Written and Edited: Kamsin Mirchandani