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By Shawn Raymundo
As is tradition, the San Clemente Ocean Festival will begin selling its annual collector T-shirts this coming Memorial Day weekend. But for the first time in 30 years, those popular tees will not feature Bob Harlow’s signature style of fun and whimsy.
After much reflection in recent years, the local artist has announced that now is the “time to step aside” and turn his attention and energy to other endeavors, passing the responsibility for this year’s artwork to fellow San Clemente-based artist Roy Gonzalez.
“Art is my life, and I will continue to create limited graphic designs along with spending more time out in my workshop creating my mixed media sculptures and traveling more,” Harlow said in a prepared statement that Ocean Festival released this week.
Ocean Fest officials praised Harlow’s decades of support to the annual event, further highlighting some of his latest projects that include working with reclaimed woods, leather, paper and salvaged materials.
Speaking with San Clemente Times, Ocean Fest Executive Director Peggy Vance credited Harlow with being a “huge asset to us”—particularly during the pandemic-induced hiatus, when the nonprofit, as a 501(c)4, was ineligible for any grants or loans, and relied on T-shirt sales to raise funds.
Because of COVID-19 the previous two years, Ocean Fest was unable to put on the yearly event that features several ocean-based competitions and attracts large crowds to San Clemente’s beach. However, with Harlow’s continued support, Ocean Fest sold new collector tees in 2020 and 2021.
In 2020, the shirts recognized the contributions that Gary and Arlene Button had made to the Ocean Fest throughout the years, while another design was dedicated to San Clemente’s former Marine Safety Capt. Bill Humphreys.
Last year’s collector shirts honored Roger Price, a longtime member of the nonprofit’s board and a community volunteer who died in November 2020.
With Harlow’s departure, Ocean Fest has turned to Gonzalez, whose artwork over the past 40 years has “the most definitive and recognizable images of the surf, sub-culture, and music industries,” Ocean Fest said in its press release.
According to the nonprofit, Ocean Fest President Jeff Beasley threw Gonzalez’s name into the pool of potential artists to lead this year’s T-shirt design after recalling a feature story that the San Clemente Journal had written about the local artist.
Gonzalez received unanimous approval from Ocean Fest’s governing board.
“With his vivid color palette and intricate visuals, Roy has created an over-the-top fun and exciting design to usher in this very special 45th anniversary of ‘The Greatest Show on Surf,’ which is sure to ensure that our ever-popular T-shirts continue to be collector items,” Ocean Fest said in the release.
Describing the artwork for the 2022 edition of the T-shirts, Gonzalez said the design is meant to serve as tribute to his growing up in San Clemente, and all the heartfelt memories he has of those days.
“Swimming to Seal Rock in the summer with friends and having the dolphins show up and swim with us,” he said, highlighting those memories, which also included “surfing all day and beach parties at the Lausen’s hut at night; it was a magic coastal bubble in time.”
Gonzalez also expressed appreciation to the nonprofit, as well as his predecessor.
“I am honored that the San Clemente Ocean Festival and my good friend, artist Bob Harlow, have passed the sacred torch to me,” Gonzalez said in the release.
Touching on his 30 years as Ocean Fest’s main artist, Harlow thanked Vance and Deanna Botello, a former Ocean Fest president, as well as the staff and volunteers, for their hard work in putting on the annual event.
“This awesome event has meant so much to me, and I am so very proud of what we have achieved in building the Ocean Festival into a brand that is sold to supporters and collectors around the world,” Harlow said in the release.
The collector T-shirts for the Ocean Festival’s 45th anniversary will go on sale Memorial Day weekend, and can be found locally at the San Clemente Store at the Outlets at San Clemente, DeNault’s ACE Hardware store and Mikii’s on Del Mar. Ocean Fest is also looking to sell the shirts as a pop-up shop at the pier this summer.
Ocean Fest is set to make its return on July 16-17.
Follow Harlow on Instagram @harlowdesign to see his latest work. To check out Gonzalez’s work, head to his website at gonzalezartz.com.
Shawn Raymundo is the managing editor for Picket Fence Media. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.