Joshua Paskowitz recalls his childhood as the youngest of the Paskowitz clan with a variety of adjectives: "tragic," "bullshit," "valuable," "magical." Dorian "Doc" and Juliette Paskowitz and their nine children are widely known as the First Family of Surfing, and the eccentricities that professional surfer/Stanford-graduated physician Doc imposed on his family—traveling around the country for more than 20 years in a camper, no formal education, surfing almost every day—are the stuff of folklore.
"We grew up in Third World countries getting stabbed and shot and rabies and scorpions and all that kinds of stuff," Joshua recalls.
The clan's endless travels led to places with no electricity or diversions, so family members wrote, drew and created music to pass the time. "[There was] just the ocean and the sky and the surfboards and our family and the camper," he says. "So . . . anything that was internal, that you could bring out, were all things that we, by necessity, gravitated toward."
"The Paskowitz Experience" at the Mint Fine Art Gallery, 1409 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 283-6456. Sat., 6 p.m. Free.
Paskowitz left his parents and the camper life when he was 13, going on to live several lifetimes' worth of adventures—wandering the streets of San Clemente, sleeping on the side of the 5 freeway while snorting heroin and coke, befriending bands such as Sublime (fun fact: he taught Bradley Nowell's son how to surf), opening for the Rolling Stones and Red Hot Chili Peppers, scoring a hit with 1998's "Got You (Where I Want You)" with a band called the Flys.
After leaving music, he went to work with his brothers as a surf instructor at the prestigious Paskowitz Surf Camp for a few years before winding up at an art gallery after a few odd jobs. His wife inadvertently inspired him to begin painting. "I bought my girl a canvas because I thought it would be really romantic to paint her a painting," he says. "So it went four years, and I never painted the fucking thing."
By that point, Paskowitz had lost his job and his home. He took a look at the canvas and decided it was time to tie up at least one loose end in his life. "So I started painting and painted on this thing for four months," he says. What emerged was a beauty: his wife as an angel in full golden armor and holding their son. The son has a caduceus in one hand and a sword in the other; to the side is their daughter. Paskowitz himself is represented as "a double-headed dragon thing" that he admits looks like an H.R. Giger monster.
When the painting was complete, he says, "I was like, 'This is really satisfying.' When I was working on that, it was more like for therapy, but then as I was doing it, I was like, 'I'm kinda shitty as a web designer. I kinda suck as a fuckin' medical-equipment-specialist person. . . . You know what? I can draw the fuck out of a unicorn. I'll draw the shit out of a dragon!' It was something I was confident in."
So Paskowitz began focusing on visual arts, creating paintings of what he calls "the Paskowitz experience." "Without getting too esoteric, sometimes we were in the camper in certain places and it just was so bizarre that it was almost life imitating art in the sense that it was art—the art of living," he says. "I feel like [getting] the camper back and refinish the [it] somehow, do it again, but this time with the knowledge that it's art. Because when you're in the moment, you think it's really hard and it's really harsh because you keep losing that meaning and the magic of the art of it."
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The now-37-year-old Paskowitz puts his unconventional upbringing and family on display in his first art show at the Mint Fine Art Gallery in San Clemente on Saturday. The one-night-only exhibit will bring out the Paskowitz family and the iconic camper. The artist hopes people will find it more entertaining and uplifting than a focus on his pain and suffering.
"I mean, yeah, that would be great if I were a famous artist or something, but I'm not," he says. "I'm a Paskowitz! That's the fun part! The art's just a reflection of that."
This article appeared in print as "All In the Family: The agony and the ecstasy of Joshua Paskowitz."