He is an artist, a photographer, surfer, musician and songwriter. His motto is simple: it is not the destination that matters, it is the journey. Meet Ithaka –“professional vagabond”.
Ithaka was not his birth name. But it is what he likes to be called, all because one day he picked up a poem by the Greek writer Konstantínos Kaváfis entitled Ithaka: “When I read those verses for the first time, I felt they were my life and from then on I used them as a guide. The poem is long but the message boils down to this: the journey is more important than the destination. And my life is one long journey, like a low budget holiday full of adventures”, he says in unencumbered Portuguese with an accent influenced by Brazil and American English.
Ithaka was born in Orange County, California and, until he started travelling, was American. Today he is more a “citizen of the world”, he explains. But it was in the USA that his life’s passions, which have turned into many different crafts, appeared. First photography: “This was through my father, an engineer and photographer in his free time. I got drawn into playing with cameras when I was five years old”. Surfing was also something that appeared early on. “I was 12 and went to Hawaii with the family of a friend. I remember as if it were yesterday, that day of perfect waves in Honolua Bay [on the island of Maui]. Even though I lived near the sea in California and went bodyboarding sometimes, I had never seen anything like it. I wanted to start surfing straight away and when I came home I sold my drum kit – I was into music at the time and played in a Led Zeppelin covers band – to buy a surfboard”.
The years passed and his passions multiplied. By experimenting and teaching himself, Ithaka started painting and sculpture, using surfboards as a canvas and raw material. “I had never thought of it as art. For me it was just a hobby like surfing, music and photography. But one day, a girlfriend who was living in Los Angeles took me to visit some museums and contemporary art galleries in the city and said: ‘Look, you’re one of them, you’re an artist’”. And in fact I was.
Ithaka started working seriously as a photographer in the USA. He photographed famous actors and musicians for some major magazines. “But it wasn’t my thing; I was very limited by white backgrounds and other formalities which didn’t leave me much room creatively. I carried on doing my art, but I felt I needed something more. I moved to Hollywood and got into the more urban side of art. It still didn’t satisfy me. The adventure was missing.”
Escape from the City of Angels
“On my first trip outside North America I ended up in Germany and became fascinated with the explosion of information that for me was Europe. Later, when I lost my father, I decided that I had to go to Greece – the land of his (and my) ancestors which I had never visited. I got to know our origins.” In Greece, Ithaka recognised his DNA, especially in the way the Greeks see the real world through the eyes of fantasy. “They always have two explanations for everything. If the sea is rough it could be because a storm is coming or because of Poseidon’s fury, which fascinates me.”
The photographs and sculptures he started to make from surfboards (see inset), began to take him abroad, including to Japan – where he ended up spending a long time. Once he had a good dose of adventure under his belt, he went back home. But it wasn’t long before he was off again. He was still hungry for European culture and for places with good waves. Perhaps that is why there were no surprises about his next destination.
“I arrived in Portugal on 13th July 1992 with a one-way ticket and 70 dollars in my pocket. I went straight from the airport to the Bairro Alto. It all seemed like a Fellini film: the light, the streets, the feeling that I had gone back in time – a hallucination.” The only thing he could be sure about was that in Portugal he would find the perfect mixture of surf and city, but Lisbon decided to give him much more. Right at the start, quite by chance, he bumped into the team who were filming Manual de Evasão LX94, by Portuguese director Edgar Pêra. Ithaka ended up doing the photos for the movie poster. Because his boards got held up in customs, the first winter in Lisbon was not spent surfing as he’d wanted, but in front of a typewriter. That is how The Adventures of Korvorão appeared– “a mixture of crow and shark, the Korvorão can swim or fly to any part of the world, it is never confined by borders” – a series of tales which ended up turning into sculptures and also a series of texts which were then made into songs.
“One day I was interviewed for Rádio Comercial. One of the producers liked the sound of my voice and invited me to make a programme called Quarto Bairro.” That’s when music, which had been a bit dormant, returned to occupy his time. Ithaka read some texts he had written that rainy winter over the top of some hip-hop instrumentals. “It’s a style I saw evolving and which I’d been very close to in Los Angeles especially when I worked as a photographer for Priority Records”, says the artist, without mentioning that “Get Up”, a poem which ended up being remixed by Underground Sound of Lisbon achieved huge success, not only on the Portuguese dance floors, but also on turntables in the United States and the UK – even though, who knows how, his name has disappeared from the credits.
Ithaka’s travels have inspired albums, poems and stories. “Seabra is Mad” – one of the songs of the year in 1997 according to the newspaper Público is a theme of the surfing film Chasing The Lotus (2006) by Gregory Schelle – the result of a experimental surfing trip to the waves of Madeira with Portuguese big rider José Seabra, who one fine day went straight into the water while still an unknown. Somewhere South of Somalia, for example, is an album inspired by a two-month trip to East Africa. “I’m a storyteller and my music shows that, as do my articles [Ithaka has published fiction about surfing in specialist magazines like Surfer, Transworld Surf, Fluir and Surf Portugal]”.
After Portugal, Ithaka visited Brazil on the invitation of rapper (and surfer) Gabriel o Pensador. Recorded in Rio is one of two albums made in Rio de Janeiro. But his relationship with Brazil did not end there. Today, it is here, or more specifically the southern coast of São Paulo, that this multidisciplinary artist spends most of the year. His little hideaway, which he calls Akahtilândia, is surrounded by tropical rainforest and has good waves and deserted beaches to hand. Far from anywhere and anyone except himself, at Akahtilândia Ithaka continues to do what he likes most. He has recorded an album – Voiceless Blue Raven – and has not stopped sculpting, surfing, or taking photographs: “Did you know that I have photographed several insects I have never found in any encyclopedia?”
Art, music, photography. None is stronger than the other. “I am involved with all of them at the same time. They are multiple facets that define me not as an artist, but as a human being”. And travelling: “I love multiple realities! They make my world more colourful. I love the state of being between many worlds and between many careers. I’m a hybrid”.
by Maria Ana Ventura
portrait by Dede Fedrizzi
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