Tuk Tuk
The Thread

Otis Carey

Pro surfer and artist at heart, Otis Carey, gives a Tuk Tuk in Thailand a new face lift.

Question: So tell me about this Tuk Tuk, am I saying that right?

I slowed my pronunciation down while Otis Carey, part professional freestyle surfer, part artist, and part general good dude erupted into bemused laughter as I continued my attempt at pronouncing the word for ‘motorized taxi’ in Thailand.

Question: t-UH-k, t-UH-k?

I think it’s pronounced ‘t-OO-k t-OO-k’, but your accent might be...different.

And just like that, Otis had found the most down to earth way imaginable to tell me that I was wrong. Otis hails from Coffs Harbour, Australia. After correcting my poor pronunciation and briefly chatting our mutual connections to Newcastle, a city in Australia we’ve both traveled to roughly 5 hours south of Coffs where he grew up, we dove head first into his recent collaboration with Stance. The finished product was a fully painted Tuk Tuk, which became a culmination of several facets of Otis’ life that he has great passion for - art, surf, travel, and his deep respect and appreciation for his Indigenous heritage.

Question: How would you describe yourself to someone who has never met you?

*Laughs* I’m pretty easy going. I like to be around happy people, and be positive and creative and enjoy the present moment.

Question: Do you have a mantra or something you practice every day?

Growing up my dad always said, “If you’ve got nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I live by that. 

Question: So you painted a Tuk Tuk. Can people ride it still or is it on display somewhere?

Mike Noe wanted me to do a painting while we were in Thailand, and try to incorporate it into what we were doing over there. So he suggested getting a Tuk Tuk and painting it. We tracked down a guy who owns a Tuk Tuk business, and we found one and painted the shit out of it. Apparently it’s illegal to paint Tuk Tuks like that. They all have to look the same. So the guy who owned it decided to keep it forever because he had never seen anyone paint a Tuk Tuk.

Question: So it’s just chilling in Thailand on this guy’s property?

Yeah! Well Mike bought the roof of the Tuk Tuk, because it was leather stretched over a frame. But the rest of it is still there.

Question: What other ways have you collaborated with Stance?

I just did a painting with them in the Bahamas which will be featured in an upcoming campaign, which is cool.

Question: It seems like art is a big part of your life and not something you do necessarily for profit. Where else in the world can people find your art?

So, I’ve painted trees and old burnt out cars, it’s nice to leave a memory of a place somewhere, so that’s kind of what I do sometimes, if I have paintbrushes and art (supplies) on me and I’m somewhere cool.  Or anywhere where I feel like leaving a memory, if that makes sense.

Question: What’s something you’ve never painted on, but would love to get your hands on?

I’ve never painted on shop front windows, that’d be fun. I’d be pumped on painting people’s fridges too. At the end of the day I’ll paint on anything!!

Seat

I like to think people take something away from my paintings, even if it’s a smile or a head tilt that’s good enough for me.

Question: It seems like you’ve even made surfing into an art form, I heard you created a new board shape?

We created this board called the Mermaid Killer. It’s this really weird, unconventional shape that seems to surf really well. It’s a bit bizarre, but it’s cool.

Question: Was it trial and error or did you just shape it and go for it?

It was about 6 months of trial and error before we got the right shape. It was good fun. We make a bunch every month or so and stores buy them and people order custom boards. 

Question: That itself is super artistic, creating something new in an industry where people have very specific styles. It’s cool that you were able to create something that was completely your own.

I think people tend to forget that a lot of things we do and create is our own way of doing things. That was kind of my reason for creating that surfboard. It was my way of getting to do my thing in the ocean, my way. 

Question: How does art fit into surfing, and how do those things intermingle in your life?

My dad actually had me at the beach when I was two days old, and me being aboriginal, a lot of my ancestors lived off the ocean and lived really close to the ocean. It’s so hard to explain when people ask these kinds of questions - I can’t find the words just yet to express that side of it. It’s more of a connection than anything. It’s got so many healing elements and certain attributes that people don’t realize, and that’s why people who grew up near the ocean are drawn to it. 

Question: What makes you different or what makes you stand out - what do you think it is that makes you an artist?

My culture. 

Question: Does your heritage and being Aboriginal influence the style of your art?

Yeah, definitely. Within different groups of clans there are different symbols that have certain meanings. What I’m painting is a contemporary broken down form. Some symbols we’re not allowed to share, but what I do is break it down so I can share those stories without any traditional conflicts. 

Question: Do the different images you’re painting have specific meanings, similar to a hieroglyphic where there is a literal meaning, or are you telling the story through your own interpretation and imagery? ​

It sort of depends on the sort of story - in a way I’m telling the story my own way, yes, but the stories are thousands of years old so they’ve been told many, many times. When I paint, I’d like to think people want to know more about the story, so that’s why I name them in my native language and break down in English what it means.

Question: How long did the Tuk Tuk take to paint?

It took about 6-8 hours. 

Question: Why did you paint the Tuk Tuk the way you did? What were you hoping people would feel or take away looking at it?

With the Tuk Tuk painting, the symbols and design I used were specific. In Thailand we were never really in the same place. We traveled a lot and stayed in a lot of different places. So the symbols used for the painting symbolizes traveling up and down on a journey. I started painting the Tuk Tuk from the inside out, it made more sense to paint like that for that design. I was hoping to translate a sense of travel through the painting. 

I like to think people take something away from my paintings, even if it’s a smile or a head tilt that’s good enough for me.

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