Interview & Words: Elisa Routa
What stays in my mind from the conversation I had with British-born, California-based artist Maddie Gordon? Easy. In no specific order, the smell of cow poo in the summer, nudist camps, mushroom foraging, fishing fresh bonito, and the scent of boiling tea which fills the sailboat she shares with her husband, Trevor.
“Can we just do a call (no FaceTime)? Lol. I recently woke up and look sleepy,” said the green message bubble on my screen. I called Maddie Gordon on WhatsApp. She had just downloaded the app for me, which I appreciated. She likes to reminisce about what it was like to grow up in Sussex, England. “Where I grew up was pretty rural, right on the edge of the ocean. We lived on a pretty steep hill that overlooked the whole valley. There were lots of sheep and it smelled like cow poo in the summer. It was dreamy. I miss it a lot.”
Her passion for all things ocean comes from these years. As a teenager, her dad had a 20-foot sailboat, but it was not until Maddie met Trevor that she really got into sailing. “We met on Flicker. We Skyped for a couple of months and I thought ‘Ok this is a good guy.’ It sounds cheesy but I figured out a way to come to California, go to school, and be with him. Trevor grew up sailing his whole life with his family here in California, going to the Channel Islands.” she explains. “I like the life on the harbor because people don’t just walk onto your boat and come up without knocking. In that sense, living on a boat hasn’t helped being a more sociable person but I love it.”
Since then, it’s been a true love affair, not only with Trevor but also with the Golden State. “California is so big that it offers everything. It’s less than a ten-hour drive to the snow, the desert, and woods. We really don’t have to leave the state too much. But we do, we love to travel. We’re right on the border with Mexico which is really fun,” she says. “I feel very open-minded and liberal, which is nice to be in California. That complements it very nicely. It would be pretty hard to live in a red state I think.”
“My family is pretty wild. We grew up going to this nudist camp right outside of London every summer. I definitely have a healthy relationship with nudity now.”
The British artist received an education based on a philosophy that meant to free the mind. She puts it simply: “My family is pretty wild.” As a drawer and painter herself, Maddie’s mother would take her to art courses with her. “My mum has always been enrolled in different programs, furthering art education. When I was a kid, I would do a lot of drawing with her. She loved doing nudes and I would just draw stick figures with bushy bushes and big boobs. I was like, ‘Mum, I did an artistic nude!’ and she was like, ‘Oh… that’s great!’”
Introduced to art at an early age, Maddie also remembers her first summers experimenting with this oh so precious feeling of freedom. “My parents met at a nudist camp. I guess they knew what each other looked like naked before they ever fell in love with each other,” she explains. “Then we grew up going to this nudist camp right outside of London every summer with my dad and we’d pull this little trailer with his motorbike inside the car, and we’d spend six weeks there, just running around naked, eating ice cream, and playing in the woods. It was really fun.” Those years certainly influenced her way to enjoy freedom as an adult. “I definitely have a healthy relationship with nudity now. It was just as normal to us as wearing clothes and didn’t feel like a big deal. I only realized it was unconventional when my friends would come over to play and I’d take my kit off to go jump in the pond or play in the woods, or they’d see my dad swimming buns-out. My friends were either embarrassed but curious or totally liberated. Usually the latter.”
“Living on the boat, you also need to be spontaneous and deal with the forecast.”
Her early experimentation with nudity provided the young artist a healthy return to nature. ”If I’m honest, a swim doesn’t really feel like a swim unless I have cold water around all of my wobbly bits.” Today, living on a sailboat with her husband, it’s important for her to focus her eyes on that apparent line that separates the earth from the sky. “I love expansive views. I’ve never been to New York but I have it in my head that I would hate it because I would be standing in the city and not be able to see over the horizon. I’m sure it’s great but it’s nice to wake up and see over the horizon,” she explains. “Living on the boat, you also need to be spontaneous and deal with the forecast. Weather is an ever-changing thing. Sometimes you’ll look at the forecast and you’ll be like ‘Okay there’s no wind tomorrow, let’s go to the islands.’ It changes your plans.”
Although spontaneity is part of the game, every morning starts the same way for the British artist. “I always make a big pot of tea. I bought a teapot from our last trip to England and I use it everyday,” she says. ”Today I’ll go to the printers. Trevor’s mum has a house in town so we do our laundry there. Trevor is gonna work on a little project there; he built a little fishing boat from scratch and he’s trying to make it perfect. I’m gonna do some sewing and make ornaments for holidays markets, like little mushrooms and little naked angels. I’ll probably do some cooking too. I’ll make some soup.”
“The Tiny Mess is about creative people that cook and manage well in very small spaces.”
Based on Santa Barbara Harbor, situated at the edge of the city, Maddie divides her time between drawing and healthy cooking, which has become a serious passion as well as an essential part of her identity and way of life. She recently launched a cookbook with her husband and her friend Mary Gonzalez. “The Tiny Mess is about creative people that cook and manage well in very small spaces,” she explains. “Mary and I both love to cook and we always take really huge projects in tiny little spaces. We were like, ‘It’s crazy, who else is doing this in their little sailboats, campers and trailers?’ We found out that there was a huge community of people undergoing the wildest projects.” Through a gathering of stories and recipes, The Tiny Mess celebrates inspiring meals created in unexpected cooking spaces, tiny kitchens and small homes. “We met this really great couple on Orcas Island in Washington state, Brooke and Emmet, they lived almost entirely off the grid and grew their own corn. Their house was pretty rad. There are lots of people like them who are really utilizing the land and their local environment.”
For Maddie and Trevor, having a sustainable way of consuming, picking mushrooms from the forests, diving and catching their own fresh fish and lobster for meals, and collecting seaweed from the shore are part of their daily routine. ”It’s super important. I love foraging, we don’t get too much of it because it is pretty dry here. If we have very good rains, we go into the mountains and look for mushrooms, seeds, and pine needles. When we sail, we trawl, so we put trawlers into the water and try to catch something a little bigger like bonito or yellowtail.” Maddie was vegan for three years before giving up. She talks to us about her specific diet, focused on using the resources around her. “It was really bad for me personally, so I started to eat eggshells. It was the most primal thing I ate. I needed the calcium for my teeth. Today, Trevor works on a really amazing family-run organic pastry pig turkey farm. There’s lots of animal protein, all locally sourced, which is great for the local economy. It feels great and I love to cook.”
Today Maddie uses her illustration skills to create funny stickers reminding those around her the power of meat and the importance of buying locally grown food: Praise the lard, Meat is a superfood. Support local farms, Gone mushroom hunting or Flowers are people too are available on her Etsy store!
Read the full Open Letter written by Maddie Gordon concerning her transformative nutrition — eating meat again after being vegan for 3 years.