Mission Beach resident creates sea creature art for his Monterey Court home
When walking along the sidewalk of Mission Boulevard, if you look up to the balcony of the corner home at the 800 block of Monterey Court you might be surprised at what you see.
From afar, it may look like a beached octopus lounging in the sun on the roof, and you wouldn’t be completely wrong.
It is, in fact, a hand-painted octopus made by Mission Beach resident Barry Keller, who is also known as Floyd Flames.
Accompanying the octopus, there are other critters on the house that you’d usually find deep in the sea. Keller calls these creatures “plywoodensis” — the Latin adjectival suffix “ensis” means “pertaining to,” so the “ensis” refers to art made of plywood.
These plywood cutouts he intricately created, were then painted with heavy-duty painter’s enamel, which requires gloves and a mask.
According to Keller, his plywoodensis project was inspired by the beach — a way to celebrate marine life as a part of not only the surrounding environment but also his home.
“I started out with the pelicans,” Keller said. “I always liked how they looked and I decided to try to make something that I could put on walls and have as decorations. Later I branched off into other marine animals. The last one I did was the jellyfish on the front.”
As a resident who grew up in Mission Beach, Keller recalls being drawn to the ocean and art from an early age
“I can’t remember what started it out, but I used to draw all kinds of things,” Keller said. “I’m a surfer. I was until I had injuries that keep me out of the water. So, like all kids in high school, I filled my notebook with cartoons of waves and things like that.”
A childhood impacted by the ocean bloomed into a career in marine geophysics. He earned his Ph.D. and now works as a consulting hydrogeologist. His work has led him all over the world including Chile, France and other parts of the U.S.
But even amid his career journey, Keller ended up full circle back in Mission Beach upon inheriting his family’s home. And the initial inspiration of the ocean and beach which compelled him to doodle as a kid led him to creativity again.
The three dolphins on display at the front of Keller’s house were created based on his near-daily view of dolphins bobbing in and out of the water, steps from his house.
With a career focused on science, Keller said he didn’t have technical artistic training. However, he found a way to bring science to his art.
In addition to the plywoodensis creatures, Keller creates scientific illustrations with the purpose of making difficult terms and concepts more accessible and easier to understand.
“I developed (my art) myself,” Keller said. “I took one art class as a 15-year-old. Later, I did technical drawing like drafting. I’ve done a lot of technical and scientific illustrations as well as this art for fun and for display.”
Keller made a poster explaining the green flash people often search for at sunset and he gives out free copies. His illustrations are made on paper and are air-brushed with colors — a more traditional way in contrast to online design tools which allows him to get a distinct style in his art.
Back in February, Keller also had a series of illustrations published in an article from the 2022 China Earthquake Networks Center after the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano.
It was an eruption that even made a slight impact in San Diego.
“The morning of the eruption, there were cellphone alerts for a tsunami,” Keller said. “A bunch of people forwarded them to me because they knew I know about tsunamis.
“This was an unusual event because there was an airwave shock that moved out from the eruption,” he said. “The airwave pushed the water, creating a wave that moved faster than the regular tsunami wave. The air wave that pushed the water wave hit before the tsunami wave. I downloaded a record from Scripps Pier tide gage which shows the arrival here in San Diego. It was about 10 inches or so — nothing large.”
This unique scientific phenomenon he explained was reenacted through his illustrations.
Although science and art have often been presented as very different career paths, Keller’s love for both has allowed him to make an impact in the science world and create a wave of joy in his Mission Beach community.
“People walk by staring up at it and smiling. If they see me, they tell me they like it,” said Keller. “I think it’s bringing some happiness to the people walking by and my neighbors definitely like them. I’m not in it for the money.”
Keller has occasionally been commissioned to create his plywoodensis art for others. For example, in 2014 he made the 12 pelicans atop the former Saska’s restaurant in Mission Beach.
Anyone interested in contacting Keller about his art can email email@example.com.