February 04, 2021
Defining your art and creating a brand of your own is a trait of a talented and savvy artist. Fly-fishing culture accepts, encourages, and fosters a supportive and appreciative environment for those brave souls willing to put their work out to the masses. Casey Underwood is not only a rare talent, he’s an artist and designer who draws you into his interpretation of the natural world with vibrant color and line.
Graduating with a bachelor of fine arts focusing on printmaking and painting from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, Underwood refined his style while living in Seattle and chasing wild steelhead in the Olympic Peninsula. After getting married, Underwood and his wife packed up and moved to Bozeman, Montana. The westslope-cutthroat-loving, California transplant made his mark as a bold artist and designer within the fly-fishing and outdoor communities with such companies as Sage, Filson, Benchmade, and now Abel Reels.
Growing up in a family of fly fishers, he was introduced to the sport at a young age. Today he is an avid angler and hunter. He always found birds and fish particularly fascinating. He has an intense love of rivers, which is apparent in the fluidity of his designs. Post college, he spent three months on a road trip exploring the West, fly rod in hand, searching for a variety of trout species. This trip inspired him to begin creating art focusing on his favorite muses: fish, birds, and other fauna. Making his art accessible to everyone is one of the most endearing qualities about Underwood, as he says he wants to “Get art on people’s walls,” which is why he offers open-edition prints of his work (caseyunderwood.com).
Underwood has come a long way from art shows in his grandma’s driveway as a youngster. Through his collaboration series with Abel, he’s reached a point where his art meets function. “We’re proud to add Casey to our select team of exceptional outdoor artists we collaborate with replicating their beautiful work,” says Jeff Patterson, vice president of Abel Reels. “Casey actually took the time to create six original designs for Abel capturing freshwater- and saltwater-themed artwork to correspond with the various reel models in our own lineup. He has been great with us throughout the entire conceptual process, and we’re so pleased to see that his outstanding work complemented by our unique hand anodizing process has resulted in a reel finish unlike anything we’ve done in the past.” This new reel series is available now (abelreels.com).
A proprietary engraving process has created beautiful, first-of-their-kind reels that will last a lifetime. Underwood said the engraving process was a factor he had to take into consideration when designing each reel. He had limited space, and a round canvas. His designs have a circular Zen-like balance to them. Though he has a printmaking and painting background, he is also a designer concerned with balance, whether symmetrical or asymmetrical. He incorporates the use of reflective elements, negative space, patterns, and texture to create a rich visual balance.
As early Russian-French modernist, surrealist, and expressionist Marc Chagall stated: “Great art picks up where nature ends.” Underwood has bent nature to his vision. Where he will pick up and go from here is an experiment that is yet to be seen.
*Dennis Pastucha is the art director for Fly Fisherman and holds a bachelor of fine arts and minor in art history from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He is an avid fly fisher and fly tier.