INTERVIEW BY CHRISTIAN HOSOI
INTRODUCTION BY LANCE MOUNTAIN
ART BY MARK GONZALES
Skateboarding, as we see it now, has been influenced and formed by a series of events that had someone at its cause. The effect is the change, growth and development of it until we have what we enjoy now. We’re not sure who it was in the ’50s that kicked the apple crate handlebars off the homemade scooter their Dad put on for safety. We’ve heard everyone tell us that they took their sister’s rollerskates apart and nailed them to a 2X4 (But we know that the roller skates were probably theirs and they rode them as is.) By the early ’60s, we do have names and documented accounts of surf kids on clay wheels riding the sidewalks and driveways maneuvering their decks and making up tricks. We start to remember who did what and what helped direct skateboarding more around the time the urethane wheel was invented and changed everything. The progression after that was quick and at a new level every day. Concave, skateparks, kneepads, vert ramps… With the creativity of progression also came the narrower version and conformity that actually made skateboarding more of something it wasn’t. The skateboard industry, contests and media were focused only on vertical and all but killed off slalom, freestyle and racing. Street skating had been turned into a way of transportation, at most mimicking what was going on in vertical on curbs or goofing. Skateboarding had come to a stagnate place. Not skateboarding, just us. Out there was a kid looking at it differently for some reason… Environment, boredom, the way he was created? This kid wanted to kick the apple crate handlebars off once again. He took what others had laughed off in freestyle and combined it with what he knew, a bit of parks, a bit of vertical and a whole lot of transportation. We’re still not sure why, but it’s the type of dreaming that make someone think they can kickflip a bicycle. With this rare phone conversation over making dinner, we’ll take a look into what he’s into and what makes him tick. Or we may come away with more questions than answers. The one thing we’ll always know is that Mark Gonzales has had the single most direct impact on the direction skateboarding turned than anyone before him and anyone that will come after.
“IF YOU HAD THE PROPER AMOUNT OF GRAVITY IN YOUR HEAD, YOU WOULDN’T BE JUMPING OFF FLAT GROUND.”
Hey, Mark. What are you doing?
Not much. How are you doing?
I’m doing good. Where are you? I’m on Broadway and 14th Street, Union Square East, in New York City. I’m just going grocery shopping for dinner tonight.
Are you having friends over, or is it just you and your girl?
We’re having friends over. My girlfriend’s nephew and sister are visiting from New Zealand, so I thought I’d make them some California-style cuisine.
Nice. What are you going to cook?
[Laughs.] How’s it been since I was there?
It’s cold. It’s been freezing, but for as long as I’ve been in New York, it’s been great. Snow is a lot of fun for skating. I skate in the snow.
Is it snowing already?
Not yet. It will be soon. I hope. I want it to snow. What have you been doing?
I’ve been taking care of little Classic. He’s up and about. My wife just fixed breakfast for me, so I’m feeling pretty good.
I definitely miss those breakfasts that your girl Heather Mary was cooking for us.
That was fun.
How was Hawaii? Last time I talked to you, you were going to Hawaii for something.
We went out there for the Quiksilver North Shore Bowl Contest at the Cholo bowl. It was insane. A lot of the guys got hurt. Chris Miller got ten stitches and knocked out a tooth.
I’m always scared to go to Hawaii.
Omar Hassan got eight stitches in his chin. Some other guys got hurt.
Lance said he went head-on with Grosso.
Lance popped a hole in his eye. His eye was all black.
That’s what I heard. I’ve read stories about the Hawaiians when they mourn someone when they’re dying, and they’d pull out their eyeballs and their teeth. They would get gnarly on themselves, because they were missing someone and they were so upset.
They would take it out on themselves?
Yeah. They would punish themselves when someone they loved died.
A lot of times, Hawaii trips me out. If people do that kind of stuff, that area must have a lot of power. If you’re rolling down the road on your skateboard, just playing around, it’s their land. That’s where that type of stuff happened. It’s trippy. When I skate in Hawaii, I always get nervous.
One thing about Hawaii, there’s a lot of respect there for the land and the people. There’s a lot of Aloha. There’s a lot of love over there. If you come there and start stepping on their toes, it’s not good. You definitely don’t want to disrespect them.
[Laughs.] That’s what I mean.
[Laughs.] We should take a trip out there, me and my wife and you and your girl and go out there and cruise around. We can mountain bike up on some cliff areas and ride along the side of the cliffs. You’d love it.
That sounds like fun. I’d like to do that.
What about dirt biking? Do you like that?
No. I’ve seen those guys drop down those huge ramps and do backflips because their feet are strapped in. It’s kind of like snowboarding. It’s gnarly when you’re strapped in.
Do you snowboard?
I snowboarded when I was little, but I crashed into a few trees, so I have to be careful.
How is the art show going?
It’s going well. I think we sold a few pieces, which is pretty good for the amount of money, considering the people that really like art don’t have a lot of money.
I think it’s four pieces all together.
I got your dad’s video. I’m going to watch it. I started it, but then I had to do some other stuff.
I’m stoked on that. He does a portrait of you, and you can watch him paint it, while he’s talking story and playing music at the same time. Do you have any plans to come out to the West Coast and hang out?
I think the next place I’ll go, might be Hawaii. I might take an off road vehicle out there. I’m going to take it to Hawaii. I’m going to try and jump the mega ramp and video at the same time.
[Laughs.] That’s sick. I want to try that, but I think I need a knee operation first.
You’re probably one of the only skaters that I could see doing it right away.
I think you’ll do it on one of your first tries, too.
You don’t have to even pop your tail. You just do a flyaway.
You just launch it. You just make sure your feet are over the board. It’s like a launch without snapping the tail. Kind of like the loading dock near your house.
Totally. I think about that, but going 100 miles an hour faster.
[Gonz speaks to the grocery store people.]
Gonz: Do you want to come over tonight for dinner?
Grocery guy: Sure.
Gonz: Cool. I’m going to have one more guest now.
Nice. You remember how Jason Jessee used to do ollies, right?
Pressure ollie it.
Do you have any new ideas for any other art collaborations?
There’s this one girl Rita Ackerman that wanted to do a collaboration, but I don’t know if I’m going to collaborate with her. I like this other girl’s art better, so I’m going to go with her.
Do you know what I was thinking?
I was thinking of doing some art myself and having you write some poems on it. That would be great. It’s like the opposite of what we did. That would be cool. Send me the art, and I’ll send the poems right out to you.
Right on. That would be awesome.
’Juice’ magazine can help promote them.
Yeah, that would be sick. I’ll talk to ‘Juice’ about it.
That would be great. Are you going home in a minute?
I’ll call you back at home.
Okay. I’ll wait for your call.
[Christian calls Gonz and talks to Heather Mary, Gonz’ girlfriend.]
Hey, Heather Mary.
Yeah, who’s that?
Hey, Christian. How are you?
What’s up, sweetie? How’s everything?
Good, very good.
Merry Christmas. Are you still in Hawaii?
No, I’m back home.
How was it? Nice?
It was so beautiful.
Yeah? That’s good.
Do you have plans for Christmas?
We have some family coming in, my sister, her kids and her husband. We’re having quite a few people here. We’re going to cook food and we’ve got a Christmas tree up. It’s feeling like Christmas now. It’s good.
Is there any snow on the ground?
No, it might rain tonight, but I don’t think there is any snow coming for a while. There will definitely be no white Christmas. Mark is going to grab the phone off me, so I’ll speak to you soon. Have a good Christmas.
Merry Christmas. I love you.
Okay. You, too. Bye.
[Gonz is on the phone.]
Hey. Are you recording now?
Yep. We’re on.
Cool. You have to put my girlfriend in there, too.
[Laughs.] She’s in there.
Oh, that’s cool.
What did you do today?
I had a good day today.
What did you do?
I listened to music and chilled out. I didn’t do much work. I did a bunch of stamps for stickers to go inside stuff for a video that we’re working on.
When is that going to be finished?
They finished it. I have to drop the stickers off at the packaging place and when they shrink-wrap the boxes, they’re going to put the stickers inside. There will be some Krooked stickers in there, too.
When are people going to be able to buy them off the shelf?
I think by the New Year.
That was quick.
Yeah, we worked hard. You were in it.
You were just editing it three weeks ago.
I like to do stuff fast. Everything I do is fast. It came out pretty nice.
I listened to the music. I can’t wait to see how it goes with the skateboarding.
Which song did you hear?
Yeah. At the end, it shows each person’s face that’s in the video and it’s got the song Jim Neighbors sings. You know how they used to skate Jim Neighbor’s pool in Hawaii?
The last song is Jim Neighbors doing the song ‘Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water.’
Is that where the film is going backward, but the water is going the other way?
Yeah, have you seen it?
[Laughs.] Yeah, you showed me a clip of it.
I was curious to ask you. Did he let people skate that pool, or was it just by coincidence?
I really don’t know. I didn’t get to ride it. That was in the ’80s, right?
I think Hartsel used to skate it.
I just heard about it. I didn’t go back to Hawaii very much after the ’90s.
I had something to ask you, but I didn’t know how to ask you. It’s about when you got in trouble in Hawaii. I wanted to ask you, because a lot of young kids skateboard, and I was wondering how you feel about some young kids that might look up to you because you did jail time rather than looking down on you? How does that make you feel?
There definitely is a negative element of why I went to prison. I think the kids that haven’t been to prison don’t really know. They think it’s cool. To the kids that look up to people that have gone to prison because they’re going down that road of getting into gangs and drug activity, it’s glamorized. It’s a bad trap for them, because everyone that goes to prison really doesn’t want to be there, but once you’re there, there’s no turning back. There’s no way to reverse the crime or your time. You just have to deal with it.
Did you ever see that TV show? It said, ‘Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.’
[Laughs.] It’s true. To some kids on the street, it’s so glamorized in videos and movies that it’s almost like something that people want to achieve. They want that status. But once you get there, it’s a wake up call. It’s not at all as it seems.
I think prison must suck.
It must be like school.
It was tough. It wasn’t like I was going through it whistling ‘Dixie’. I was away from my family. I was away from my son. I couldn’t skate. I had all of these people wondering what happened. You just have to start evaluating who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, and where you can go after this. It’s like a big time out.
In prison, it used to be separated by what you stand for, or your skin color. Is that true?
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. There are some racial laws inside that you have to deal with. There are a lot of politics in prison.
It seeps out into the normal world, too.
It’s funny how that works. It’s pretty intertwined from how people run the inside and run the outside.
That’s enough jail talk.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Good thing that you don’t have to deal with it and I don’t have to deal with it anymore.
[Laughs.] I just needed to ask you that.
It’s a good question.
A lot of kids look up to it. Some kids, all of their families go to prison, so it’s like, ‘I’m waiting my turn to go to prison, too.’ They think it’s like college. They’re waiting for the cops to bust them. They’re thinking, ‘They know who I am. They know I have family in jail, so they’re waiting for me to mess up.’ I think it’s a negative attitude for an individual, if they think, ‘Oh, it’s just going to be me, too.’ Rather than thinking, ‘I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to figure out something.’ Even if it’s something small, it can turn into something greater.
Yeah. It’s like Block. All of his brothers were in gangs, but he picked up a camera and started surfing and skating. We took him on the road with us, doing photos. Now he’s a successful director and photographer. That’s a good success story right there. I want to know what inspired you to move to New York? I know that you love art.
Well, I lived here more than once. The first time I came here, I lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was pretty cool. I didn’t like school, and I didn’t go to college. For me, school was like prison. You had to be inside of a group. You either had to be a stoner or a cholo or a punk rocker. You had to pick your crew. You had to pick the style that you are. I didn’t want to be anything, so I skipped out on school. I went into skateboarding and that’s what I liked. I missed out on school and then I wanted to try to see what it was like, so I came to the East Coast and hung around the campus. I had friends that were at Rutgers University. It was a lot of fun. It was not that far from New York City. A lot of times I’d come into New York City and check out the art scene and see what was going on. I’ve always considered New York City like my second home. It’s like my favorite place. I like Paris a lot, and I lived in France for a while, too. I really like New York. I’ve always liked it. I don’t like Brooklyn, though. I don’t like to go to Brooklyn.
What’s wrong with Brooklyn?
I just hate it.
Why don’t you like it?
Too much steel, too much Maxwell House, too much big things…
It reminds me of South Bay. You know how South Bay is really industrial?
Brooklyn is more industrial. In Manhattan, you have cool restaurants, museums, and skyscrapers. Over there you have a lot of industrial stuff. I hate industrial stuff. It makes me feel dusty.
You lived in Paris. You loved Paris, right?
You went to a lot of museums. What are some of your favorite artists that inspired your art?
Well, it’s funny. I don’t think artists inspired me. There are artists that I like. I analyze their work, but I can’t say that I’m inspired from artists to make artwork. When you think of it historically, the Egyptians had realistic-type art. They were trying to make a picture look exactly like a picture, or a sculpture look exactly like a sculpture. It was realistic art. They had it wired. They were the best at it. As far as modern painters, I think that Magritte was a big influence on the art there is today in painting. I like the ‘M artists’ – Matisse, Miro, Magritte. They’re all my favorites. I like Picasso’s early stuff before he was influenced by tribal African art. Some of the African sculptures are mathematically incorrect from the perspective of our natural eyes. It’s like seeing some crazy skate spot. Once Picasso was influenced by African art, I was over it, not that I don’t like African art. I like African art rather than Picasso doing his version of what he thought was cool.
I know you’ve toured around Europe a lot. We went to tons of museums in the ’80s. Was there any art that you saw then that was rad? When I saw Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, I couldn’t believe it.
That’s one of the most famous paintings.
That was one of the most awesome experiences. To be four feet from the glass and the glass six feet from the painting after hearing my dad talk about it my whole life. He was talking about the history of art, but finally seeing it in real life was pretty impacting for me. The Sistine Chapel and the Vatican were cool, too. They were built centuries ago.
For me, it was different. My favorite artwork on that trip was you guys – you, Cab and Lance. That was what I liked.
[Laughs.] That’s radical.
And music. I like Prince. Remember?
I’d like to go see him. I thought I would ask you. I don’t get inspired to make art by looking at other people’s artwork, but for you, in skating, what inspires you to skate? Is it other skaters or is it just the act of doing it your self?
Well, it’s a combination of skaters, but it’s also the place to skate. What inspires me to skate is the pool or the park, and what I can do there. It’s like if you had a blank canvas, that’s what inspires me to skate. It’s the place that I’m going to skate, and where to do the art. A lot of people say that skateboarding is an art form. I liked the way you said that we were the inspiration that you looked at for art.
You know how I was back then. I was so angry. If I saw a piece of artwork, I wasn’t thinking about the artwork. I was thinking about destroying it. I was like, ‘Oh, a famous artist. Yeah, right.’ Nothing meant anything to me but skateboarding.
[Laughs.] Yeah. But now you have somewhat of an appreciation for artists?
Yeah, now I do. In order for a true artist to be able to create, he’s got to be able to look at death right in the face and be able to say, ‘I can die. I’m ready.’ If you can say to yourself, ‘I’m ready to die,’ than you are ready to create artwork. That’s my opinion. At that time, I didn’t care if I was going to kill myself doing a backside air or a grind. I was going to do it. It was my art. What we were doing was art. I was ready to die. I was ready to hang up. I fell several times. They used to call me names. They called me ‘Slam Man.’
Grosso just told me that story.
That was my nickname at Spidey’s ramp.
[Laughs.] I know.
You know, most of learning is about slamming. A lot of times, I think skateboarding took a slam, because we were learning. In the same token of being willing to die for your art, it means to not purposefully take another life, but in the realm of creating something beautiful, the aspect of death has to be there. Then there are artists who have made artwork, like this guy named Christo. He’s a French artist and his artwork is large scale. He made artwork that covered the Japanese and California countryside with all of these umbrellas. Then there was a windstorm and the umbrellas flew. I think the umbrellas killed, maybe, two people.
[Laughs.] I’ve seen a picture of those.
Then there are some artists whose artwork is killing people. I think skateboarding takes slams, too. Like, ‘Whoa, that shit’s gnarly.’ It’s like when that one skater shot himself. Sometimes skateboarding will take a slam and people will get a bad taste and say, ‘I don’t like that.’
But it’s like when you watch someone paint. It’s rad. It’s like when you see a picture of a guy in a magazine skating, and you’re like, ‘Cool.’ Then when you see them do it in person, approach the thing and land the trick, and see what he puts into it, that’s what’s inspiring. To see them skate in real life makes the whole thing completely different.
The photos can be a deception. My friends and I always thought this one guy was so rad and then we saw him in person and his style ain’t no good.
I was just contrasting it with art, and watching someone paint. Where do they start? Do they start on the outside or the inside? That’s the cool thing about art, watching someone do it.
With some people’s art, you don’t want to know what they do to get inspired.
I’m serious. Artists are weird people. That’s why I like it. A lot of guys whose artwork I like used to hang out and do drugs hardcore, like heroin and they’d go hang in different neighborhoods with totally different people. When they’d hang around with different people from a different background, they learned different things, and then they translated that into their artwork. The people that like the artwork don’t know anything about what’s behind it. They don’t know that culture. They just don’t realize that the people that made the artwork weren’t just inspired by art school to make art. It was a lifestyle that they chose. I’m sure with your father part of his artwork was influenced by watching competitions where you, Neil Blender and all of the guys were skating. That’s what he was seeing. Seeing kids knock them selves out gave him the motivation to paint. The way he paints is really meditative. He’s slowing things down. Sometimes when you’re doing something aggressive like blasting airs, you have to slow it down in your mental mind so you can have better perspective and you don’t slam. It took me a while to figure that out. Your dad when he paints, reminds me of the way you skate. He paints more with a concept in the realms of how things are moving. Rather than doing a quick doodle. I mean I like doodles. That’s what I do. The way your dad paints is slower and more drawn out and more relaxed, like your skating. It’s like how people’s skating style is different.
I noticed when you draw you draw quickly. You’ve got your own style. It’s very easy to point out. My wife will be watching a TV show and say, ‘Hey, is that Gonz’ art on the wall?’ Your style is very noticeable.
Yeah, a lot of people collect my art and I don’t even know it. My artwork is different because it’s not on the art market. It’s more on the friendship basis. A lot of people that collect my art just get it from friends or they trade it. It’s more of a bro type thing, rather than people paying a lot of money for it. If some people want my artwork and someone’s got it, then someone wants it and I have to pay for it. Someone might charge a lot of money for someone because they want to have it to be cool. It’s hard to buy because I don’t have an art dealer. You have to find someone that’s my buddy that has some in order to buy it.
[Laughs.] It’s all underground.
Let me explain, because this is funny. I’ve been watching how people do it. If one person buys a type of art, then everyone else buys it, too, so they try to have someone else buy it for them so no one knows they are collecting that artwork.
They’re trying to keep it on the down low. It’s like when you find something cool, you don’t want to tell everyone where you got it, so they go and get it. I think that there’s a fine line for artists when it comes to doing art and having a presence in the art world and then becoming commercial art.
For some reason, with my father, I didn’t understand it. I was like, ‘Why don’t you market yourself? Sell your stuff. Be super rich and you’ll be well off. You can buy a house. You’ll be able to do big art.’ He was like, ‘That’s just not how it’s done.’ As a young kid, I didn’t understand it. Now I do. Art is meaningful.
It’s a hard concept to grasp.
Can you explain that concept?
You mean, how to be successful in art?
I don’t know. If you appreciate the art that you’re making than you’re successful.
If you like what you’re doing than you should stick with it. Keep doing it. If you don’t like what you’re doing. Don’t do it.
What about the element of money like the famous artists that sell for tons of money? They’re super popular but they don’t like to sell their art at all.
Well, there are some artists that their whole point is figuring out how much they should ask for their artwork. A lot of other people don’t sell their art. They just make art. That one artist is crazy like Antoni Gaudi. A lot of artists just go nuts. Over time, as artists in society, their work just becomes too much. No matter how many assistants they have, or whatever is going on, the work becomes too much, and they can’t escape it. They can have more money than they can possibly need, but it becomes meaningless at that point.
It’s a whole process of getting to that place.
I think the best art is the sun rising and the sun setting. That’s the most beautiful art in the world.
Have you been writing any poems lately?
Yeah, I just wrote one today. It’s super short. Do you want to hear it?
It goes, ‘Track 5. The strange thing was. Cutting clear across the vinyl took forever in my life. Wander.’
A lot of the stuff in my poems that makes people like them is that you can recognize it right off when you see it. A lot of people recognize my writing. A lot of people like my poems because of the way I write.
Uh, huh. I’ve never gotten into writing until I went to prison. Go figure.
There are a lot of people that want to go to prison and they won’t let them.
People outside of prison are in prison. They go and do things and they’re going to their job every day and they want to move up or get more money and do something and they’re just feeling imprisoned, like there’s no way to get what they want or some sort of satisfaction. I think they feel imprisoned, like, ‘What the hell can I do?’ They have a boss and coworkers that make fun of them. It’s just like being in prison. They can’t move. They can’t do anything. They don’t feel free. They can’t appreciate the sun coming up or the sun setting. They can’t appreciate the simple things like drinking a glass of water. These are the people who are in prison.
You have to think about it. It’s not something bad that you were in prison. You learned how to write. You figure out what your essentials are, what your basics are. When you’re in prison, you realize that your dad, your kids and your wife are the people you live for.