VCJ INTERVIEW BY DAN LEVY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN LEVY
VCJ is a counter culture conspirator with a war chest of artistic expressions celebrated globally through his Powell-Peralta graphics. This talk is a celebration of over six decades of work, as well as living in the now and the promise of what’s yet to be. Juice Magazine is honored to recognize VCJ and his exceptional creativity.
Court, I have questions and I want to talk to you beyond skateboarding. This isn’t just about the Ripper art, which is amazing. There is a lot more to you. Your skateboarding art is fantastic and iconic, however, there’s more.
It’s bizarre that art should be such a prominent aspect of a skateboard – art on sports equipment. It’s odd to think of art on a bicycle or a baseball bat.
It’s valuable to us as skateboarders, the art, and the impact that your art has had. To us, a skateboard is more than just sports equipment. Your work envelops far more dimensions than just pen to paper, paintbrushes and sculpture. We are a counterculture. We are skateboarders and musicians and artists with intelligence beyond the norm, so I’d like to explore some of those things with you.
I can answer a methodical series of questions about the purely physical aspects of the sport, but I can also talk about the sensual aspects of it because there’s beauty to that kind of movement – a well paved surface and skating and the sensuality of the different moves – like slaloming down a hill. There is the beauty and gracefulness of it and then there are the motivational aspects of the sport and the dangers of a sport and the daredevil aspect. I take a dim view of Evel Knievel’s influence on the culture because he got strung out on painkillers. You can’t talk about people’s heroes, because they want to see someone as heroic like, “He was flying like Superman!” Whereas, what did Evel Knievel really accomplish? He lured a bunch of kids into the emergency room. Then there is the emotional aspect of the sport, the thrill, the joy of mastery and camaraderie. Throwing ourselves into a game as if the world is ending is questionable, but you cannot argue with the goal of mastery and the experience of mastery in any realm. For instance, Andy Anderson and his mastery on a skateboard is really astonishing.
Yes. I would argue that skateboarding is almost infinite because it’s difficult and maybe impossible to do it all.
Creativity is infinite. That pinpoint accuracy and ‘in the now’ kind of consciousness has undeniable value in any field of interest. All of the mortal dread vanishes when you’re surfing or skating. After you’re done, you return to beta consciousness, which is the everyday sort of human anguish. It’s wonderful to transcend human anguish. That part is beautiful.
Absolutely. It’s a different plane. When you’re skateboarding, it’s difficult to think about anything else other than that moment. I think that has value.
Yes. At this moment, the most interesting subject is you and how you’ve been transformed in this life. What you’ve been through, as an old soul, the stages of transformation are very interesting, but I wish to oblige you in regard to skateboarding. I don’t want to go off into something arcane, but it is my nature to see what kind of soul I’m talking to. Right away the first thing I think of is soul identity because all souls are waiting to know something about themselves. Do you skate?
“If I’ve accomplished anything in this life, it’s that I’ve learned to love. Love is a verb. I didn’t love anything but art, but I’m glad that it translates and that others see the love in the art form, and that it is perceived that love went into the rendering of it. I’m glad to hear and see that it’s inspired other artists because art is such a beautiful game worth playing. You can’t eat art, but it is something worth doing. As the world swirls around, find something you love doing, and let the world go by. We can’t go through life worried about all the tragedies and disasters as though it’s our responsibility to be conscious of all the disasters and injustices. Find something you love and give your life to it.”
How’s your body?
It’s good. I’ve been athletic my whole life and I think that the risk versus reward factor for me is that I didn’t push myself into situations that would be too jarring on my body. Getting into photography, it gave me an opportunity to do things in moderation and catch other people’s Evel Knievel-ness.
We gamble on many things in this life, but it’s good to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. For that reason, I didn’t beat myself up too much when I skated. Long life to you, my friend. I see you as a transformer on a mystic path. You could really know yourself in this life.
It’s definitely a search and one of the most profound things that happened to me on my journey thus far was, when I was in college, I had a teacher who introduced Buddhism to our class and the eternal search for the value of your soul and your purpose. I think it’s an endless search.
You have a gift of expressionism. I see souls like you all over the entertainment world. You’re good with sales and magic and acting and singing and dancing and all the kinds of expressions. You’ve worked at the magazine for years?
Yes. It’s been 24 years.
Is it your only gig?
I have a couple of side gigs here and there, but it is my main gig. We have kept it going on a love for the culture fuel.
Yeah. Do you like being human? Do you like people?
I do. I like to believe that positivity is just as contagious as negativity. If you can pass that along, I think it helps people, and I like to help people.
Yeah. Misanthropy is the condition of not liking being human and not liking people. It’s not fun to be around. Philanthropy is a beautiful thing; benevolence and seeing to the cultivation of the best part of human nature. We’re at a crisis point on the planet, and people are thinking that it’s all ending and that we don’t belong here and that there are too many of us and something should be done.
It makes people mad and they’re throwing their anger in different realms and getting responses they’re not equipped to handle. I believe your work resonates and gives people a good feeling. There is a visceral response for some people when they look at your Ripper art. It speaks to them about a good time in life and good memories. I remember when that Ripper art came out.
It has very mystical significance to me and it’s a way of expressing something that I wouldn’t put into words. It’s a way of announcing a presence. “I’m here!” It’s that kind of thing.
What is the ripper ripping through?
It’s ripping through the fabric of separation from the spiritual into the physical. It’s the veil between the soul and the mortal self. Conversation between the soul and the mortal self can be beautiful. They see reality differently. The mortal self wants to survive and the soul wants to achieve mastery and self-knowledge. The ripper is fashioned after the MGM lion. The MGM lion is a symbol of the miracle of film, which is only 100 years old, and is a big part of the awakening of the human race – movies.
The lion constantly eats to survive, so it’s a very interesting choice for that symbol.
Yes. The lion within, that natural aggression, is self. Natural aggression can be really beautiful in dance and sport and all fields. When that is frustrated, it becomes self-destructive.
What about the symbolism of the skeleton and the skull?
The human skeleton is just incredible engineering. The way that every bone is designed is exquisite. The result of the engineering of the human skeleton is that we enjoy a greater range of motion than any other creature. Watch dance shows and the martial arts. It’s astonishing. I’ve always kept my skeletons as representations of beauty, whereas, many other artists see them as a representation of death, the gnarly, the sinews, the guts and blood. I see any bone as a beautiful sculpture. I think the way that the bones all work together is brilliant engineering. When you observe skulls, you see that the human brain case is much larger than others. A large brain like that, proportionate to any other creature in our world, indicates the presence of an individual soul. The brain isn’t just for governing the systems in the body. It is a receiver and transmitter and it endows us in ways that can be really astonishing in terms of how the individual manifests their gifts.
“I take a dim view of Evel Knievel’s influence on the culture because he got strung out on painkillers. You can’t talk about people’s heroes, because they want to see someone as heroic like, “He was flying like Superman!” Whereas, what did Evel Knievel really accomplish? He lured a bunch of kids into the emergency room.”
I was reading about you drawing scales perfectly over and over again. You are a musician as well and, when you play the same music over and over again, you’re able to strengthen your neural pathways and add more density to your gray matter. Do you find that your art is an exercise in that as well for you?
Yes. It’s a beautiful way of stopping time and the experience of eternity, which is associated with the soul, rather than the passing of time, which is more of a mortal concern. People are going fast these days, and freeways are dangerous. Automobiles are dangerous. Why do people go fast? Do they know if they’re going fast in order to get to something or to get away from something? You can’t get away from being the self no matter how fast you go. You can’t get away from yourself. I lived that way, in my early days, trying to get away from myself. Escapism is what it’s called. Speed kills. Why beat yourself up trying to get away from yourself? What does it take to be comfortable in the self? Self-knowledge. We all have a nervous system, but do you know what affects the nervous system, whether it’s structural, chemical or emotional? That’s what they use muscle testing or Kinesiology for, to identify that which is affecting the nervous system, in any moment, in the workplace or even on the sports field. The nervous system is affected by something and though we’re intelligent and have the ability to know, it can be a real guessing game. Or it can be a condition that makes you turn to a medical world, which would just give you a pill to override something that is fundamentally wrong and then you get strung out, rather than dealing with the emotional. Wouldn’t it be better to know it’s because you don’t know how to discharge grief or anger? Grief and anger are definitely going to affect the heart and lungs. I used muscle testing on myself to see what is affecting the body or central nervous system. It’s a binary system that says yes or no to any question.
The fight or flight response can get buried into substances and other scenarios where you’re not attuned to dealing with it. That tends to lead to other things.
Not even knowing that you’re in a state of fight or flight, day after day after day, because of something in the environment, that is very real and common. I’m appreciated for my artwork, but my real work in this life has more to do with what I offer other souls. Maybe it does affect other souls through my art, and I’m glad to inspire other artists. You might hear the words ‘old soul’ on TV or in the movies. They might say, “The kid is an old soul.” There’s a dawning of consciousness on the earth that is beautiful. No matter how long you stay in school, you want to learn what you are or what you are actually doing here and what your gift is as a soul. Aptitude tests are good. I’m only talking like this to you because you are an old soul who understands that this is a campus and we’re here to learn a series of lessons until we graduate. As seventh level old souls, we eventually graduate and return to the oversoul with our treasures of experience. We’re all learning at our own pace. In any life, there comes the midlife crisis or a quandary about, “What am I really doing here?” I’ve lived for the world and chased all the pleasures and my values need to change because I can’t go running around like a child anymore. I have to make choices so that I can enjoy new values. I spent 40 years enjoying sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, but that has faded on me. Now it’s truth, love and creativity. Now I’m wondering if I can bank on truth, love and creativity because I was saturated in worldly pleasures and I got myself really beat up because of it. I’m wondering about what remains to be done in this life, and what my best is. What is my best?
Does that come back to purpose?
Totally. Your purpose is to master the realm of expressionism and to learn a lot through expressionism because you’re an old sage soul. Old sage souls are here to delight us. They can be very hypnotic and delightful in their range of expressionism. There are many different ways to express yourself.
Yes. Well, you say ‘manifest essence’. It’s more than just two words.
Absolutely. Your essence is the soul. The way that you manifest your essence can really delight people.
When you’re creating characters and art, do you feel like those are different personalities of your expression or do you feel like it’s all from the same source?
It’s something that only souls do. Only human souls draw pictures. Other creatures can be creative in building nests and tunnels and such, but only humans can sing the way they do or dance the way they do or express the way they do.
Do you consider your audience when you’re making art?
Commercial art is different from personal art. I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about my personal art. I just let it happen. It’s more like magic that happens really fast.
The art on a skateboard tends to identify the pro skater that it’s drawn for, but also, over time, like with the Bones Brigade, the art became like shields they wear that can transfer power to the rider of that board and give a feeling of belonging to a kid. It seems magical, that transference of power and energy.
Someone who is exampling mastery deserves honor of recognition and nurturing and support. It’s a form of honoring the skater and honoring the essence of the dragon or the skeleton or any number of totems, like the lion or even a turtle. George will ask the skater, “What is your totem?” Tony Hawk’s name was blatant in terms of totemic value, and the icon value of a hawk, so he took that and others let him have it. You don’t see many other people drawing pictures of hawks.
That’s a good point. To me, that aspect of what you just described, the honor of it, is what makes your work so special and magical. All of your work has intention. Do you feel like you were able to get through your intention most of the time?
Yes. When it comes down to fine detail, I control the generation of the thing and I just love drawing. It inspires people, but I like to think that my work is like my fingerprint. It’s distinctive. When you can see a piece of art and know the artist, it indicates a kind of fingerprint that a certain artist made that work.
“Only human souls draw pictures. Other creatures can be creative in building nests and tunnels and such, but only humans can sing the way they do or dance the way they do or express the way they do.”
Absolutely. There are singers, when you hear them sing that first note, you know who it is. With art, there’s that same idea. You play guitar, right?
Yeah. I love playing music. It’s a hobby. I write songs and sing them. I know very little about guitar, but it is a beautiful way to transcend everyday consciousness. Singing is like flying. It’s like dancing. It helps us transcend that mortal dread that we live with.
Yeah. It taps into the rhythmic plane, which I believe is something that isn’t as explored scientifically as it should be.
Rhythms and brain waves are interesting to me. Rhythms can trigger brain waves. Rhythms can induce a transcendent rise and induce people to dance, which is a beautiful, high form of meditation. Dancing can be a beautiful form of meditation and it can keep you alive for a long time. People who dance, what it does for their health is beautiful.
I feel the same way about skateboarding. Just carving and skating down the street and the essence of turning is something that is like flying as well. You also write poetry, which I very much enjoyed. Does it just free flow out of you and write itself or is it something that is thought out?
I do automatic writing as a kind of therapy. You take a difficult issue in your life and write seven-word lines without questioning any word. You’ll get to the end of the page and, without having a thought, you will have filled the page and the last line zips it up. You can link with spirit guides in that way too and really surprise yourself. I use seven-word lines because every word will come from either the crown chakra divisions and the expressions in our hearts, solar plexus second or first and it becomes a cycle… 7,6,5,4,3,2,1… If you don’t question the word that comes out, it can really relieve you of the way that we hold ourselves in check. It brings forth an honesty and you can go, “I wrote that without knowing.” I know that I wrote “Money” at the top of the page, but the way that the page came out enlightened me in a way. I surprised myself and I feel different about money now or the energy in your body and how it works.
That’s it. That is such a huge deal. It’s so good to talk to you about this.
Of course, you’re a sage. You’re designed to amaze us – sage souls.
No pressure. [Laughs] Andy Anderson loves the art you made him and you two seem to be kindred spirits. He spoke about the starting point for his graphic was the question, “What is your spirit animal?” Is conveying the spirit animal often a good starting point for your art?
Yes. The heron is an amazing creature that can go anywhere and find what it needs. It’s a living module that folds up beautifully. They have a varied diet and they’re deadly accurate. For me, the eagle is also an amazing master of the sky and incredibly beautiful compared to the human, the naked ape, which is not really that pretty of an animal.
Yeah. Eagles seem like old souls too, in the way that they are wise in their ways. I don’t know if that translates.
It’s direct cognition. They know what they need to know. They’re designed to be able to see the nature of reality their way. The human brain is large, but the imprinting process on humans can totally befuddle us to the degree that we find that we’re going through life not knowing how to find what we need to know or even to know what we need. You can ask someone what they need, and they can be going for this or that or the other, but the true need goes unidentified. We get hypnotized by our culture and forget essence, which survives death. Your essence is the soul and it survives death. When you reawaken essence, it can come into full bloom in our life and inspire everyone. It follows on the heels of Manifest Destiny. That had to do with turning this continent into a series of states that wouldn’t war with each other. The whole continent exists because the founding fathers had this vision of a nation state that would not war with each other, from sea to shining sea… The tricky one is ‘E pluribus unum’, which means ‘Out of many, one’ and then it can be referred to as one nation out of many states. People came from all over the world to North America to mix it up. The seven original humans have all come to the desert continent to manifest a nation of a new sort, like the nature of what’s called a polymer. It’s a nation of complex molecules, plastics and polymers. Because of plastics, I enjoy a life free of dentistry now. I suffered 50 years of dentistry, X rays and mercury, neither of which are good for you. In two hours, I transcended that terrible, torturous process and came home with a polymer phenomenon in my mouth. The last thing my dentist heard was, “Thanks. This is transcend-dental.” He had to laugh. Plastics have restored my sense of dignity.
It’s interesting and has a bit of a tie in to George and his inventiveness.
Yes. There is his new recipe for the Dragon wheels, which is his secret recipe. Plastics are an amazing development. What are we going to do with plastics as they are piling up? We’ll find a way because there are new graduates every year that are interested in greening the nation and finding those answers and making it recyclable.
How do you feel that the darker side of things affects your work?
Words can change me. I was in therapy, and my life changed because I heard the words ‘fear of intimacy’. I realized that I was afraid of myself, not afraid of others. For the last few years, we have been asked to be afraid of intimacy, and to wear masks and wash our hands. Coming out of it, we’ll begin to appreciate intimacy in a whole new sense. Somebody went to give me a fist bump the other day and I grabbed his fist instead. In an explosion of consciousness, it caused wonder. We live as members of the most invasive dangerous species on Earth, but we belong here. If I was president, I would have everybody go outside, stand barefoot on Mother Earth’s surface and declare, “I am soul and I belong here!”
“When it comes down to fine detail, I control the generation of the thing and I just love drawing. It inspires people, but I like to think that my work is like my fingerprint. It’s distinctive.”
That’s interesting. After this most recent thing we’ve all gone through as a species, I think we’re in stages of grief with it. It feels like we’re in anger now. I have hopes that community and love for our fellow humans will change our perspectives. We’re destroying the place that’s given us life in so many ways. There are a lot of manmade systems that are not naturally occurring on Earth that we have created.
Yes. We let lead loose and we let it proliferate in our culture. Lead is invisible and DDT is invisible. The result of 1,032 nuclear tests is invisible, but tobacco smokers are visible, so let’s take it out on them, right? The human nervous system, particularly in North America, is frazzled by invisible things. Our nervous systems are frazzled. We can’t do anything about the lead, the DDT or the Strontium Iodide that fell out of the sky all over the country, because they saw fit to exploit nuclear weapons. Instead, we’re going to take it out on the smokers, like a witch hunt, when in fact tobacco is a very powerful herb, in terms of its ability to purify the human body. That which affects the lungs is grief and anger. Grief affects the heart chakra. It caused me a heart attack and throat cancer until I realized it was because I was swallowing grief and anger. These days, I wake up and vent it right away, first thing in the morning, rather than swallowing it. I encourage others to express what they’re holding on to so that it doesn’t turn into dis-ease. Diseases most often have an emotional component that goes unrecognized.
Many internalize rather than express.
Yes. That’s because we are cooperative by nature. We don’t like to rock the boat. We’re successful as a species, not because we’re competitive, but because we’re cooperative, which makes it possible for us to live in any environment. We are super adaptable because we’re cooperative. You can live off the grid, but you’re still dependent on the gasoline for your chainsaw, or the steel someone else manufactured for your knives. Everything is nature, and we are part of everything, but we live feeling like we don’t belong here. It’s important that we feel a sense of belonging.
There is a unique situation surrounding your artwork and the Powell Peralta company and what George did with your work, keeping it in the lexicon on a permanent basis instead of treating it as disposable art. A lot of skate companies have graphics which come and go, but your art has a longevity of 30 to 40 years and there’s no end in sight, thankfully. To have a benefactor of your art like George that insists on that longevity, it is so unique.
Thank you for using that word, benefactor.
Yeah. The continuing presence of your art is rare and very cool and it has been so good for skateboarding in our culture. We want to thank you for your commitment. It gives a sense of belonging and familiarity. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that commitment and range and longevity.
I met George Powell, who became my brother-in-law, when I was 17 years old, and because of my karma with him, I was trying to get away from him because, in another life, he betrayed me into the hands of the enemy. All through this life, he’d been chasing me and throwing money at me and I was trying to get away.
Wait. This is tripping me out. A lot of the Powell graphics, in the early days, like the tank, was militarized stuff. Was that idea from Stecyk or Stacy or you or George?
That was George and I. We saw the first wheels that came out and they looked like bone, so we were like, “Let’s call them Bones, of course.” So I sent away for a full-size skeleton, and did the sword and skull using my model. I’ve had that model for 45 years, Rosie Bones, and I’m in love with the design of it and in rendering it from different directions. George’s challenge was to draw it from above and draw it from below. He’d say, “Surprise me with something that has hieroglyphic value.” There is the power of a letter to be the shape of an R or an S or a T or any of the Chinese hieroglyphics. He asked me recently, “Why don’t you draw an alphabet?” I’ve done bone alphabets, of course, but it’s beautiful that we live with this structure and can celebrate it that way, such that it makes us appreciate the human skeleton. Humans live feeling like ugly naked apes. Let’s illuminate an aspect of what we live with as the human body and the result is appreciation for the shape of the bones of the foot or the rib cage or the radius of the ulna that allows us to rotate the forearm the way we do. There is the sculptural aspect of the skull. It’s a beautiful sculptural thing that can be played with in so many ways.
The impact of your art and the impact of George’s inventions are powerful influences on our subcultures. It’s interesting that your different personalities combined to make these incredible instances of magic together when you are kind of polar opposites. Does that ever trip you out?
It’s interesting how opposites attract. George was trained as an engineer and I as an artist. In art, the word complementary is used instead of “opposite”. One without the other does not exist. My decision to make art have public appeal was voluntary. The making of a fishing fly requires expertise in order to catch the attention of a fish. Of course, one can print anything on a skateboard, but to catch and hold the eye of a skater also requires skill, savvy and finesse. When a business contract is made, there has to be a good degree of agreement or else. George and I continue to get along fine after our 60 years.
When you’re drawing lines, the thickness of the lines, and the amount of pressure that you’re using with a pen or a pencil, how much of that is intrinsic and how much was learned?
The respect for the value of a line was relative to the ability to silkscreen it. I dispensed the crosshatch stuff for Escher’s, Disney’s and Griffin’s bold, precise and printable line and detail; easier to see at a distance.
“There is the emotional aspect of the sport, the thrill, the joy of mastery and camaraderie. Throwing ourselves into a game as if the world is ending is questionable, but you cannot argue with the goal of mastery and the experience of mastery in any realm. For instance, Andy Anderson and his mastery on a skateboard is really astonishing.”
How do you know when a piece is done?
Often, it’s determined by a deadline. Sometimes an artist has to stop so that too much does not spoil it. Once the printers get it going, the artist better be resolved and let it go with, “It’s good enough. Let it go and don’t look back.”
Why do humans make art? Why do some spend their lives making art and why does some of it inspire us and get preserved?
Humans have been making and leaving artifacts behind for thousands of years. The smallest of traces left behind can imply so much. A lot of it mystifies us with its excellent and unbelievable examples of inventiveness. A lot of simple artifacts can cause wonder. A hand print on a cave wall, footprints left to petrify, the stone blades made and used by humans become artifacts 35,000 years later. Over the many millennia of “evolution” we’ve come to see that humans have taken more time to make art just for fun, as though life is more than just survival. We like to make and keep that which is “beautiful” and inspiring.
Language has strength, form and merit. Language has many qualities and can put you into different social strata if you choose to use your words wisely. I believe art is a universal language.
Yes. It’s like music, the language of love.
I think skateboarding is a universal language too. I say that to people all the time.
It’s becoming that in its popularity, at this point.
People are finally understanding what skateboarding intrinsically awakens, like failure to success, or low self-esteem to higher self-esteem. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with riding a skateboard and learning to skateboard. When you were doing the Future Primitive stuff, you looked at books about hieroglyphics. What books were you looking at for reference?
Lance Mountain’s Future Primitive art came from inspiration from North Africa, and the Tassili n’Ajjer caves. I used a brush to draw the figures, but then I antiqued them by using that roll on wax stuff. I made those tiny little diamond patterns. You could roll the wax on a piece of paper and then stick it on another piece of paper. It was removable. People don’t use that anymore. Xerox is different now, so I couldn’t do that now because printer inks are different and they won’t allow for that. Back then, the combination of the Xerox and that wax made it possible to antique an image just by pressing the wax paper against the image, and pulling it away. It would pull flecks of ink off of the Xerox. I’m sad that we’ve lost that technology. People don’t even lay type and photographs out the way that they used to compose pages. It’s all digital now. I’m a caveman when it comes to computer work. I still work with pens, pencils and erasers on paper. How long am I good for, at this point, given that the techies are going to rule the world?
Well, we live in what they now call Silicon Beach surrounded by technology and, at some point, the power is going to go out. If you go to any of the places where cave drawings have lasted the test of time, it only requires sight. It doesn’t require power. I would argue that your relevance is more important now than it’s ever been, and your work will stand the test of time. I want to say this to you because I believe it in the depths of my soul. You are so far from done and the impact you’re having on our cultures is more necessary now than it was 40 years ago.
I’m really touched by that because I’ve been needing assurance lately and feeling like a has-been. My wife has heard me say everything already and I’m wondering what I can come up with that’s fresh. These days people have seen everything already. What can I draw that will cause them to look a second time? With this age of the World Wide Web, the 12-year-old has pretty much seen everything in the world and nothing fazes them. Our vision is jaded by the overstimulation of images.
We do a print magazine, so I have these conversations a lot. It all boils down to this. You’re a very special individual and your art has found its way onto the boards of the best skateboarders in the world at a time when skateboarding was not considered. Skaters like Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen and Lance Mountain progressed skateboarding by inventing tricks and also made cultural advancements, like making video games, etc. Your intent to create the best art has manifested itself through other people. That’s a force of energy that is very special. The end result has been to elevate skateboarding. It’s so cool to see the ongoing results of these collisions of art and skateboarders. Your work is so powerful. Is there any individual or entity that you still aspire to work with or collaborate with in the future?
Yes. I’m talking to him. I was hesitant to accept an interview because I feel like I’ve said it all, and I’m not sure what I can say about art these days and what I can come up with, but you’re saying things that really resonate with me and I feel honored. I don’t need to hear praise, like, “You’re iconic. You’re a legend. You’re a great artist.” I’m just really enjoying your syntax because it’s shining a light on something that no one else has exampled. This interview is unlike any other interview I’ve had, and it makes me appreciative.
“What is the value of art? I’ve made money off of art, but the value of art is doing it. The doing of art is its reward. The value is in the game itself.”
Well, the honor is on this side. Look. As a species, what we’ve just gone through brought a mortality question into play more. We were on autopilot. Now we question our value and our purpose. We’re inundated with all these flashing neon lights, driving down the highway and there’s 150,000 billboards, so how do you retain anything? The answer is, ‘Keep your eyes on the road!’ Your art matters. It has purpose and value. This next generation coming up is in more need of your art than any generation. That being said, I know what you mean. We have these questions all the time with the magazine. People say, “Print is dead.” You hear all of the haters and the people that want to give you their unsolicited opinion. At the same time, we always take into account, “Did you read it? Did it inspire you? Did you have any kind of reaction to it?” If the answer is yes, then we’re doing it right. I really appreciate this talk. We all have down days and we’ve all experienced discouragement. I’m not saying this just to cheer you up. I truly believe it. Skateboarding has entered the mainstream now with the Olympics and many of us are holding onto your art and its symbolism. We take ownership over the values that you’ve laid down through your artwork. As griots, we need to pass that tradition along to the next generation so they can have a core understanding of a subculture, an anti-culture and a freedom culture. What you have been able to show with your art means so much to us. It is unbelievably valuable, and you’re not done. Andy Anderson’s board is one of the best-selling boards in skateboarding. That’s your art on that board. You work with a skateboarder to express their story. Andy is a very smart and unique human being, and I talked to him about his board and he was like, “I don’t know how Court knows this stuff. He just knows.” That’s value. What inspired that graphic?
Well, I’ll be honest with you. He was Will Rogers, the roping fool. Then he was reincarnated as Andy Anderson. I’ve been conscious of that since I first met him. He is the soul that was Will Rogers, who was amazing with horses and rope. Having seen him on an old film and to appreciate that he’s come back to give us another sample of old soul, fifth level king mastery is a big part of it. That’s a big part of my inspiration, knowing that souls come back to example mastery again. I have the ability to see that and to see how they’ve come back to give culture another shot of mastery.
Then you are able to express it through a tangible awareness. That is a gift that you’re burdened and honored with. I’m sure it hits both sides.
You have really touched me today with syntax. It feels very much like you’re standing right here as a soul manifesting your essence at a distance. This bodes very well for you and a long life because you have the ability to fill my sails with wind. Where does inspiration come from? It can come from inspired people. My inspiration can come out of the end of a pen. Your inspiration comes through your mastery of the language and syntax. Your mastery of a language will lead you to success because you’re loving this opportunity of life and making the most of it. A lot of people are crawling through it and complaining and blaming and making excuses and hypnotizing themselves with a lousy use of language.
I appreciate you saying that. I feel inspired by you. I’m so glad we connected on the levels we have because this is truly a real conversation I appreciate.
Yes. This is the best part of my life – sincere application of your mind to the situation at hand. If there’s anything great about a human being, it’s enduring sincerity, because it’s so easy to go through life just jiving your way through life, and banking on style.
That’s a really good way to say it. Somebody said something to me the other day that hit me pretty hard. When you’re looking at your life and your purpose and you have to make a change in a different direction, you’re not starting from scratch. You’re starting from experience.
Yes. Always know where your feet are though. The beautiful thing about skateboarding is that you learn to always know where your feet are. That’s really important. In terms of staying in your body and knowing the kind of ground that you are on, your feet are telling you. It’s not all in the brain. The feet are part of our intelligence. Anyone in the martial arts or dancers or skaters, their intelligence will increase because they’re in touch with that extension of the mind. Many people don’t listen to their feet. People trip over cracks in the sidewalk.
Yes. Here is a question for you. How would you define success as an artist?
You really enjoyed the game and squeezed the juice out of it. That’s success. You really loved the art game because it’s up there. The mercenary game is pretty low on the ladder. The hog in the trough game is down there too; nosing others aside to accumulate more for yourself, but it’s a very popular game, the hog and the trough. The rooster on the dunghill is the fame game. “Look at me! I’m on top of the heap!” The value of the game goes up through the household of game, which is definitely popular and has rules, up into the art game, which goes off in all directions because there is art to it. There can be an art in any field, like the art of conversation or the art of cooking. It goes to beautiful, vast realms, the art game. The thought game comes above the art game, but they merge. The thought game and the art game are high on the ladder of games worth playing. I love the way that thought and art come together to make movies to help raise human consciousness. The advent of movies in Hollywood, is becoming a red carpet into a mature soul age on Earth. We’re at a turning point on Earth. We’re beginning to enter the mature soul age where the individual begins to learn how to introspect. Movies will serve in a huge way to lead us to enlightenment.
The Bones Brigade movies were the first in skateboarding and look how much those changed the game of skateboarding. As far as opening minds of people that had never seen skateboarding on the level that those videos showed us, you’re correct in your assessment that movies can really enlighten and change.
Yes. The Bones Brigade was like Spanky and Our Gang, a cheerful bunch of gentlemen in their own right. They weren’t the Beatles. They weren’t the leather jacketed bad boys. They fashioned it for broadband appeal and exampled something of a cooperative collaborative nature.
It’s funny that you said it had ‘broadband appeal’. You’re right. It’s amazing. Stacy and George making movies formed the culture and gave it some direction and definition. I’d never seen skateboarding like that and then there was Lance Mountain, making it accessible. It was during those movies that we were introduced to the value of the art that you had created for their boards. Instead of just seeing a picture, we’re seeing moving art, and we’re also seeing your art moving.
You were creating more art too. I save a lot of my boards I’ve skated because I believe that the art that’s on the bottom of the board leaves different marks and different lines. I can look at a board on my wall and remember a time from New York City when Jesse did a wall ride and rode a board like this. There’s value to that as well. It’s cool.
Thank you. I needed some inspiration. I’m inspired by your syntax. When did you leave home?
My parents divorced when I was 13 and then I left for college at 19. I started my first job when I was 14, so I was taking on responsibility roles early on.
How many different parts of the country have you lived in?
I’ve lived in New York, California and North Carolina.
You’ve moved to three different places in this life and now L.A., which is a big melting pot. I admire that. I didn’t leave home until I was 30. I admire people that got out earlier and rediscovered themselves in different places. I stayed in my hometown and had to live my reputation down. Rediscovering the self is something that you’ve done a number of times and I appreciate that about you. Everywhere you go you’ll find new aspects of yourself based on the environment and the people in the area that elicit something new from you.
You didn’t leave home until you were 30 yet your work has lived all over the world.
I was trying to save my parents from something. I became codependent with them. I was trying to save them without knowing why or what to do for them. The effect was that I came out of it feeling worthless. In my early 30s, I just about killed myself for my sense of being worthless. People that grew up with self-esteem are beautiful to me, because so many of us, because of imprinting, take on either greed, impatience, stubbornness, arrogance, self-deprecation, self-destruction or martyrdom. It can have a devastating effect. I am always inspired to meet someone who grew up with self-esteem. Of course, you’ve been discouraged in this life, but you keep on keeping on. Are you in your 40s now?
Yeah. I’ve tried to use humor as my self-defense mechanism. I figure if I can get other people to smile, during my disparity, it’s not as hard for me. Maybe that’s healthy. Maybe it’s not. I have no idea.
You could do well on stage with a microphone and hold the crowd spellbound. Without any tool, without a skateboard or a tennis racket or whatever special effects, you can hold a crowd. I admire a person who can go through life making money simply by talking to people. The use of the language can inspire crowds and cause gladness for a lot of people.
Well, I would say that your Powell Peralta Ripper art is a universal symbol that needs no language or words. It’s such a skill to communicate in a nonverbal way.
Yeah. Break on through to the other side. On the other side of mortal anguish is the ecstatic joy that you’ve exampled today. Congratulations on breaking through to the other side.
Well, I’m happy to be here with you, and I do love everything you just said. You have had a global impact in the way that your art is understood. Your art is impactful and people get it. Your own description of the Ripper is profound. There are so many metaphors in that, which people use to their own positive benefit. To be able to do that, it’s truly magical. Sometimes words are interpreted literally and personally. You could say “fuck you” to somebody and they’ll take it as, “This person hates me.”
It could be an expression of ecstatic love too.
Exactly. If you read it on a piece of paper, you get to choose how you want to react.
Right. Thank you for this time today. I needed this today because I was really nervous about drawing.
Absolutely. I have to ask. What was the idea behind the Metallica graphic?
The idea behind the Metallica graphic was “Classic” VCJ gnarly. Their previous theme was “Some Kind of Monster” and so I did various sketches. They chose a direction that they liked and I developed it to a degree that was approved for final approach.