Sieben's Things

Sieben's Things
Smart-ass Older Skate Dude — His name is Michael Sieben. He’s an artist, writer, skateboarder and all-round rad guy.

If you haven’t heard of Michael Sieben, then you’ve been missing out. Whether he’s writing his column for Thrasher magazine, putting out cartoon decks with his company Roger Skateboards or filming his online TV show, Internet Shack, Sieben is always telling the world to lighten-up.

Look at his work and you’ll see how the Austin-based artist helps skateboarding stay tuned in to the simple stuff in life – like ’zines, and kooky stickers, and the beauty of making shit for fun.

Now sit back, relax and let Michael Sieben speak.

How would you describe your childhood?
I had a really great childhood but my Mom got cancer when I was about ten. She eventually passed away when I was fifteen so those years were pretty rough. My only brother passed away two years after that from an asthma attack. I remember some really great things about being a kid but it’s always mixed with a tinge of sadness. I think my work sort of reflects those feelings. Sort of sweet, sort of sad.

What’s your earliest memories of skateboarding?
My parents buying me a yellow banana board for my birthday while we were on a road trip. I think we were staying at a hotel in Arizona or New Mexico and I remember riding it down the sidewalk in front of the hotel over and over. It felt like the best thing ever.

You’ve said in the past that your work is about the loss of innocence? Do you still weave that thread into your work?
I think so. When I’m painting or drawing I’m trying to conjure up that melancholy feeling of nostalgia. Remembering youth through older eyes. Celebrating that fleeting feeling of youthful innocence. I guess I try to remember what that felt like and then put a cynical cloud on top of it. Does any of that make sense?

Sure does… So are you an artist or an illustrator? Is there a difference? Does it matter?
I used to only want to be thought of as an illustrator because most people I knew that called themselves artists were full of baloney. I guess I feel like if I’m working on commercial stuff then I’m working as an illustrator and if I’m sitting down to paint or draw just for the sake of making something then I’m working as an artist. Two hats, same skull.

How did your post at Thrasher come about?
I basically got my position at Thrasher by making ’zines. Ed Templeton was in Austin for a Fugazi show and I gave him a stack of Keg Party and Programmed from India ’zines to take with him on his road trip. He got back to CA and showed the ’zines to Michael Burnett [Thrasher editor at large]. Michael started sending me submissions for my ’zine – as a joke I’m guessing – and we got to know each other over the course of about a year. I still remember sitting in my car getting a phone call from him asking if I’d like to join the Thrasher staff. It was for sure ‘the dream’.

How would you sum up what people can expect from your column, for the uninitiated?
Basically just a smart-ass older skateboard dude making fun of shit. But I only make fun of things that I secretly love. Skateboarding is awesome. All of it.

One company you started, Bueno, is now defunct. How would a script for Bueno Skateboards: The Movie go, from beginning to end?
Hopes up, dreams crushed, everybody is sad. The end.

What lessons did you take away from the big bad world of company ownership?
That it’s important to actually own your company.

Skateboarding has always been swarming with talented folk. What is it about skate culture that makes it such a creative wellspring?
I think it has to do with the fact that there’s outlets for almost any form of creativity. You like drawing? Draw some skateboard graphics, draw some T-shirt graphics. You like taking photos? Go shoot photos and make a ’zine or a website. You like to film stuff? Make a local video. It just seems like a great subculture for smart, motivated kids. Or if you don’t like any of that artsy shit you can just skate and jock out. No rules.

Is there a strong sense of creativity in Austin?
For sure. Kids are making ’zines, making their own videos, websites, art shows, all of those good things. I’m proud of our scene here.

Can DIY culture survive skateboarding’s current arc, as it heads ever deeper into more commercial realms?
Yeah, I don’t think any of the commercial stuff really matters. If you’re going to make a ’zine it’s not like you’re going to hold out for some big company to sponsor it. Kids are still making rad shit all by themselves all over the place. I guess I could quit using the word ’zine and start using the word blog though. Same thing – sort of.

What’s the deal with your new online show Internet Shack?
I do a lot of freelance stuff for Volcom and last year I came up with a small collection of clothes based on a fictitious skate camp called Camp Ramp. My buddy Mike Aho, who is an art director for Volcom, and I thought it would be cool to work on an online video show about the fictitious Camp. That’s how the Internet Shack was born… It’s definitely a lot of fun to work on. Mike deserves at least half the credit for anything on the show. He also films and edits the whole thing. He’s rad.

Now that you’ve embraced the world wide web, what would you do if you found yourself in an age where everything tangible – letters, magazines, books, print photos – was slowly erased?
I’d be sad and I’d probably throw a hissy fit.

In years to come, will Internet Shack be described as a turning point in your career in the biopic of your life? Do you foresee a future working in film?
I’d be stoked to continue working on video and film stuff and I’d definitely like to move beyond the internet as a platform. Do you know any rich people?

Talking about that biopic, The Life And Times Of Michael Sieben, how do you think the second half will play out?
I’m hoping for a slam dunk from the free throw line but I’ll settle for a clumsy layup.

What happened to Camp Fig Gallery? Is Okay Mountainfollowing where Camp Fig Gallery left off?
We closed Camp Fig to find a bigger better spot. Along the way, two of the original founders decided they were done with the gallery life so it made more sense to start something new. I think Okay Mountain embodies the same spirit of Camp Fig but is operating on a much more professional level. Sort of a grown up version of Camp Fig, but still equipped with kegs of shitty beer.

What other projects do you have coming up?
I’m working on some new paintings right now for a group show in Italy this Summer at the MADRE Museum called Characters & Patterns and also getting ready to make some new stuff for a little group show at Double Punch in San Francisco in August. Okay Mountain also has some shows on the horizon that I’ll be participating in. We have a show at Freight + Volume in NYC this July and we’re doing a show at the Austin Museum of Art in August.

How would you sum up what it means to be a Texan?
Still being slightly embarrassed to live in the state that George Bush Jr. claims to be from.

What is the best thing you’ve ever made with your own two hands?
A shadow of an eagle on the wall.

How would you describe your sense of humour?
Funnier to me than to my wife.

What’s the one thing about yourself you’re pretty sure no one needs to know?
Most of the stuff I’ve mentioned in this interview.

You can find out more about Sieben on his website.

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