Artist and pro skateboarder on growing up and skipping school.
Artist and pro skateboarder Ed Templeton grew up skipping school, pretending to be a ninja and skating alongside TV star Jason Lee.
There’s an unspoken oath uniting all teen skateboarders: never own a suit and, most importantly, ride the crap out that shitty homemade ramp until it becomes a viable career.
Many give in to the lure of cash bonuses, trading in ‘the dream’ for a corner cubicle and monthly paycheque. But staunch devotees like Ed Templeton never break their vow. Artist, pro skateboarder and subscriber to a life less ordinary, Ed’s unorthodox resume is the stuff schoolyard dreams are made of.
He got his first taste of urethane skating the sidewalks of Huntington Beach with teen pal, and would-be-actor, Jason Lee. In 1990, he turned pro with New Deal Skateboards and, stoked on skate’s creative juice, picked up his first paintbrush soon thereafter. Logic took lead, and in 1993 he started his own skateboard company, Toy Machine.
Today, at thirty-four, he rides for Emerica, has an arsenal of exhibitions and published works, a monumental biographical photo book due for release – and he’s saving the world, one vegan burger at a time.
In between all this beautiful chaos, he’s even got a minute to chat to HUCK.
So, you just got back from Australia. What were you doing there?
I went for an art show that RVCA organised at the Monster Children Gallery in Sydney, and to meet up with the Emerica guys in Melbourne and do some filming. When I got to Melbourne, I sensed that the posse was lagging. So I started talking loads of crap: “Get your shit together, guys, let’s go skate!” They were saying, “It’s too windy today.” And I would reply, “Sounds like somebody needs to get some tampons.” Then, classically, I get hurt in the first ten minutes of skating. Talked all that shit and now I am useless. So I spent that week walking, shooting, eating and being a tourist.
As a high school kid, skating the streets of Huntington Beach with Jason Lee, what did you think you’d end up doing with your life?
I really wasn’t sure. Not as sure as Jason was. He always talked about being on TV or in movies. I was pretty much a white trash kid doing bad in school. For all I knew I was bound for digging ditches. Of course I wanted to go pro, so I put all my effort into skating. As far as the rest of my life, I knew how that was going to be when I turned pro and travelled. I wanted to be an artist. But starting Toy Machine was much more practical.
You once said you were “saved by skateboarding”. What is it about skate culture that seems to have that effect on so many kids?
Well, I wasn’t doing well in school, I hated dealing with people and homework was the worst. I read books, and loved to find out about things. But on the regular level, I was doing poorly, probably wasn’t going to college, and was basically a nerd. I was hanging with some kids who were into being Ninjas. We would run around in Ninja gear, throwing stars around and trying to be stealthy. I was musically void. Then I got a skateboard for Christmas one year and watched some kids skate by. They looked so rad! I wanted to be able to cruise around like them. The only kids that were skating at my school were punkers. So I started hanging with them. The music, the community, the skating – all of this helped shape me into who I was at age sixteen, seventeen. That saved me. Saved me from being some ninja-loving forty-year-old construction dude!
Do you feel that as a pro skateboarder you have certain responsibilities as a role model?
Regardless of what you think you are as a pro skater – and I hear people in skating, rap, actors, musicians saying, “I’m not a role model” – the fact is, however, that if you are known and are being covered on TV and in magazines, you are a role model to someone. I have always felt that it is better to say something rather than nothing. I think it is ridiculous to not air your views when you have a platform. People who don’t talk about their views don’t have any views. And that means that half the interviews I read are with brain-dead people.
What year did you start to take art seriously?
I suppose in 1990, after travelling to Europe, is when I decided that the best job ever would be making art. Starting Toy Machine and painting came after that inspiring trip. I don’t know if I took it that seriously until lately. It’s now a full-time job in and of itself! I was never formally trained. Everything I do, from the company to photography to painting, has been self-taught.
Mark Gonzales, Shepard Fairey, Rich Jacobs: what is it about skate culture that seems to attract and breed creative talent?
It used to breed them, back when it was a thing that alienated people found; people who didn’t fit into the team-sport mindset. Creative types and skateboarding go hand in hand. Nobody sits you down and explains the rules to you. You just do it. Today, I pretty much could sit someone down and tell them how it goes. But regardless of the changes, it still rules over anything else in the world, and still brings creative people out of the woodwork.
What do you make of the traditional art establishment? Do you think it embraces ‘lowbrow’ youth culture?
I try not to think of the traditional art establishment, and I don’t think that it embraces anything but the flavour of the month and the famous. I don’t think that contemporary youth culture is lowbrow. It is what it is.
As an artist, is style something you are conscious of abiding by, or is it simply a happy accident?
Style should be what happens when you act the way you see fit, a by-product of what you are doing. You take bits and pieces from what you see and make it your own. That is how everything in the world progresses. Building off the general advances in any field. Style is no different.
Looking at your book, Teenage Smokers, and the many ‘zines you’ve put out, what is it about youth culture that fascinates you?
As a pro skater, I am confronted by it on a daily basis. I am the only thirty-four-year-old hanging out with fifteen-year-old kids. It is right in my face. I document it because I am in the middle of it. Youth, adolescence really, is such an awkward coming-of-age period that is very rich visually.
Pro skateboarder, artist, photographer, businessman: what aspect of your career gives you the greatest satisfaction? And in which identity do you personally feel most comfortable?
Well, I suck at being a businessman. I feel comfortable at the rest. Those other things are the same thing to me. All that stuff is wrapped into one. And everything I do is satisfying, frustrating, rewarding and a pain in the ass simultaneously.
Is it important to keep a division between your art and skateboarding?
A slight division, yes. A big portion of the skate audience is young, and a small portion of what I do is not for the young. So I try to have a little separation between them. Also I don’t want to be defined as a ‘skater-artist’, or an ‘artist-skater’. I am simply whatever I am doing at the time.
What is it that drove you to become vegan?
It started from Mike Vallely who is no longer a vegetarian. He got me to read some material. I saw that what I read was true, and changed my actions accordingly. I wish everyone acted the same way. How many people know that buying a certain chocolate bar helps slavery in Africa, or that supporting the Pope helps spread AIDS through his anti-condom stance, or that Wal-Mart supports sweat-shops, and yet still buy or support these institutions? When it started it was all about animal rights, but the health benefits became just as important.
Can you tell us more about your new book, Deformer? What kind of insight into your life growing up in Huntington Beach should we expect?
Deformer is the shaping and misshaping effects of growing up a specimen in the suburban domestic incubator, and the subsequent paradigm shift that occurs when you leave that bubble. It is a photo book, but there are sketchbook pages, and letters and documents from my childhood as well. It starts with that stuff, to explain my upbringing, and then what happened once I travelled and found out for myself what the world was like.
Can you sum up Orange County in three words?
Mostly great weather.
Finally, with such a crazy schedule, what keeps you motivated?
I don’t know. I guess knowing that what I am doing is the best job ever, and that anything else will suck is the greatest motivation. I want to do what I am doing forever.