Artist, photographer, skateboarder and chronicler of Southern California Ed Templeton gives Huck an access-all-areas insight into his creative world.
Artist, photographer, skateboarder and chronicler of Southern California Ed Templeton gives Huck an access-all-areas insight into his creative world.
Here is our four-part interview from The Ed Templeton Issue, guest edited by the Tempster himself, featuring his own artwork and iconic photography sitting alongside fresh illustrations, created exclusively for Huck.
Ed Templeton’s entire life has unfolded in Huntington Beach, a sun-bleached microcosm of the fading American dream. As a kid he found his footing in a punk-infused fringe world that supported him as he propelled himself into one of skateboarding’s most meaningful careers. But it’s as an artist that his outsider eye really comes into its own, cutting through California’s shimmery outer-glaze to capture the beautiful and the absurd.
I fly into LAX from London in the middle of the afternoon. I battle through immigration and step out into the high-contrast light of a city carved out of the desert that has no essential right to be there. The highway lays down a track of multi-textured noise as I drive out to the intersection of the 405 and point the nose of the rental car south toward Orange County, where Ed Templeton, who I am here to meet, was born, raised and has lived all his life.
Through a Londoner’s eyes Los Angeles seems to be at the furthest extension of the abstraction that is America, but as you head south you can see how the OC pushes the tangent a quantum further. Car dealerships the size of small English towns punctuate the broad boulevards lined with drive-thru fast food joints and flag-decked strip malls. The sign-twirling hispanic homeless form a cordon on the central reservations while, locked in their Priuses and hybrid SUVs, Huntington moms live their own air-conditioned, desaturated version of the American dream. The concrete walls that protect the grid of tract homes on either side of the highway describe the vanishing point toward the shore. Old Glory, an acre in dimension, ripples slowly in the breeze above a Chevy dealership as you near Huntington Beach. Ed Templeton is one of HB’s most famous sons. No other artist has made this beachside suburb so central to their life, so essential to their work.
Templeton is synonymous with the early days of street skating, which, in the mid 1980s, was centred in a grittier HB and pioneered by a small coterie of outsiders, the centre of which was a freakishly talented kid called Mark Gonzales. The street skating aesthetic that these guys forged created an entire creative culture that was fundamentally different to the short-panted, long-socked, bowl-focused gee-whizzitude of the Dogtown generation. Templeton got picked up in 1990 by embryonic street brand New Deal and was toured as one of its original show ponies. He got paid, travelled the world (often with girlfriend Deanna) and became an artist along the way. Now the boss of his own company – Toy Machine, which he founded in 1994 – and a photographer, painter and graphic artist of some repute, he remains one of the definers of a particular way of being a skateboarder. A way that places irreverence and creativity at its centre, eschewing performance for style, exactitude for attitude.
Though Ed Templeton doesn’t make any firm claims to Toy Machine’s influence, it’s clear that the company and the people associated with it over the years – a huge community of creative doers who embrace multidimensional lives, from Travesura frontman Leo Romero to Jamie Thomas, who went on to found Zero Skateboards in 1996 – helped steer skateboarding just a little bit toward the artsy side of things. One of the pivotal points of Toy Machine’s rise as a creative force came when, with Jamie Thomas’ help, the company made a video, Welcome to Hell (1996), that was perfectly timed to the mood of the era. The film inspired skateboarders to see themselves as more than just pursuers of a way of wasting time. Welcome to Hell helped cement street skating’s idea of itself as a creative way of life – a transcendent way of looking at the world.
Ed Templeton was born in Garden Grove, Orange County, in 1974. He has no idea how his mother and father met. His father, whose name was Gary Hering, ran off with their sixteen-year-old babysitter when Ed was eight years old and brother Matt was seven. The family reverted back to mom Susie’s maiden name after the divorce. He doesn’t know too much about his father, and doesn’t really care to. He went to school all over the place in Southern California, spending fifth grade in a Christian School and then going on to Dwyer Middle School and Huntington Beach High. He dropped out one semester before graduation to travel and become a pro skateboarder. He never looked back.
The house where Ed lives with wife Deanna lies on a quiet drive just off Beach Boulevard, three miles or so inland from the pier. On either side of the unblemished street there are flawless lawns and whitewashed stones. The houses stand in ordered lines, all clapboard gables in pastel tones offset by dark tiles and heat reflecting shutters in high-white gloss. There are double, triple garages and pea-gravelled pathways trimmed in low, flat brick, juxtaposed with the power-floated concrete of the pavements and driveways. We arrive a little early and mess about with camera gear. A jock murmurs in a backyard somewhere and there is a beautiful whiff of jasmine. A garden maintenance truck rattles by, breaking the silence. I knock on the door. No answer. I knock again. Still no answer. Then I hear a muted, ‘Hey!’ from across the street. That’s right. I believed what Street View told me. Ed’s house is actually across the street.
Ed Templeton doesn’t emote. He looks at me directly, questioningly, holding a small file or another tool of some description and a piece of wood in his hands as he greets us. He shakes my hand with a gentle but firm squeeze and apologises for rescheduling. There is a calmness about him; an instantly recognisable enquiring intelligence. There’s a dash of awkwardness there, too. Spending a day with an interviewer is, after all, like having a strange kind of blind date with almost zero possibility of a carnal payoff. That awkwardness is, I can’t help but feel, offset by the kind of inner confidence that comes with being the tacit Mayor of HB. That and having been a skateboarding superstar these last twenty-five years.
Ed is wearing a simple navy T-shirt, loosely fitted fatigues and a pair of Emerica shoes. He tells me that everything he does involves sitting down these days. This is why he loves the daily walks to the pier. At least he’s not on his arse. His eyes are blue-grey with a hint of green. His hair is swept up high and back and there’s a little product in there. He’s wearing a beard that’s longer than stubble but a week or two shy of ‘full Beardman’; it’s fading to a mature salt-and-pepper white. As he speaks, his right brow arches in thought and he holds eye contact just long enough for you to know he means what he says.
We chat in the garage where Ed paints while the camera gear is being set up. We hover around awkwardly. There is a canvas on an easel front and centre – and around it the detritus of a painter’s practice. He shows me his cheap acrylic paints from Home Depot that are stacked next to cardboard cutouts of expressionistic, Schiele-esque figures rendered in pencil – masking tape and erratic slogans adorning the odd surface. He tells me his friend Thomas Campbell turned him onto these ‘mistake paints’: “You know, when someone tries to use the machine to come up with their own colour in Home Depot? They mess it up all the time and the store sells the rejects real cheap.”
There are scissors, craft knives and a stack of vintage tomes on the table. “My grandfather died a couple of months ago,” he tells me as we flick through the books. “These are some of the books my grandmother had to get rid of now she’s moved into a retirement community. She’s ninety-three and she’s got no space for this stuff.” The volumes he’s chosen here are beautifully bound, early twentieth-century editions on American natural history. One series is embossed with an image of buffalo. Another is full of colourful drawings of hummingbirds and butterflies.
The books’ prominence is a clue to Ed’s current state of mind – and his latest artistic preoccupation. Though he is currently painting tightly rendered domestic scenes that feature the oddly banal moments of Huntington Beach life – with more than a passing nod to David Hockney – he has since the 1980s been known more for weirdly abstracted characterisations. Graphically rendered freaks – amorphous creatures like the Toy Machine monster – and expressionistic figures. Perhaps most famously these days he has used a Leica to capture the backstage of skateboarding, and a kind of edge-dwelling alienation that is endemic in the suburbs of America. For the last couple of years he and Deanna have made a daily trip down to HB pier to photograph people. You may have seen the Instagram feed, or wondered about Ed’s self-realised hashtags (#suburbanscenes, #dailyhbpierphoto, etc). They hint at the absurdity he captures daily.
Is there a relationship between your current work and skateboarding?
I think it goes back to the mid 1980s for me, which was unlike today where skating has grown into a mainstream situation. The access point can be anywhere; a kid anywhere can go on YouTube and fall in love with skating. When I was starting there wasn’t that easy access. I feel like I found skateboarding through total alienation. My dad left, we were in a broken home. I wasn’t the kind of kid who got along well with team sports. I felt, probably typically of many teenagers, basically not part of the real world. I found myself gravitating to kids who were kind of off to the side. So my first friends were these two punk kids, Chris and another kid in middle school. Chris had a mohawk and everything, and he skated. These kids didn’t care what class I was from, not that there’s a huge class thing in California, but I was poor. I was standing in the lunch line for the free food with all the Hispanic and Vietnamese kids. I was one of the only white kids in the lunch line. There was a little bit of alienation on that level too, and I wasn’t necessarily that outgoing. What was amazing was that these kids didn’t care. They were like, ‘Check this tape out man!’ And, ‘If you like punk, then you’re with us!’ It was a motley crew. They all had mohawks and were cutting themselves.
But I didn’t really fit in, even there. I was just a regular kid. When I finally got into skateboarding, all my friends came from broken homes. We were all alienated, we were all just a little ‘off’. And in that culture, through the magazines and stuff, creativity was a huge part of it. We fell in love with looking at Gary Scott Davis’ layouts in TransWorld. He made his own zines. We’d go to a record store and there were all these punk zines and skaters started making skate zines – creativity became a huge part of how people were attracted to skateboarding.
And that gets to how this painting comes into being for me, because that’s the relationship for me. Creative people are more likely to be skaters and because they are creative they are more likely to be artists. It’s a core generalisation, but it’s basically a creative pursuit. There’s a physicality to it, but there’s creativity too, and the culture has always been about that relationship. I might have had that creative gene in me, but then being immersed in skateboarding and being around people that were in bands and making flyers and doing zines and shooting photos, it all just nurtured it. The other thing of course is that, being a pro skater, all your pals are photographers – you’re always hanging out with photographers and people filming you. So some of my earliest influences were people like Christian Kline and Miki Vuckovich. They would explain what they were doing as they were doing it so I became immersed in lens culture a little bit, too.
Tell me about your current work.
I have a show coming up in Los Angeles and we’ve decided to do a painting-only show. Normally I work with a lot of photography. Photography is so quick and easy I can make a lot of work real quick, but I like the idea that I’m doing a painting-only show. Usually I kind of paint and what happens, happens. But now I have a plan and I’m trying to make a body of work that speaks about one central theme: suburbia.
I actually hated Huntington Beach. Part of the reason I wanted to focus on suburbia is that I have taken it for granted. I was born here and I grew up here in the great weather and the perfect light. It didn’t matter to me at all as a kid. I would go downtown and to the pier and it was just a bunch of jocks with tattoos and I hated that whole culture. Now that I’m hitting forty, it’s flipped and I realise that that stuff is photo gold. I’m down there the whole time shooting photos of the freak scene that is Huntington Beach. Growing up I avoided it like the plague. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the place at all. It’s the same with suburbia in general.
Through skateboarding I have been able to travel. When you see the rest of the world and how other people live, coming back to California is a culture shock. Hitting LA after three weeks in Europe, it’s like, ‘HOLY FUCK! Look at this freeway!’ I mean, just the freeway alone – there’s nothing that has six lanes in Europe. It just hits you. And then there’s all the fat people and it’s like, wow, there really is that totally stereotypical Californian American that you see. Especially living here, it’s like a joke almost.
At the point when I probably would have left Huntington Beach for good, I started Toy Machine, so I felt like I was tied to this area. I would have loved to live in Europe or go and do something else, but I’ve always been tied to this area, so I never left. I realised that you don’t have to go places to find inspiration. It’s all right in your backyard. Most of the photos I shoot these days are no more than three miles from my house. And the scenes I see as I’m driving around are even closer. These images are starting to really stick; I see something and that’s it, I have to make a sketch of it and I want to develop them into paintings.
Huntington Beach is a walled city. There are all these walls and these tract houses. Everyone is hidden behind their own little wall. I’m starting to feel more and more interested in the little subtleties of that. I’m interested in people walking along the sidewalk carrying their groceries. The way they walk, the way they look is starting to become really fascinating for me. So I have a whole series of paintings that I want to make that respond or reflect or in some way deal with that.
There are no blurred lines in Ed and Deanna’s house – all architectural angles and mid-century lines. Apart from the garage where Ed paints and the darkroom to the side, as well as the office that shows a bit more skater chaos, this place could make a spread in Elle Deco. There’s a mixture of Ed’s pieces and those of his friends on the walls. Ed’s photo room, where he organises his slides, contact sheets and negs is efficiently labelled and filed. And there’s an office to the side where he works on layouts for his books. But the focus of the whole house is their library. It’s an impressive collection, mostly of large-format photobooks, artists’ monographs and biographies. As if to lend the area even more of a gallery atmosphere, there’s a postcard rack (Ed dragged it out of a dumpster and refurbed it recently) full of artists’ cards and more of his grandparents’ precious cast-offs.
He shows me a postcard from the 1970s that his grandma was sent from a friend thanking her for sending her a tape of the Charles Manson TV film Helter Skelter. He reads the exquisite handwriting out aloud in his flat Californian tones, raising his eyebrows, amused, lost in a memory. He turns from the rack and focuses on the bookshelves. He reaches for his Hockney books and we talk about how the Yorkshire artist, as a kid in the 1940s, would intuit the light of Southern California by watching the high-contrast monochrome of those LA noir films. “It’s all about the light,” Ed smiles, all signs of awkwardness gone.
As a self-taught artist, it’s clear that this library is his reference point – and that, for Ed, adding a verse to the symphony of creativity is how he rates his own success. His own art books sit next to those of his contemporaries like Barry McGee and Thomas Campbell – who’s self-taught path through life was canonised in the 2008 documentary Beautiful Losers – as well as timeless maestros like Hockney, Picasso and Klimt. And while the ‘Beautiful Losers’ tag may feel tiresome, he is happy with the association and looks set to transcend any constrictive Californian colloquialism.
Ed’s most important milestone as an artist came when his first book, Teenage Smokers, was published by Aaron Rose’s Alleged Press in 2000. In 2002 he was entered into an art competition in Italy called Search for Art. It was a 50K prize and he had no idea he was even in the contest. A collector who had bought the Teenage Smoker series entered it on his behalf. “I only found out about it when someone called me from Italy and told me I was one of the finalists!” he tells me. “I flew to Milan and hung the work, not thinking for a minute I had a chance. On the taxi ride from the airport I shared a cab with some men. They were asking me questions about my artwork and I showed them a plastic cassette-tape case filled with black and white photos that I printed and trimmed to fit inside. They were about the size of a business card. It turned out that these men were the judges of the contest, and all famous curators of big museums!”
Klaus Beisenbach, chief curator of MoMA, NYC, was one of these men; another was Jerome Sans, head curator of the Palais de Tokyo. The Teenage Smokers photos won the prize and Ed was given a show in the Palais and also a book deal. That book, Golden Age of Neglect, remains his best-known, besides the biographical Deformer of 2008. Pivotal shows soon followed – Golden Age of Neglect at Alleged Gallery and The Essential Disturbance at Roberts and Tilton in LA. In 2010, his credibility as an international contemporary artist was sealed with a travelling mid-career retrospective, The Cemetery of Reason, which started at the SMAK museum in Ghent, Belgium.
No matter how much time you give over to fine art, you always return to photography. Why?
Photography has trained my brain to see where I live in the same way as I see other places. If I go to London, everything’s new to me. You grew up there, and all the little subtleties that you take for granted, I’m geeking out on. You even start to fetishise little things like the signage. I would go to these places and shoot, and when I came back I didn’t want to turn that off. I wanted to come back and feel as if I was here and I was walking on the pier for the first time. What things would I notice and not take for granted?
We see a lot of tourists on the pier and now I love talking to them, asking them where they’re from. I’ll point stuff out for them, like ‘That’s Catalina Island,’ and I’ll see their wonder. Photography has helped me to see in a really intense way, to look for little snippets that might make a good photograph.
We lived outside of Huntington when I was a kid and my grandparents would come get me and bring me back to Huntington. My grandma told me recently that on the drive back here I would always shout out and say, ‘Hey we’re in Huntington now!’ When they asked me how I knew, I would say, ‘Because of the walls.’ Look around you here – all these tract houses are surrounded by walls. This was way before I was old enough to know any of the streets by name. By the time you’re a teenager you start forgetting how to see the subtleties of that stuff.
How do you feel to be associated with the Beautiful Losers – a bunch of artists who were all self-taught, but have come to be seen as a movement of sorts?
I’ve always been inspired by the group I’m a part of. I don’t know if that’s strange or not but I feel fortunate to have been lumped in with the Beautiful Losers crowd, even though I don’t think any of us like being called ‘Beautiful Losers’. It’s strange to be lumped into a movement, or even ‘skate art’. They try to make it a movement, but when I think of a movement I think of cubism where there’s a manifesto, and people are adopting a certain style and you can see it. I don’t think you can say that about a ‘Beautiful Losers’ painting or photograph or whatever. The only thing that draws us together is that we come from surfing and skating cultures, which a lot of people are a part of the world over.
A lot of us bristle over the very term. Having said that, I’m a big fan of people like Barry McGee and Chris Johanson. The fact that I am spoken of in the same breath is nice because they are the people who I love to look at. I’m a huge book collector. I credit looking at books as my best teacher. I never went to school for art or photography, so studying these books was the key. If you find photobooks that you like and look at the work of legends in that field, you can look at your work and see if it stands up. I have always compared my stuff to these books to see if it held water in this world.
I wanted to know if it was good enough. Of course I made really dumb mistakes, and you’re really bummed that you made them, but making mistakes is your best teacher. It could be something small, like a little technique – how to masking tape a painting without getting paint under the tape – and you’re like, ‘Oh fuck, I messed up and gotta start over.’ It’s like skating. Skating is mostly failing. The stuff you see in the videos is the result of multiple tries and multiple fails. Eighty per cent of what you’re doing is hitting the pavement or falling down the stairs or just generally messing up.
I’ve always been an artist. Everyone is an artist until they stop playing. That’s all it is. Art is just play. You have a fresh piece of paper and you’re going to have fun with it. You’re going to draw something and someone is going to laugh at it or think about it – that’s the interaction. It could be as simple as a doodle. It’s just communication, but most people grow out of it. Every kid draws. Why don’t we just continue to do it when we’re adults?
How does it feel to be paid to play?
It’s amazing, to be paid for doing something you love. My grandfather, who died a couple months ago, always used to say that if you can get paid for doing something you enjoy doing then you’ll be a happy man. And I put a lot of hard work into making that happen. But again it’s a lot of chance, too. I see how fragile it all was and I take it so seriously. I was very professional about my skate career. I tried to do a good job, I tried to be nice to kids. It sounds stupid but I know there are little things that I tried to do to make the most of it.
I had a super long career, but as I say to the kids on my team now, it’s hard to look at me as an example because the chances are that you’re not going to have as long of a career as I did. For a start, I grew up in a time when skating was less impactful on your body, so I have been able to last a lot longer. These guys now are jumping down huge sets of stairs all day long and they just burn out a lot quicker because it’s way tougher than it was. I feel super lucky to have had a fruitful career. The fact that I can even transition from being a skateboarder as a job to being an artist as a job is, like, a dream come true.
We jump in Deanna’s car – a battered little Honda. Ed is shotgun, noodling with his phone and asking his wife about tomorrow’s schedule. They’re going over to see Grandma then to a gallery in LA. Deanna says that the HB pier walk stuff is getting a little frustrating. So many people know about their daily photographic ritual, so many follow @tempster_returns on Instagram that it’s difficult to be anonymous these days. “They’re all like, ‘Hey what’s up Tempster! Put me on Instagram!’ It used to be that we could walk around and capture things without anyone caring.”
You can’t help but notice how connected Deanna and Ed really are. They speak in the same rhythms and cadences – often finishing one another’s sentences – and in the street they approach people and chat line by line, mirroring one another’s conversation. It’s understandable. They’ve been together, at least as friends, since Ed was fifteen. “Our first date was skipping school to go to a concert. We had been friends for a while, but after that first date he asked me, ‘Am I your girlfriend?’” laughs Deanna.
There is a sweet kind of symbiosis here – one that seems to echo through everything that Ed does. Same as it ever was.
Your wife is not just a partner in your private life. She’s a creative collaborator, too?
Deanna has been a huge part of everything. No one brings their girlfriend on a skate trip, you know? But from the very earliest days, I always brought Deanna along with me. I just saw it as logical. If this company is going to pay me to fly to Europe, for the price of a ticket I can bring my wife and she’ll just hang out while we skate and after the trip is over we’ll tack on a few days.
When I started photography, around 1994, the original idea was to shoot skate culture. I wanted to document the people that get to go on tour. I mean, who gets to travel the world as a skateboarder – meeting all these people, seeing all these parts of the world? I always equated it to, like, what if Robert Plant was a good photographer and could have documented Led Zeppelin on tour as it happened, from the inside out? What an incredible body of work that would be! As a pro skateboarder I realised I was the ultimate insider shooting these insider scenes. But as soon as that practice started, it quickly ballooned into something else, something much broader. If I’m in Paris, for example, on a skate trip, I’m also going to shoot street photography and not just focus on the skate culture.
That also bled into my relationship. I began shooting photos of Deanna and our relationship. As I started exhibiting, I realised those images work as shared experiences for people. If I’m explaining one culture in life why would I stop at just the skateboard part of it? The work became a personal diary. Maybe I revealed way too much, but I felt like it was really interesting. The responses I got on that aspect were that it was touching, that people felt like they were sharing the experience. Some people just asked why I was shooting photos of my naked wife!
Deanna has been shooting photos since she was young, and over the last decade she has become a super serious photographer, too. That brings up its own dynamic, I guess. Sometimes we argue, because we’ll go down and shoot at the pier together so if something happens we’ll fight over a certain photo. Deanna is part of being my art. She also makes her own art and we’ve done collaborations together, like zines and books. I’m one of her biggest fans. It’s hard to get noticed as a photographer these days and I always sing her praises. It’s not like a big nepotistic thing; I’m not hooking her up because she’s my bro. It would be hard for me to do that unless I was genuinely stoked on what she was doing.
One thing I’ve learned on these blind dates – you get what you give. I mention to Ed that I, like him, was brought up with my grandfather. I tell him how I always felt lucky to have someone help raise me who was of another time, and that losing him was a real blow. Does that loss leave a gap that’s waiting to be filled?
If there is a gap, it’s being filled with a raft of projects. As well as the forthcoming exhibition of suburban scene paintings, there are current book collaborations with photographer Dennis McGrath, and another with Thomas Campbell’s um-yeah press. Meanwhile he’s busy wading through a couple of decades worth of prints from his skate culture archives. Sooner or later there will be a blockbusting compilation of these assembled moments, a definitive insight into the unwritten story of pro street skating, replete with antiheroes rendered in high-contrast monochrome in the capitals of the world – the sprains and the breaks and the excesses of a career wrought in road rash and captured on film.
On the wall in his photo-filing room, there is a rough print from Teenage Smokers – the project that led naturally to Teenage Kissers. There’s a directness to these colourfully saturated, square-cropped images – and a hint of nostalgia, too. Underage sexuality may err on taboo, but somehow Ed’s stuff doesn’t stray into Terry Richardson territory. By simply capturing what teenagers do when they are not supposed to be doing something, there’s an empathic gaze. As if Ed is taking pictures of what he and his friends were, are, and might always be.
Ed Templeton and the street skaters of the 1980s and 1990s didn’t invent alienation. Kurt and the flannel-clad crew up in Seattle were having a go at that themselves at the time. But these guys gave their specific generation’s alienation a physicality. They showed that you could be alienated from the suburbs you were surrounded by and still get over and do something that meant something. It’s not altogether surprising that things have come full circle and now the poor kid in the free lunch line is as definitive of his hometown as the Pier itself.
Tell me about your grandparents.
If I had to trace the creative gene in my life, I would say it came from my grandparents. My grandfather died a couple of months ago so it’s been in the forefront of my mind. He was ninety-four. As I said, we were really poor when I was a kid. I was always interested in how I became the person I am, in light of what I was dealt. My father left when I was very young and my mother had her own problems. She had this chicken pox-like disease when she was just a baby. She stopped breathing for a while and it was only because of a miracle that the doctor that lived next to my grandparents house was there at the weekend. He got my mother breathing again, but she suffered a little brain damage. She’s fully functioning and was able to raise two kids and she’s a sweet person, but she’s simple. Because of the brain damage she’s terrible at math, terrible at complex reasoning. She has no concept of philosophical ideas. She just knows what’s right and what’s wrong.
So as I found skating and started to make art, I began asking the question: how did I get to this place? I was dealt nothing. I had no art in my life, no culture. I had no means at all. We were just poor white trash kids who lived in a trailer park. We were authentic trailer trash. My grandfather was essentially my father figure my whole life. As a young teenager I quickly became really hard on my mom and was able to outwit her at every level. She couldn’t control us. So it was my grandfather who had to discipline us. Mom would just freak out and say she was calling Grandpa and he’d have to come on over and yell at me. Recently I just felt like saying sorry to him. For everything.
It hit me a while back just how fortunate I was to have someone from that generation be your father. It creates in you an older soul. In his customs, in the way that he spoke, he was really of that older generation. I mean, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, he just signed up to fight and went to war. He met my grandmother and they got married. She had her career starting and everything, but she just dropped it to become a homemaker with my grandfather. It’s amazing, but she was really creative, too. If she hadn’t become a housewife she may have gone on with that career. She knows the Hilfiger family and was winning fashion competitions, so I have no doubt that if she had taken that path she would have become a well-known fashion designer. The visits to my grandparents house were all about going to museums and doing arts and crafts. You forget about that when you’re a teenager and in your twenties – but looking back I was incredibly fortunate to have that one little window opened to me, and that I was able to take a creative path.
My grandfather was reciting bits of poems on his death bed. He had one of the best deaths you can imagine. This happened just a couple of months ago. The whole family was there, all around him, he died in his own house, with no pain and he was lucid right up to the end, reciting long bits of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. His generation were taught poetry and were taught verse and they had to memorise whole poems. So my entire childhood he would rattle off little bits of poetry. I thought it was weird. Then I realised that the books I was supposed to learn, my grandfather had already memorised.
Life just deforms you. Life happens to you, and it reforms you into what you are. My environment, my parents, my family situation – it all makes me who I am. My father was a terrible guy, you know. He hit us. But I never used the abuse I suffered as a crutch. I think a lot of artists try to talk about their tortured childhood and how that motivated their art. I look at it as awesome that my father left. My father was a really bad influence and if he had stayed in my life I would never have found skateboarding. And if I hadn’t found skateboarding what would I be doing? Digging ditches? My grandparents were my guiding light.