Ed Templeton is easily one of the most inspirational figures to come out of the Californian underground in the past 20 years, subliminally influencing generation after generation of kids. Whether it’s the inspiration to learn backside nose blunts, to quit eating meat, to begin listening to Sonic Youth, or indeed to pick up a pen, camera, or paintbrush and create something, Ed has been a non-stop source of ideas and creativity for many over the years.
First coming to the world’s attention as a poster boy for street skateboarding in the early 90s, Ed started Toy Machine skateboards, bringing a whole different dimension to skateboard graphics, advertisements, and videos, all with a healthy mix of irony, surrealism and regurgitated pop culture.
In recent years Ed’s work off the board has gained increasing renown in the art world, leading to shows in leading galleries across the globe. In light of his mid-career survey ‘Cemetery of Reason’, held last year, Aweh decided now would be an opportune time to sit down with Ed, who was kind enough to talk about where he has been, where he is today, and where he might be going tomorrow.
Aweh: For people who aren’t that well versed on the happenings in the worlds of skateboarding and modern art over the past two decades, how would you like to be explained?
Ed: That's hard. I do a lot of things. If I was explaining what I do to kind old lady sitting next to me on a plane I would say that since 1990 I have been a professional skateboarder, and that I have run a skateboard company called Toy Machine Bloodsucking Skateboard Company since 1993, and that I am an artist and a photographer who shows his work internationally. Then I would add that I have been married for 20+ years, and been a vegan for that long too. Those are the bare facts.
Aweh: How would you describe your experience growing up in California in the 1980s? Compared to all the places you’ve visited do you think the physical and social environment shapes the people that live there in a radically different way?
Ed: Certainly where you live is a major factor on who you become. I always thought that if I had a child I would want to move away from Huntington Beach, I guess that's how highly I regard it. Huntington Beach, or HB for short, has a very particular sort of beach culture in that there are loads of surfers and skaters, and skin and tattoos, and we are in the shadow of Hollywood and easy fame. All of the beaches in Southern California have this sort of culture, and I think in Hawaii too. I have not spent much time on East Coast beaches so I don't know if its true there, but I imagine it is.
In the 80's growing up here downtown HB was all surf shops and skate shops and bikini stores with a few taco stands. I have watched HB turn into an outdoor mall. Only a few local style surf shops remain. Now it's chain stores, micro breweries, bars and restaurants, along with your Starbucks and Jamba Juices. But lower Manhattan and central London have also become giant strip malls too.
The experience was tough. Everyone wanted to kick your ass, so a kid like me would just hang back and watch everything. My friends wore plastic mouthpieces around their necks because they would fight with the local skinheads that hung out on the corner so often. I had no desire to fight people. I just wanted to skate. Mark Gonzales lived here then, and it was certainly influential to have the person who was trailblazing street skating in your home town, showing up at the spots you were skating. I hung out with punker kids and skate rats. We were all too poor to have much in the way of style or a music collection. We just had punk tapes, or recorded stuff off the radio like Madonna and Michael Jackson. My friend Jamie lived in a trailer park right across from the Pacific. We would do beach fires, go body surfing, and skate around town living the trife life of a local urchin, jumping fences to use people's hot tubs. Through growing up and traveling all over the world — always returning to this mega-suburb of Orange County — I have learned to both love and hate it.
I love that it is not Los Angeles, and I'm away from the traffic, the art word, and the hecticness. I can find a parking spot, and I can ride my bike to the beach in 10 minutes. I hate that it is a Republican hotbed, and there is always a guy on the corner with a picture of Obama with a Hitler moustache, and that churches are constantly on the beach trying to save all of us sinners. But it does make for fun photos, so I actually like the zealots. I hate that every kid here wants to be sponsored or famous in some way without doing anything to earn it, and that a larger percentage of people have plastic surgery. Mohawks are still so hot here, even though they have been benign for over a decade. As a kid you learn from what you see around you, you copy the people and customs that you see.
So I guess I grew up with this beach culture, but my parental figures were my grandparents and they were much older and wiser, and I learned a great deal from having these people who grew up in the ‘30s and ‘40s raising me. Language, art, poetry, sport, respect and love of nature, a moral compass, a sense of fairness, and the duty of being a citizen are just some of things I would have never even seen if it wasn't for them. I had a dual upbringing, the streets of suburbia during the week, and an upstanding young man of culture on the weekends!
Aweh: When did you first perceive yourself as an artist? Was there any one person who encouraged you to take photography, illustration and painting seriously?
Ed: I had always been drawing and sketching, and I was interested in Chris Miller, Gonz, and Blender because I heard they did their own graphics. That meant a lot to me. So when I had the chance to become pro I swore to do all of my own graphics even though I was clearly not an artist. It was really after my first trip to Europe, seeing all the art and history and how it is really a part of life there, that I declared to myself that I would become a painter. I came directly home and bought canvasses and paints and starting going for it. I was painting for 3 or 4 years when Thomas Campbell, who was then a skate photographer for Transworld (and a painter) saw my paintings in a closet in my house. He encouraged me to give them away so people would see them, and he pushed me to send some work to this guy in NYC, Aaron Rose who did a gallery called Alleged. I sent Aaron a package of photos and drawing and he offered me a show. I think he only offered the show because I was willing to drive the work out at no cost to him, but fuck it, I was having a show.
At this point I had been doing Toy Machine for only a year, and just moved it from Costa Mesa to San Diego joining with Tod Swank's Foundation Skateboards to form Tum-Yeto distribution. So I had been trying to do graphics for about 4 years, and getting better at it. The only person to really help me with graphic design was Ron Cameron. I sat with him for all of the first Toy Machine ads, watching his every move, learning everything. He taught me his principles for graphic design, and I loved looking at GSD's design of Transworld at that time. Those things helped me become who I am as a graphic designer. And in photography, it was inspiration from Tobin Yelland, and instruction from Christian Kline, Miki Vuckovich and O, all skate photographers I hung out with as a pro skater. These guys saw my interest in photography and helped me learn how to use a camera. And I also just bought and read Henry Horenstein's Black and White Photography, the standard textbook they use in schools. It's amazing what you can learn from books and hands on experience. I don't know why people spend money on schooling.
/// ED TEMPLETON DAY IN THE LIFE ///
Aweh: Over the years Toy Machine adverts have given the skateboarding community a steady drip feed of your visual work. Aside from the photography, painting, and illustration used in these ads a recurring theme appears to be the subliminal and often ironic marketing messages within. Is this influenced by how heavily inundated we seem to be with advertisements today?
Ed: You nailed it. Ads have become increasingly invasive. We see anywhere from 300 to 3000 ads per day, depending on our exposure. I dvr almost every TV show I watch so I can zap the ads, but they show up inside the shows, and the Internet, magazines, and newspapers. But as much as I hate advertising, I have been an advertiser for the last 17 years. Selling a product involves advertising. So I have always tried to have a team who is their own advertising, and the few ads we do I try to make them funny, but the main focus is always kick-ass skateboarding. I'm not trying to impress Julien Stranger, or Jamie Thomas, I'm trying to impress a 15 year old skater kid reading Thrasher while in detention.
I always try to be truthful, but also to copy the worst parts of the worst ads I see and make them Toy Machine, I do things the real advertisers only wish they could. I have whipped my consumers into Loyal Pawns of the Benevolent Master Company. I think campaigns like the Axe body spray one comes directly from a Toy Machine style position; I wouldn't be surprised if the people who wrote those scripts were skaters. Just say what you really want to say, or what you think people want to hear. "Using Axe Body Spray will make women throw themselves at you, you will be fighting pussy off with a stick!" That is basically what they are saying in a visual way. So when I make ridiculous claims, or use over the top rhetoric, even when it's true, I think skaters are smart enough to know where we are coming from.
Aweh: The subject of how you have managed to juggle the responsibilities of being a professional skateboarder, a fine artist, and a company owner has come up in interviews again and again. With the success of the ‘Cemetery of Reason’ shows in Europe and your continued success in the art world, are you moving to a place where you concentrate more on your art and less on tours and video parts? Or do you think your responsibilities with Toy Machine will ensure you will keep up the juggling act for the foreseeable future?
Ed: Well, certainly my pro skateboarding has waned. I don't think I will be making another legitimate video part ever again. Not because I don't want to, but just because I'm older, and my art projects are increasing at the same time my work for Toy Machine seems to be increasing. The less I skate, the steeper the hill gets to making a part that will hold its own weight in an increasingly athletic world of pro skating. The juggling will never stop. Even if I am not having a video part, I'm still going on tours and skating demos, and getting whatever footage I can for the videos and magazines. I skate here and there while at home, but home also means lots of graphic and advertising work for Toy, and lots of painting and printing in my studio for coming art shows.
Aweh: How did things change for you in terms of your recognition in the art world after ‘Teenage Smokers’ won the Search for Art prize?
Ed: A few very good things came from that prize, but for sure people were not calling me and offering me shows. One of the judges of the Search for Art, Jerome Sans, was the director of the Palais de Tokyo, an art museum in Paris, and he offered me a show and a book. That is how the Golden Age of Neglect book came about, and I did the show in Paris. The book being out in the world has been like a calling card. Also the prize was 50G's, so I was able to move out of my first house and into a better second one, closer to the beach. So those things were very good. But I had been working on other fronts as well, and some other things were starting to happen independently of the Search for Art. I met with one of the other judges, Klaus Biesenbach, who was interested in offering me a show I think, but he never followed up with me.
Aweh: It’s been remarked by other established artists that in the world of contemporary art anybody can enjoy recognition for their practice, whatever it may be, and potentially bring business into the equation it they so wish. Would you agree that there are no outsiders in today’s art world as a result? Are there more opportunities available today for unknown artists without art educations than there was when you participated in your first exhibitions back in the early 90’s?
Ed: Of course many people have forged their own path outside of the system, and today you have publications like Juxtapoz and others who champion art that is not completely in the art school mold. But having said that, I think a majority of represented artists at major galleries have their MFA's and BA's. The clearest path to art success is still through school as far as I understand. Anybody can make a blog or have a website with their work now, so all it takes is that person in the power position, the curators, gallery owners, and museum directors, to take a chance and offer some opportunity to that unknown artist. That does happen. Putting you feelers out there helps. And the art of it is to not look too needy. Just be doing what you are doing. The beauty is, if you are truly doing what you are doing and not caring, then if that big chance doesn't come, you have no regrets, right?
Aweh: It seems that prominent figures within the skateboarding community (such as yourself, Mark Gonzales, Natas Kaupas, Neil Blender, Steve Olson, and so forth) have been receiving recognition in mainstream circles for their creative output. Is this a knock on effect of the continued exposure skateboarding has enjoyed over the past decade, or is it simply that talented and driven individuals who happen to be skateboarders are being recognized for their hard work?
Ed: I always thought it was the latter. These people are doing things and being creative. They just happen to be skaters, and just happen to have been famous skaters. Once you get that fame in one field, it's easier to get a better chance in another. I think skateboarding has always attracted these types — the list of musicians, artists, graphic designers, and photographers coming from skateboarding is staggering.
Aweh: Your most recent photography publication, Teenage Kissers, documents adolescent explorations of sexuality and relationships before such experiences were so easily shared and spread via social networking and blogging sites. Do you feel the teenagers you meet today experience the world in a radically different way to teenagers of the ‘80s and ‘90s?
Ed: Totally. When I take a photo of a kid now he asks, "What's your blog?" They assume the photo will go straight online. We are all in a transitional phase of computers blending with us. Many of us still sit at desks and do our computing, but even more carry around a mini computer/phone/calculator/ad infinitum in our pockets. I was around when computers became available to put in your house. My grandpa bought a Texas Instruments computer and you could only do simple code on it. I remember thinking what a stupid thing! Now my work is chained to a computer. We all are. But this has happened in my lifetime, and accelerated in today's youth. But even they will be marveling in their mid 30's about the crazy advancements that have happened, and how today's kids are fucked. Just like the world shrunk when airline travel became normal and people started traveling to new places, the Internet and access to it via cheap cell phones with further shrink the world.
We all talk with people who live in far off lands every day over this network, it's no big deal. We can Fed Ex things or send big files over the net and do all sorts of business from something that fits in your pocket. Who cares where you are anymore? So today's teens, the ones who can grasp what is going on, will benefit greatly from these advances. Awkwardness doesn't change though, and those early loves and ever morphing fashions of teenage life are quintessentially the same.
Aweh: In the past photography was viewed as somewhat of an alienating medium, partly due to the fact that the camera often obscures the photographer’s face transforming them into an anonymous voyeur. However, we increasingly live in a world which people experience remotely, through photographs pulled up in Google searches and reposted on Facebook. Do you think the increasing separation between people and their environment transforms the act of photography into something more intimate, in that you actually have to go and see something with your own eyes and take the photograph yourself?
Ed: That is very interesting. Yes. All the things I had said in my previous answer also mean that you can see the world, and read other people's experiences, and essentially crib note your way through the world from your toilet seat. So yes, for sure photography the way I do it is very intimate in comparison. I use a 50mm or a 28mm lens, so I have to be from 1 to 15 feet away from my subjects. I can see their eyes and they mine. I have to get up and go out and be amongst my images, be a part of them many times. And then also I have to wait for my proof sheets, and print the prints in my darkroom to complete the process. As much as you can see and experience through other people's input on the web, nothing beats going out and having your own experiences, and then inputting your own version on the web or into an exhibition.
We all democratically have the chance to do that these days, even if your experience is confined to a small unassuming suburb in the middle of the U.S. I have had the opportunity to live anywhere I wish, but I still call the sprawling suburb of Huntington Beach, California my home, because I realize it doesn't matter where you live anymore. You can do it where you are, and the uniqueness of that place will come through in your work. I use my environment and my love / hate relationship with it in my work on a daily basis.
Aweh: With your most recent exhibitions drawing to a close what are your plans for the rest of 2012?
Ed: 2012 hasn't even started yet! I feel like I may be in a period of rest and recharging for whatever may be in the future. I have no plans as of yet. The rest of 2011 looks very open, and I'm happy about it.Video by Peter Sutherland Many thanks to E