FEATURE///ED TEMPLETON: THE SUPERTOUCH INTERVIEW
Portrait of Ed by Mike O'Meally
A lifelong SoCal native whose work is most closely related to the so-called "SF School" of artists who came to prominence in the late 1990s, skate world legend and underground art phenomenon ED TEMPLETON has been quietly been building a unique and formidable visual legacy through his painting and photography for over a decade now. On the eve of "Map of the Inner War/The Great Gates of Zenith," his joint show with kindred spirit MATT LEINES at Hollywood's ROBERTS & TILTON GALLERY this Saturday, where some of his most accomplished work to date will be revealed, we catch up with the beautiful loser to find out what it all means. READ ON:
You’re well known for your photography but I’ve always been most interested in your paintings and thought they seemed closely related to outsider art, stylistically. What have been your most significant influences in terms of aesthetics and are you self-taught? Most artists are incredibly self-critical of their own work and abilities. Are you comfortable with your rendering style, especially when it comes to the human form?
I don’t know if that is a good thing to be related to outsider artists! Although I am a big fan of “Art Brut”, people like Morton Bartlett, Willem Van Genk, Darger, Adolf Wölfli, I feel like that means I have a simplistic approach? I was very into Henry Darger when I was younger, but feel like I was mostly sweating Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt when I was starting out. I really love David Hockney. I never went to art school. I didn’t even have time to finish high school. Painting was just a hobby until Thomas Campbell saw my paintings and told me to do something with them. I don’t think I had any hopes past daydreams about going anywhere with painting, I was occupied with skateboarding. As far as self critical, I am very typical in that regard, I love/hate almost everything I do while I am doing it, and the ones that make it past that phase get put into shows. But then by the time the show is up I am bummed again. Perhaps not about the whole painting, but about a certain part of it. Maybe I messed up on some foreshortening, or a hand looks a tad mangled. To me, that is what makes paintings interesting. If I could make a perfect photo-realistic portrait, or do exactly what I was thinking in my minds eye, I don’t know if it would be as fun, or look as original. I think being a bit unskilled is OK, it’s the ideas and content that make it interesting. You can say the same thing about photography. Some people get juiced about making the perfect print, regardless of what the photo is about. I would rather the photo itself be interesting, above the print quality. Of course, getting both right is the goal.
What are your ambitions, professionally, as an artist? How important are gallery shows and the “real” art world in general?
I think the so-called art world is whatever you make it. If you are watching everything that goes on in the gallery scene, and abreast of who is selling what and where, and going to fairs and such, then you naturally wish to be accepted in that world and climb up the ladder. For me, each time I pay attention to it, I end up feeling sick. I sort of would rather not know too much. I am happy to be living in Huntington Beach, and hanging out with skateboarders. The people I hang out with for the most part could care less about my paintings or art shows. I am trying to approach it as organically as I can. I take it serious, but I take everything serious I guess. I love doing gallery shows, and I love the idea that I can create something and make a living from doing that. That is the one piece of advice you always hear. “Do what you love.” And I am one of the fortunate ones who have been doing what I love my whole life, skateboarding and making things.
While many artists hide themselves in their work or communicate through heavy symbolism and complex imagery, a defining hallmark of your art has always been an unflinching honesty with your subjects, be they kids on the streets, your wife, and even yourself. Do you have any boundaries in this regard or is the whole of your personal life and your experiences an open book in your creative life? Is creating such personal work a form of therapeutic expression for you?
I never see it as therapeutic. I actually feel fairly well adjusted. I think I wouldn’t be able to be honest if I wasn’t secure enough to ask those questions in public. There are certain boundaries. But if I think an experience I live through transcends the smallness of my life and works as a universal story about being human, then I will use it. I toned down a bunch of stuff in Deformer. If you think it is personal now, you should have seen the earlier versions. There is a point where it just becomes ridiculous, and I want to be able to tell a personal story without being labeled a simple exhibitionist, you know? So it is not a complete open book, but mostly open. If you examine all of my work you can pretty much see a play by play of my life and thoughts. I had stuff happen to me in childhood, but in comparison to what I have seen in others, my youth was a walk in the park, so I never wanted to adopt that well-worn “dude, my art is therapy for my fucked up life!” type of thing.
It’s been a rough couple of years now in this country in a lot of ways. Have you found influence from current events and political crises creeping into your work? Are you surprised by the lack of politically articulate artwork being created on the whole in a time of such obvious tumult worldwide? Where are our hippies?
The hippies are dead. There are only nostalgia hippies, young kids inhaling ghosts who cop the 60’s in fashion alone, and leave the ideals in the dust. There are activists now – or better yet, community organizers! I am nearly a political junkie at this point. It is very apparent in my work if you read the text. I am not making “No blood for oil” type paintings, but I am politically aware, so no matter what it will seep into what I do. I have always believed in saying something through artwork, taking a point, expressing a feeling, or conversing with an audience. That is how things change. My favorite art has some sort of higher meaning aside from being aesthetically pleasing, just like my favorite songs tend to have great lyrics.
You were raised and currently live in Orange County, long considered a culturally vacuous part of the California experience. How big a role has this environment played in the development of your artwork and your sensibility as an artist?
I suppose it is a big part, but it only became a subject when I left it. I had to leave the suburban bubble and see how the rest of the world was living to realize that where I lived was uniquely fucked up. Why would I stay you may ask? The skateboarding is great here, and my company Toy Machine is based in San Diego. I couldn’t bear to live any more south in California than I already do. The people and environment are important ingredients to me, because I enjoy just looking and studying at what surrounds me. A big part of my photography is just shooting whatever falls in front of my path. I almost never go out of my way to shoot something.
How important is the actual process of creating artwork to you? Is it something you enjoy or is it more like work?
I enjoy it! But having said that, I usually leave the bulk of what I want to do for an exhibition until it is too late, and then I have to crunch! The work for this show was mostly created in the last four months. The ideas and thought processes behind it has been going on for years, but the execution was done very recently.
You’ve spent the better part of your lifetime as a skater and its influence has obviously been instrumental in shaping your outlook. Now, as an “old” person who actively chronicles and documents, via photography, the young kids who’ve taken your place, what are your thoughts on the state of modern youth culture? What’s better and worse about being young now compared to when you were growing up in the ‘70s & ‘80s? Are the kids still alright?
The kids are always alright. We can’t let our nostalgia for the good ol’ days get in the way of what it means to be young in this day and age. I don’t claim to have all the answers about the kids. One thing I do know, and see, at least with the kids I am around, is this premium put on “not caring.” It’s uncool to know about politics, or books, or art and to take anything seriously. But I know for every kid I know who doesn’t care about anything but his weed supply, there is another kid who is reading the classics and registering to vote and getting amped on ideas. Most things exist in the gray area in between two poles. There is a constant pushing of boundaries throughout the generations. The things that were taboo to our grandparents are commonplace to our parents, and the taboos for their generation are normal for us. It keeps on going always. I would skate at the HB skate park near the high school I went to. The outfits that the girls are wearing to school are shocking. The skirts are so high! I would see them and think, “How can the teacher not see up her skirt?” And I hear from the kids how blowjobs are a given on a first date. What the hell! So here I am, 29, 30 years old and already being shocked by the generation under me. I never thought it would happen to me, but that is just stupidity.
On a similar note, as a pro skater and skate company owner, what’s your opinion on the state of modern skateboarding? Has it become too commercial and removed from its roots? Is the soul gone?
Again, It is tempting here to talk about how good it was when I was young. And it was. Skateboarding was so awesome in the late 80’s and early 90’s. And yes, lots of things about skateboarding have been bastardized and changed beyond recognition. But I know for sure there are groups of kids discovering skating right now who are getting the same thing out if it that I did when I was 18. Living their halcyon days. The truth is, that all those things you mentioned in your question are true. But skateboarding has grown a shitload since those good ol’ days. Growing into the mainstream is gonna bring the mainstream, you know? So yes there are tons of jocks who skate, and moms who train their sons and daughters to become skate stars, and corporations using skating to make themselves seem hip or extreme. But! There are also kids making zines, bolt cutting locks off, sawing rails down, camping overnight in a ditch and skating it all day, building backyard ramps, and making films. All those good things are still happening, it is just harder to see past all the glitz. Hardcore skaters who came to it via alienation and damaged family life, who use it as an outlet, and creative starting point are still there. I have faith! To answer your question directly, the soul is not gone at all. The soul just has a new shape, and is a little less pure than the one we knew.
What are you most compulsive about in life and why?
Checking e-mails. Updating the Toy Machine website. I have a problem actually. The computer runs my life. Too much TV too.
Favorite music this year?
This year? Jeez. I can’t name anything new from this year that I like. Wait, I like No Age, that is this year. I am still discovering Dylan and Lou Reed. I have a lot of music education that I am working towards here. I am still sustained by the punk standbys of my youth.
How much are you influenced by other artists? Do you feel like a part of a bigger art community that you actively take influence from or is your art created in more of a vacuum?
I look at a lot of other artists! I collect books, and take a great pleasure in studying paintings and photography and learning about the lives and methods of masters and contemporaries. No vacuums! That would make me an outsider artist.
What are you most excited by in the art world today? Who are some of your favorite living artists?
I love what Chris Johanson does, and actually I am a big fan of many of the Beautiful Losers artists. Mike Mills, Margaret, Barry McGee, Clare Rojas, Thomas Campbell. I already mentioned David Hockney. Pettibon. I am reading about Richard Prince and Martin Kippenberger right now. There is this dude, Walton Ford who makes these huge watercolors of animals. That guy rules.
What’s the worst thing about the modern art world?
In my experience I have found that many people who would really benefit from having art in their life cannot afford it. It seems like a rich mans’ luxury. And I have had to live through someone buying a painting based on the color scheme in their house. It was just an accessory! I have been very fortunate to be working with super legit people who are very enthusiastic about art and not into fucking people over. So I think the worst part about the art world are these people I hear about, but have not yet had to deal with. And I hope I never do.
You’re an editor of ANP Quarterly, which is easily the best underground art magazine on the scene today and very different in terms of content from anything else around. Tell me about how the magazine came about, what RVCA’s role has been, the editorial mission, and the future of the publication. How do you guys define the type of art you focus on?
Thanks! RVCA had a big role in that Pat Tenore the owner/designer of RVCA wanted to do a magazine and came to me with that as an idea. I told him that both Aaron Rose and Brendan Fowler could be great for the job, and they were into it. So we became a triad of editors. Our mission was just to do articles on art and artists regardless of time and place. If we like it, we can do something on it. It doesn’t have to coincide with a show or a book; it doesn’t have to be the new hot shit. Anything. We have no structured advertising so far as well, so that means we are beholden to nobody. So we can do whatever we see fit, and Pat has been hands-off bless his heart.
What do you think of the whole so-called “street art” scene that’s popped up in the last couple years that basically revolves around stenciling, wheatpasting, and large-scale art pranks. This isn’t something you guys cover in the magazine, yet it’s a massive driving force—particularly in terms of economics—in the underground art world the way so-called “lowbrow” or “pop surrealism” was several years ago in the Juxtapoz world.
I don’t know if we made any choices to not cover it. If something was interesting enough we might. I mean Aaron was instrumental in bringing some of these artists to the forefront, and Barry McGee, for instance, was going to the forefront no matter who was in his way. I was amused when the Tate Modern had “Street Artists” paint the outside of the museum. I actually saw it in person, and the Os Gemeos one was awesome. While I was in Europe there were news stories on CNN Europe about Street Art. Banksy is huge! I am sorta indifferent towards it. I like when I see something in the street that looks great, or makes me laugh. So I hope people keep doing it, but like anything else that the mainstream world picks up on, it will hot one minute, then cold the next.
Many people like to avoid labels in their careers, but oftentimes being part of a bigger movement—the Surrealists come to mind—can be an important and valid association for an artist. Do you feel part of any particular aesthetic movement or school or thought in particular? Are there any labels you feel comfortable branding yourself with? How important has being associated with a scene either in terms of aesthetics or mentality been in your artistic development?
Labels are a bittersweet pill. Being part of the Beautiful Losers traveling exhibition has been a great boost in my life, but nobody involved is comfortable with being labeled a “Beautiful Loser” including Aaron Rose, the person who organized and named it! It was just a name for the show! I understand that it’s easy to lump everyone into a category, but the group in that show is very diverse, and strung together more by ideology and era than through an artistic style or visual unity. You know, with cubism, you can see a painting no matter who did it and say, “Cubism.” It is easy to point out. But try pointing to something and saying, “Beautiful Loser.” Maybe people can! You can look at what KAWS is doing and try to compare that to Clare Rojas' work and I don’t know if I would see the connection in a visual sense. Because of that show people call me a street artist, when all I ever did in the “street” was skateboard. I am a photographer, a painter, a skateboarder, a husband, a company brand manager, those labels I can live with. Regardless of what I say, there is in fact a loose movement around that group of people in that show, and I for one am very glad to be a part of it. If packaging helps people understand what is going on and gets them to be able to swallow your work, then let's go for it.
What does fame mean to you and what’s your relationship with it?
Fame brings responsibility. The more known you get the easier it is to trip up, and the more people want you to trip or are waiting for it. If you have fame, I feel like it should be used wisely and humbly. My relationship with fame is that I am not famous outside of skateboarding, and even then, as I age and new kids come into it, my miniscule skate fame diminishes year by year. Anyone remember Dan Wilkes? Fame is relevant to whatever microcosm you exist in, famous to one, anonymous to another. It’s funny when I’m in public, like Disneyland and a skater comes up and asks for my autograph. I see passersby looking at me thinking, "who is this guy? Do I know him? What film was he in?" And I just look at them and think, “I’m nobody, keep walking.”
One of the more interesting aspects of your art is that you seem to feel free in moving through various mediums easily and without purist constraints, like painting on photographs. Lately it seems many young artists become fluent in one stylistic mode or medium and stick to that exclusively. Looking at someone like Richard Prince, one of the most striking things about his career as a whole is his ability to change styles and modes of thought successfully and fluidly. Is this something you see in yourself or value as an artist?
Very much so. I approach each thing I do in a purist’s way, however. With photography, I am very traditional. I shoot B&W mostly; I print my own fiber-based prints, or work with a printer at a lab in LA. I guess that is where tradition ends though, because I often write or color on the prints. Then with painting, I feel like I have so much to learn. Learning how to paint will be a lifelong struggle. Each year I get a little better, or rather, I like what I am doing and how I do it better. I can’t see choosing one thing and just sticking to it. Variety is the spice of life. Look at David Hockney, he made a mark on photography, he is obviously an historic, legendary painter, he did set designs for the theatre, lithographs, etchings, worked in oil and acrylic. Why not try everything?
As a pro skater you’ve been traveling the globe for a good chunk of your life now. What impact has so much international experience had on you and what have been some of the most meaningful trips?
Travel has been a huge part of my life. Seeing the world and getting a better understanding of people gives you a great head-start with instinct and insight in my opinion. Being in new places makes me take photos, your senses are heightened, and everything is new and different. The best trips are skateboard trips. We go to Russia for instance, and instead of going to the Kremlin and taking a snapshot we are out in the Moscow suburbs skating some random neighborhood. So I feel like we get a sample of what a place is like on the day-to-day, not the tourist area. It was crazy to buy water from a stand on the tourist street for the equivalent of 5 dollars, and then in some random part of town the same water is a buck. The skate trips are great because the people I am with are great subjects, and then the place itself is there for me. So I am both documenting my life and my friends, and the place, and when you come back home you have new ideas from all you have seen that inform whatever else you're doing, painting, making a skateboard graphic, whatever.
How you feeling about Barack? You think he can live up to the hype or will we all—especially the kids—crash back to Earth hard after his first big fuck up or scandal hits? Were you surprised to see someone like Shepard Fairey, an artist of your generation and cultural experience (not to mention criminal background), brand an entire presidential campaign?
I think it is great! I think Obama is great. Shepard’s posters are awesome. So far we have words. Inspiring words, but still just words. I will be waiting to see. He has a HUGE mess to clean up, and lots of corporations, money, and old guard still in place to deal with. But based on his demeanor and smarts I do have high hopes. Finally we have a president who thinks and makes up his own sentences. You can see him thinking and being sincere with what comes out of his mouth. Bush was fucking scary to watch speak. So is Sarah Palin. We have aged into being the movers and shakers of our society, Jamie!
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