INTERVIEW: THE ART OF SKINNER
By Adam De Ville
Psychedelic visions of hell, filtered through the mind of a tripped out Willy Wonka. His pieces crawl with long toothed demonds, hairy neon monsters and even some familiar faces that might make William Blake cower. Self-taught artist, Skinner, has meticulously crafted a balance of extraordinary mural work and bizarrely antagonistic installations - all while maintaining a prolific commercial presence in the art world. We caught up with the man himself after a busy weekend at San Diego Comic Con for a chat.
Let’s start at the beginning: what elements of pop culture were you attracted to as a young person? My favourite things in pop culture were probably monster films, cartoons (Inhumanoids, ghostly old Warner brothers and Disney stuff, Popeye), and scary movies (Jaws and King Kong were favourites). I was absolutely enthralled with anything stop-motion or Harryhausen and I loved comic book characters like crazy. I both worshipped and feared the Hulk. But I don’t know if any of this was really pop culture at the time. I think it was kind of popular, but certainly not like it is now. To be honest, I was a little late on most things. Growing up in a small town kind of places you securely on the outskirts of whatever popular culture is engaged in, especially in the pre-Internet days.
Did you get good grades in school?
Yes, I got good grades. I was awesome at sports, I could draw a lot of shit and I was sometimes cool. I also had completely mind-bending emotional problems.
Can you tell us more about those problems?
I’ll just say my home life was unpredictable and frightening.
Okay, so when did you first decide you wanted to pursue art professionally? I read somewhere that you used to be a teacher?
I used to be an advocate at an art program for adults with disabilities. I worked with the developmentally disabled population for about 10 years. My role wasn’t to teach as much as it was to encourage. It completely changed my life in so many ways; I learned more than I taught, for sure. I would paint all day with people diagnosed with Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia and so on. We would just hang out and listen to music and laugh all day. I really learned to enjoy the moments in life that I had previously taken for granted. I also had the opportunity to take the students out into the community a lot. We were like a cool gang that people had to deal with all the time - but really, after a while I’m pretty sure everyone was happy to see us.
So I did that for a while, and the whole time I was painting and doing shows. Eventually it became clear that I wasn't going to be like a doctor or a professional of any sort, so I knew I had to figure something else out for myself. This was before shit like Instagram, so I had no idea whether it would even be possible to make a living from being an artist. I just painted like fuck all the time, drove to San Francisco a bunch time and made as many connections and friends as I could. Fortunately for me, at around the same time I started to have some issues with the way my workplace was being run, so I made up my mind that I was going to jump ship. The issues at work were a total blessing in disguise because they motivated me to go for it, and in 2008 when the economy took a big shit, I quit my job. Everyone was just like, "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?". Everyone except my wife Kristie, that is - she reassured me that things were going to be okay. How did you get involved in making murals? Can you tell us about the first one you ever worked on?
I love painting big - it feels good and it's very physical. I just love seeing giant bizarre shit on buildings, so that's why I do it. The first one was probably the inside of tower records in Seattle - that was an insane learning experience. I took mushrooms and used the forklift. It felt completely insane; trying to focus about 30 feet in the air while you're peaking on hallucinogens is so stupid and great.
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be and why?
I would be The Pants Shitter. It's a super hero I made up. He can make anyone shit their pants at any time and at any distance. For instance, if I saw you on live TV and I didn’t like what you were saying, or even if I just didn’t like your haircut, I could make you shit your pants. Immediately. I would have this world by the balls! I would be king and you would have a load of SHIT in your pants!
What music are you listening to at the moment? Do you listen to music while you work?
I do listen to music while I work. Usually it’s classic rock - maybe some Zeppelin, Uncle Acid, Mastodon or Melvins. Lately I've been totally obsessed with shows about music or comics on YouTube and I just listen to those or podcasts. I'm really into Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld interviews right now.
Speaking of Mastodon, the cover you did for Once More 'Round the Sun is some of the best original album art in a very long time. How did that collaboration come about? Did they have a lot of input on the design or did they just let you do your own thing?
You know, it came about because I have the privilege of being friends with their drummer, Brann. He's really smart and fun and sweet and I love him a lot. When he first asked me to do the art, I didn't actually think I was the right guy for the job. I was feeling a little insecure at the time - my relationship with my creative self really fluctuates wildly. But he asked if I would do it and I said yes. He then told me his idea of organic natural occurrences; life and the sun, the seasons of existence, death and all in between. I just started drawing it out and asking him if he liked it, and he was behind my vision all the way. I never once changed anything and it was seriously the best creative commission work I have ever done. I think it's because he had my back and he trusted me.
How did your friendship with Frank Kozik come about and can we expect more collaborations between you two?
Well he emailed me out of the blue because he saw some weird fantasy sculptures I had made (a completely ridiculous experience in itself). He was one of the only people that really understood how cool they were. There was a necro-wizard, a swamp banshee and a vampire berserker. I came down and sold him a set and we just became friends. We shared a studio fora while, which was so great. I've learned a lot from him. They don't make ‘em like Frank anymore. He's seen and done so much it's fucking crazy. But yeah, we will do some projects together, I'm sure of it.
This might be a tough one - your favourite action figure of all time?
HE-MAN! Or the big plastic dragon I had growing up. But mostly any kind of cool little muscular warrior.
If you could own any original artwork by another artist what would it be and why? Oh Jesus. Probably a Frazetta of some kind - maybe one of those classic Conan pieces. Or a Jeff Catherine Jones piece. Or any early Jack Kirby stuff. Why? Because they are fucking heroes!
What’s the story behind the name of your webstore, Critical Hit? Well I wanted to become autonomous as an artist, because you never know where your next buck is going to come from. So my good buddy Alex Pardee and the Zerofriends dudes showed me that you could just have your own webstore and run things for yourself. Initially I wanted to call my company ‘Farting Child’, but Alex thought that name wouldn’t go over so well (he has since changed his mind). Then I realised that my true love is and always has been fantasy and weirdness. I was big into Dungeons and Dragons growing up, so I thought ‘Critical Hit’ would be cool. It's really weird having to brand your work though; I guess I could have just as easily called it ‘Skinners Fucked Up Ideas on Shirts’. I experience some major cognitive dissonance about marketing myself; I see why it’s important on some level, but I hate the fact that I have to brand myself to succeed in this capitalist structure. So yeah, Critical Hit is nerdy and kind of limiting, but it's ok for now.
Any plans to visit Australia one day?
I would love to visit! I have so much love for what artists like James Jirat Patradoon, Deb1, Meggs and Dabs Myla are doing. They're all awesome people and I want to come down there and tear ass.
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