This year at the 2013 BMXsociety gathering I met a guy named, Greg, who was hanging out with Mike Daily and Moeller and the S&M dudes. On Sunday, the day after the event, Daily and I went to a lunch gathering of bmx homies over at legendary flatlander, Chad Johnston’s place. There I got to chatting to Greg again and besides being a generally cool dude I found out that he was an artist and one whose work I had long admired… though I had never known the artist’s name! I was stoked when I discovered this, and you probably will be too when I mention that the art work in question is some of those CLASSIC and infamous S&M graphics used on S&M products in the 90’s. Chad had just framed some of the original drawings that the S&M imagery was based on, and as we stood in Chad’s flat admiring the framed images on the wall, I was geeking hard to be standing there with the artist. Greg had to leave early, but we had hit it off and exchanged contact info before he split, back to PDX. Meeting Greg was one of the highlights of the gathering weekend for me. It’s cool to meet homies, there’s some kind of natural recognition that seems a lot like “familiarity”. Unexplainable in some sense, but I know most of you get it, and a lot of you will “recognize” him too.
What follows is an interview comprised of recent chats, so soul bmxers, meet Greg, a soul bmx’er...
What is your BMX background? By that I mean, where did you grow up riding, were you a racer, freestyler, dirt jumper... all of the above, that sort of thing? We'd like to get an understanding of your bmx history.
I grew up in Las Vegas, and in the 70’s and 80’s it was all desert where I lived, and me and all my friends were big time into motorcycles; we used to be so obsessed with jumping at our spot, called "the hollow”, that we’d jump whilst riding someone on the back just to save gas and not miss out. BMX was, of course, a natural extension of good times on two wheels, but we weren’t really into racing; the race track was across town, so we just stayed around our neighborhood, dirt jumping and scrapping around having bb gun wars and such.
Then we started seeing Freestyle pop up and were all into it, saving up for alloy rims and cranks and such like everyone else, seeing how far we could jump and how flat we could tabletop and so on. I was fully mad about BMX Freestyle, I really tapped into the open format and just the whole vibe and energy of it; it was literally in the process of being invented, and you could feel it. I can’t overstate how important BMX became to me at that time; my parents were freshly divorced and my dad was gone, and all I had was my knucklehead buddies and a bike. Like many people reading this, BMX saved me from some pretty crummy times, and I embraced it completely.
What brought you down to LA that first weekend in June? Were you here to see Chad and the S&M guys or support Mike Daily at his reading, or was it just a coincidence? What did you think of the BMX Society show at Whittier Narrows?
Chad and I had recently got back in touch, and he suggested I come down that weekend. We had been talking about the old days and all that stuff, talking about my unearthing of the original SandM art, and he thought it’d be cool to frame it and have it on for view at the BMX Society Whittier event at SandM tent. It was well received, and we had a blast hanging out, reminiscing, and meeting new people and such. Also on the roster was Mike’s reading, and the Haro book release, both at the Bicycle Source, so it was the perfect storm!
How long have you been drawing? Since you first picked up a pencil, or was it something that developed later in life?
I’ve been into drawing since I was about 8 or 9. I’d always liked it from what I remember, but I really tucked into it when my buddy Tony and I made up this character, “Toro” who was based loosely on our favorite movie “Death Race 2000”. We used to draw all kinds of gadgets and vehicles that would gear him up, and I connected then with the idea of creating something from nothing, and from then I was absolutely hooked.
How old were you when you became aware that you had real skills as an artist?
I never really thought about my skill set until about eighth grade, when I painted the Oingo Boingo record cover for “only a lad” on the back of my sister's army trench coat. I had always been drawing and such until then, but when I did that, just from sight, I knew I had some discernible skill. It was such an empowering experience; I couldn’t believe I pulled it off.
What are your favorite art mediums? Do you paint, draw, sculpt, play music, etc?
My favorite mediums fluctuate and rotate a lot, usually contingent upon what I can afford, and where my attention is focused at the time, and what kind of work I‘m getting, but by and large my favorite mediums are pen and ink, one-shot enamel, and oils. I’ve had seriously fun experiences with sculpting, tattooing, graffiti, photography, graphic design, etc. from which I’ve learned a ton, and have undoubtedly informed myself and my work. I tend to adopt the “jack of all trades, master of none” approach that’s come from years of never turning down a job, regardless of my experience with the medium.
If you had to describe your artistic style to a stranger who had not seen your work, what would you say?
I would say that my style is a cheeky form of visual dark humor.
What do you think of the term “outsider art”? Would you consider yourself an “outsider artist”?
I think the fact that I had to look that up pretty much sums it up! I mean, I intend to be an artist, I work on my style and try different approaches, do my homework, and work to keep my studio busy with fun and challenging projects, trying not to be too far out of the loop; however, the term “outsider” automatically registers to me that there is most definitely an “inside”, and I’m surely not there either. I’ve recently read that “the life of an artist is the best one, provided you survive the first 40 years of it”, and that more accurately sums it up for me, as I’m more concerned with longevity, and consistently banging it out. I would say though that my point of view has always been from the outside looking in, and I wouldn’t change that one bit.
Have you ever taken art classes or courses, or are you a total “natural”?
I went to art school many years ago, and have studied and taken classes over the years, but I consider my “on the job” experience to be the real meat of my art education and training. I feel natural in the way of creativity, originality, and style, but I’ve got work always, always, always on my technical proficiency; I’m not very naturally precise, I depend on improvisation probably way too much.
Have you ever done a comic?
Yes, just one, a pretty deconstructed mess of one that was great fun, and done in concert with a very cool and talented friend of mine, Doug. We printed them in limited run, it was called “Marked for Life”, after the Poison Idea song.
What artists if any have influenced you?
Bob Haro, Danny Breeden, George Trosley, Vern Kent, Robert McGinnis, Don Martin,Sabastio Salgado, James Nachtwey, Pedro Almodovar, R.Crumb, George Barris, Charles Bukowski, Otto Dix, AA Gill, Philippe Petit, ,Michael Doret, Black Flag, Raymond Pettibon, Twist, Kool Keith,
Do you prefer Pre-Rollins or Rollins era Black Flag?
A hotly contested issue, that! For me, most definitely Rollins era; I saw them play while on the same tour “live ‘84” was recorded, and “My War”, “Slip it In”, and all that stuff they were doing then was just my absolute groove: the DIY relentless touring , the musicianship and songs, the art aesthetic of Raymond Pettibon, all dark humor, anger, attitude, and just naked originality and moxie were hugely influential to me, and still are.
Do you listen to music when you do art? What genre(s) gets your creative juices flowing?
I constantly listen to music, it is the perfect pairing for me. I usually choose music depending on the media I’m working in, and though tastes and genre vary, I most often listen to punk and metal types of aggressive goodness.
With pinstriping, I lean toward Band of Horses, 70’s/80’s era dub, or classic country, with drawing its all over the place, but at some point usually ends up in Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, with painting its usually very heavy rhythmic jams like High on Fire, Motorhead, etc. Lately, tons of Mercyful Fate and MF Doom. Play list steadies and a few faves are Keelhaul, Red Fang, The Dillinger Escape Plan, High on Fire, Neurosis, Converge, COC (Mike Dean singing era) Big Boys, Offenders, RKL, Poison Idea, all that John Reis/Rick Froberg wizardry, the list is endless really.
By the way… asking you what artists you like was a question for which I was really anticipating the answer. I knew some but not all these names, and enjoyed googleing each, especially the painters, and illustrators and then going into the image section of google and just taking it all in. I really enjoyed that.
That is really cool to hear and get feedback on, thanks! I love to research peoples references after reading interviews or bios, I find tons of information that way and I enjoy seeing what pushes and inspires others; for me, it serves as a constant reminder of just how unhip and behind the times I really am, a rough lesson...
Name a couple of artists whose work you really admire, whether or not they've been an influence on your style.
James Nachtwey, Banksy.
How did you become the illustrator for the early S&M graphics, and for what S&M products have you created art?
If I am remembering correctly, Chris asked Jeff Tremaine, who did stuff for him previously but he was booked up, so he recommended me (thanks Jeff ); I had met Chris here and there over the years, and the collaboration was a pretty straightforeward one, basically I was allowed to do pretty much whatever. I did the “FMF” knock, the “DG” knock the “Holmes”, “Dirt Bike”, “Heavy as Fuck”, the “Piece o’ Pipe”, and the “Good Cheap Pegs” graphics. Matter of fact, there is a “Holmes” design I still have around that never made production, I think I pushed the envelope a bit hard-on it.
Have you worked for other companies in BMX or skating?
I’ve done work for Homeless Bikes, New Deal Skateboards, Freestylin’, Go, Aggro Rag, Very Small Records and Big Brother, to name a few.
I didn’t realize Tremaine was an artist outside of the film genre, I mean in terms of drawing, painting etc.
Yeah, he’s a real good artist; I haven’t seen his stuff in a long time, but the last I saw, years ago, was his art show and he did some sweet acrylic on masonite portraits and such.
What do you do now? Tell us what a typical day is for you.
I drive a garbage truck for my day job, so my days kick off pretty early; typically, I get up at 4:15, do a bit of yoga and have a coffee, head to work for about 10 hours or so, drawing and striping and tending to art business on my breaks. I have a pretty busy studio so usually three or four jobs going at once, so when I get home, I cook, ride, relax and then get to work on art stuff; I usually get to sleep around midnight or so. Weekends I have my girls, so we charge into what ever, and I stay up late working after they crash out.
How long have you been practicing yoga… how did you get into it? The reason I ask is that I have a fairly serious interest in yoga. I’m not sure if you were aware, but I just moved back to the USA in 2010, after 18 years in Nepal mostly, but India pretty extensively as well. Yoga was the main factor in bringing me there at the turn of the 90’s.
Wow! I should be the one interviewing you, I’d love to hear about your experiences out there. My yoga practiceis very roughly laid out, and mostly invloves going through some Bikram moves in the morning to the sounds of Black Sabbath. I used to go fervently to Bikram a few times a week, but I dont really have the time, and got a bit frustrated with the studio I was going to, so I just went into home practice mode. Yoga is many things to many people, as you well know, but primarily for me its about consistent flexibility, strength and blood flow. It is the best thing, really, especially for aging bmxers.
While at your “day job” what’s the best thing you’ve ever seen thrown away?
That’s a long list to tap into; in 15 years I’ve seen some incredibly cool stuff get tossed, from Bultaco motorcycles to ipads to a priceless rare knife collection. One of the best things I’ve seen though, was this time my partner and I pulled up on a huge stack of boxes and garbage, and chucked it all in and kept ripping through the route, and after about an hour or so this man pulls up and jumps out of his car, asking if we dumped a huge stack of boxes, of course we said yes and explained the company’s “unlimited” garbage policy and such, thinking he was going to tip us for taking his huge mountain of junk. As it turns out, we had thrown out ALL of his personal stuff; he was in the process of moving, and set his goods waaay too close to his garbage. All we, including him, could do was laugh our asses off out there in the Vegas heat.
Ever come across old bmx bikes?
I very rarely do. Back in Vegas, once in a while, but now here in Portland, no way; in the age of Ebay, undiscovered gems, dumpster diamonds and thrift store scores are a rare thing.
Do your daughters show any aptitude for the visual arts?
Yes, they do; they go all over the map creatively, surprising me with sewing projects, Manga, clay modeling, jewelry making, etc. I encourage them to do whatever, and it so nutty and inspiring sometimes to see what they do; I try not edit or direct too much of their aesthetic, but I’ll still kick in to tastemaker mode here and there. I’m always mindful to avoid being one of those “design” parents that needs everything just so.
Having been featured in some of the original issues, naturally Greg Higgins had to sign a few copies as well.