I’ve got in touch with Evan Hecox through my friend Hyland Mather, who’s worked together with him an various exhibitions and projects. And have interviewed him for various magazines throughout the years. This article was written for the German skateboard magazine called Place.
Translated to German and published in Place magazine (DE)
No English proof read
According to himself, he must have designed about a thousands skateboards during the last eleven years. More importantly his artwork for Chocolate and Girl have formed an important part of the visual language of skateboarding. Hecox describes his own work as ‘boring’ and himself as ‘the least cool person at an exhibition’. But by enhancing seem fully unimportant landscape elements with color, composition and shapes Hecox makes the everyday life interesting.
Subtle and calm are perhaps more fitting descriptions for his artwork. With a great eye for detail Hecox incorporates various typographic elements, everyday objects and the urban landscape into his work. In one of his works we can see a street corner in Chinatown, pedestrians are waiting for a red light and a old woman is crossing the street with her groceries. On the wall next to the Chinese vendor is a dripping tag. In the background are weighing scales. In an interview with I.D magazine Hecox describes his own style as follows; “I try to make my work fairly subtle because I think it will have a longer shelf life that way. It’s kind of based more on observations and the way I see the world and less about having a distinct personal style. I’m a fairly boring person, so I guess you could say it’s an extension of my personality.”
His paintings are structured in layers, and therefore people often confuse his paintings for prints. A residue of his study, where he developed a love for the screen printing classes. After his time on Colorado State University Hecox arrives to San Francisco where he start working as a graphic designer for the t-shirt brand Twist. And soon thereafter skateboard company Chocolate. During this time San Fransisco is the epicenter of a flourishing alternative art scene, which derives from the skateboard and graffiti culture. Hecox and artists friends are in the midst of the Beautiful Losers group, before Aaron Rose named this group and transformed it into a successful touring group show and feature documentary.
When was the first time that you thought that a career in graphic design would be something for you?
My dad was a graphic designer and artist so I was aware of all of that from an early age. I was good at drawing and rendering things when I was young. I can remember doing artwork that was really graphic and illustrative in nature when I was about ten or eleven. As I went through school, I started really liking my drawing, painting and printmaking classes much more than my graphic design classes. I felt conflicted at the end of it because I knew that fine art was what I cared about but I knew I needed to earn a living and so graphic design seemed more practical.
So that was the reason you started as a graphic designer when you got out of school?
I didn’t come from a family with a lot of money so by the time I was out of school and living in San Francisco I just had to support myself the best way I knew how. I was working primarily for a snowboard clothing company doing logos, t-shirt graphics and ads. That was the first job that got me into working on deadlines and actually seeing my work produced and sold. I think overall my involvement in graphic design had more to do with fundamental survival than with any idealistic approach to it. I’ve always taken pride in anything I’ve done, but at least in the early days graphic design felt more like a skilled trade rather than a calling or a passion. Later on as my work matured I started to infuse a more personal, artistic approach into it.
What was your time at Chocolate skateboards like? Did you get all the freedom to do whatever you wanted, or were there guidelines?
Well I was always pretty lucky in terms of freedom, both creatively and in my work schedule. I’ve always worked with Andy Jenkins and Rick Howard on concepts for board graphics. Both of them are easy-going and creative. Andy is also a fine artist, so he’s very sympathetic to the idea of artistic integrity and just generally has good taste. Overall, I think they understand what a lot of art directors don’t, which is that the way to get the best creative work out of people is if you let them have some control, respect their ideas and leave them alone.
What is the design, or the series, of skateboards that you consider to be your favorite, and why?
I did a portrait graphic, split on two boards of the pro skater Marc Johnson with a black eye and a cigarette and the whole things done in tones of pink and red. I liked that one just because it’s ridiculous and reminds me of how non-serious skateboarding is, it’s the kind of nonsense that attracted me to it in the first place.
Did you ever made a design that got rejected?
Of course, plenty of things I’ve done have been rejected, in part or whole. Usually it’s just an aspect of something that needs to be changed, typically not the entire thing. It can be for any variety of reasons. It’s usually a conceptual problem, not a matter of me just drawing badly or being sloppy. Communication is important, being on the same page when you start out. I’ve had some projects go bad because of too much freedom being given, where the client says “do whatever you want” then I spend time doing it and then they say “oh, but that’s not what we wanted”. I never really get upset by it though, you just can’t, it’s all part of doing work for other people. Sometimes you nail it sometimes you don’t.
When did your work started getting into art galleries?
There was never a time when I felt satisfied just doing design work alone. I looked at my personal work as sort of a retreat from the real world, something that I could do that was very internal and almost meditative. I had a very small studio off my garage at my apartment where I would work late nights and weekends. I was primarily making ink wash drawings and monoprints. I would also go out and about in San Francisco and make small watercolor paintings in a sketchbook on the streets. I liked the idea of using a very traditional medium like watercolors, which tends to be used to paint conventionally pretty pictures of flowers and pastoral scenes, and then highjacking it to render things like people loitering and drinking beer outside a corner liquor store.
This was the work that I really liked doing, but few people ever saw it and I certainly hadn’t sold any of it. I just kept making it though and occasionally people would visit my studio and take a liking to the work, leave and tell other people about it. Eventually other artists who knew what I was doing asked me to get involved with art shows, which at the time was a foreign concept to me.My friend Thomas Campbell invited me to take part in a group show at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco which included many artists who were more experienced which was intimidating form me but it was a good first step into showing work. From there I did a few more group shows at small galleries.
It’s interesting to hear an artist describe himself as boring, what makes you describe yourself like that?
That’s funny, yea I suppose it just depends on how much a person sees the concept of boringness as either good or bad. I actually have an appreciation for boring things and don’t think that boring necessarily means uninteresting or intellectually hollow. Maybe boring in the context I place it in is more a state of mental calmness and serenity. I’m thinking of boring artwork as having to do with self-restraint. I feel like more and more our culture is geared toward making things faster, louder, easier, and exciting and that all of this caters to people with limited intelligence and short attention spans. Things that are made with the intention of just being exciting burn themselves out too quickly and are soon relegated to the garbage pile of the trendy and frivolous.
What’s next up for Evan Hecox? Are you working on new projects?
Blues musicians used to use the term “wood shedding” which was basically when they would go hide out in the wood shed or garage for a few weeks and play and work out their ideas before coming back to recording or performing. That’s sort of what I’m doing now. I’ve just been trying to put on the brakes a bit and slow things back down to a more manageable working pace where I’m more in control of my own time and producing larger, more patient work.