An Artist Living in a Material World
Words by Ali Klinkenberg | All photos Derek Bahn C.R.Stecyk is among the top five surf and skate culture influencers currently living. If you don’t know who he is then you really need to hit your history books. Ours isn’t very dense, so it should’t take very long to find him in the index. Alternatively, you […]
Words by Ali Klinkenberg | All photos Derek Bahn
C.R.Stecyk is among the top five surf and skate culture influencers currently living. If you don’t know who he is then you really need to hit your history books. Ours isn’t very dense, so it should’t take very long to find him in the index. Alternatively, you could watch the seminal documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Mr Stecyk was the multimedia force behind the Dogtown movement. Filmer, photographer, writer, artist, the visionary behind the scenes. Since then he’s gone on to become a prolific street artist, and a surfboard shaped and painted by Stecyk currently resides in the permanent archive of the Smithsonian Museum. Craig’s been working with Hurley of late, and has recently produced a one off trunk with iconic New York Street artist Eric Haze. We caught up with Craig to pick the brain of one of the most left field gents in the surf and skate realm.
When did you realize that you might be able to make a living out of this counter-culture thing? My operational interest is centered on the reconfiguration and reutilisation of materials and propositions. Aesthetics is based on turning obstacles into opportunities. Essentially this involves the transference of physical purpose as well as the change of meaning in a metaphoric sense. If I wanted to make a living I’d do something easy like capturing all of the space junk travelling at 1700 miles per hour and turning it into jewellery.
Craig and John, workshopping.
Is your art organic, or does it need a considerable push out the door? I wake up in the morning and for a blissful moment I do not know who or what or where I am. Being confused is my favourite part of life. Ambiguity harkens in the distance, so I chase after what no one can ever obtain.
What’s the biggest myth about Dogtown? That it is a location, rather than a state of mind.
Who’s the most influential skateboarder of all time? Jay Adams for attitude and style. Steve Rocco for industrial conniptions. Paul Schmitt for technological achievement. Rob Dyrdek for marketing.
Who’s the most influential surfer of all time? Kamehameha I was the greatest wave slider of the Hawaiian Kings. Duke Kahanamoku was the most influential of the ali’i, and he participated in four Olympic Games winning three gold and two silver medals, was featured in Hollywood movies for forty years and became the Sheriff of Honolulu for thirteen terms. Tom Blake and George Greenough are neck and neck for design leadership. And then there’s Slater 11X who just might have a working wave machine that will inculcate the future.
What do you think of surf culture right now? There is so much haute couture floating about that the oceans are in danger of boiling over. The act of surfing interests me far more than the business of surfing.
Are surfing and skateboarding more disconnected now than they were in the Dogtown days? Most contemporary top performers appear to be equally adept at both activities. You cannot really excel at one without being extremely knowledgeable about the other. There is a symbiosis between the oeuvres. So in that sense I’d say it’s the same as it was back in the DT ethos.
Come into my office.
Is skateboarding more culturally significant than surfing? We are balanced on a spinning sphere which is 71 percent covered by water, and yet as a whole, it is devolving into a paved and poisoned planet. So the playing fields are in flux making it difficult to determine relative scale between activities.
Which artist has had the most influence on your artistic endeavours? Oskar Barnak.
When did you first become aware of Eric Haze? In 1981 I was at Patti Astor’s Fun Gallery for general r&r and was routed by Andy Kessler into conviviality with Zoo Yorkers like Eric and Andrew Witten AKA Zephyr. The commonalities were obviously graff/surfing/skating and racing motors. After a time Haze and I crossed up on Super X Media joints in the US and in Nippon. We both painted surfboards/cars/skates way back when. Haze also lived near me in LOS for a dozen years and we parlayed on the MOPAR tip. Eric went back to Gotham, fell in with his love and meanwhile… I was working through some board design concepts with John Pyzel and simultaneously working in the same darkroom as JJ Florence. In short order Haze materialized and we built up an all terrain Chevy van replete with serigraph/letterpress printing capability, cases of spray paint, a working Leica Enlarger and darkroom and a pair of JJF/Pyzels. It is an interactive and vengeful proposition capable of creating aesthetic mayhem. Shit that works is our modus operandi.
Who’s your favourite modern day surfer? On some days John John is the most provocative surfer that I see, and Greyson Fletcher is the skater that I perceive to be pushing the boundaries the most. And then another day they switch places and Greyson is the surf lead and JJF is the skate stand out. But on the really disturbing days Mother Florence is the best vert rider at the skate park and Grandfather Fletcher is tops on the wave sliding plank. Maybe this is some sort of a generational DNA thing?
Where’s the most creative hub in the United States right now? On the art books it is a toss up between Detroit Michigan and Marfa Texas. On the social register it is either north Malibu or Park Avenue south NYC. On the unregulated front, it is anyplace you can go off. And that is pretty much anyplace at all.
Do you believe in the creative pendulum that swings from place to place? It’s all about people interacting and inadvertently arriving at a rarefied inexplicable mix. All things are perpetually morphing and shifting. Change is the only constant.
Was the pendulum hovering over Venice beach in the seventies? Venice at the time of its founding in 1907 was a European styled city replete with a canal system and grand plazas surrounded by wondrous Palladian colonnaded architecture. It was endowed with institutions of culture and an elaborate public arts program. It also had massive amusement parks, fun zones, freak shows, an automobile race course and an airport. Its fortunes subsequently declined and the area fell into disrepair. Out of this rubble came the jazz, beat and hippy scenes of the fifties and sixties. The seventies were a remarkable time of wide-open experimentation and counter-cultural ferment. Urban renewal and regentrification have since re-defined the area in an upward spiral of real estate speculation and the proliferation of more prosaic “proper” entertainments and creature comforts. Venice is currently ranked at the top of Southern California tourist destinations along with Disneyland and Universal Studios.
What are the biggest challenges facing an artist who wants to be true to his art, but also needs to make a living? Maintaining good form while dumpster diving.
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