By Andreas Trolf
You know whats great? People who used to skate, because that designation covers pretty much every American male from the ages of 18 to 40. Everyone relates. Every time I skate down the street, someone is sure to be thinking (or vocalizing to me), oh man, I remember how much fun I had on my Rob Roskopp in, like, 1988. That sure was great. Hey, can I see your board?
You guys know how that goes, right? Nothing important ever belongs strictly to you, its always shared and divided and sub-divided and its meaning gets lost in countless mall stores and Mtv shows and summer music tours. But its not just skateboardingits the same with just about everything. No matter how personal it is, it will eventually be parceled out and imbued with a meaning you never meant for it to have. Everything truly good inevitably becomes part of a larger unconscious, and suddenly that thing (the curb you and your 12 year old friends would session for hours, your swimming hole, or maybe your first band in your pals garage) belongs to the world and youre left struggling to hold on to that little spark it ignited in your chest at the very beginning. Dont worry too much, though, because thats just how it is. Invariably, that thing that made you you, will have made countless other people who they are as well. Thats just how it goes, so its best just to acknowledge it and move on and, hopefully, retain a bit of that childlike innocence and infatuation with all that the world can be and still holds in store.
So yeah, like I said, for me that thing was skateboarding. How unoriginal, right? Of course. Theres nothing new under the sun. Who was it that said that? According to the Google box it was in the Bible, in Ecclesiastes, actually. Go figure. Im espousing biblical wisdom. Who would have thought? Holy crap, Ive gone off on a tangent again. I dont know how these things happen, but they do. What was my point here? Oh yeah, skateboarding. And why did I bring up skateboarding? Right. Skateboard graphics. Jim Phillips. All right, Im getting back on track here. Not too fan out too much, but Jim Phillips is the man responsible for pretty much all of the most recognizable and iconic skateboard graphics pretty much ever. So you might be able to imagine a tiny bit how stoked I was when we got to visit Jims house and studio in Santa Cruz last week.
This is what we saw on the beach on our way down there. How California is that? Jeremy Fish and I made the drive along with Daniel and Jurgen, the German dudes who run the Skateboard Fieber museum in Stuttgart.
Heres some historical perspective: When I first started skating in the late 80s the most awesome company was Santa Cruz, and this was due in large part to Jim sitting at the helm of the art department. Along with V. Courtland Johnson and Pushead, Jim defined the aesthetics of skateboarding of the era. Whereas Johnson drew bold, emblematic skulls and snakes, and Pushead pushed over the top gory pointillismboth of them seminal artistsit was Phillips who established a true graphic lexicon. His graphics were not only synonymous with Santa Cruz but managed to become the visual identity of the prosomething notably absent from the majority of skateboard graphics, Mark Gonzalez and Neil Blender notwithstanding. Aside from doing surf and skateboard graphics for well over 30 years, Jim has produced a ton of rock posters for a slew of amazing bands.
We pulled up to Jims house and were greeted by old rusted out Ford trucks strewn about the property. Not in a haphazard way, but deliberately. This was our first time meeting Jim, and we couldnt have asked for a more accommodating and gracious host. He introduced us to his wife, Dolly, and their two grandkids. Then the fanning-out began. Jim basically walked us through the history of skateboard art link, to which his entire house is more or less dedicated.
After showing us the layouts for his new book, Jim led us to this gigantic flat file and proceeded to pull out graphics for us. The way he explained all the graphics to us was amazing because it seemed like he was reliving all the moments connected with each one. Hed pull out, oh I dont know, only the first ever drawing of the Santa Cruz logo,
and then say something like, Yeah, that was a good time do you guys remember Rip Grip?" and pull out another sheaf of drawings.
And from there hed say, Yeah, when I first drew the Independent Trucks logo or, That one Jason Jessee graphic..." and wed just stand there, jaws agape, taking in the history.
Speaking of Rip Grip, there was a whole box of the stuff. There were also rails. This is from a time in skateboarding when everything, every little trinket, was important enough to have its own graphic. Riser pads, foam cutouts, railsJim was in charge of making it cool. And he did. Just look at this box of wheels:
Each wheel had these crazy intricate graphics. Check out the photo up above, the one with the Rip Grip logo. Those other two drawings are wheel graphics. Keep in mind that this was all before the time when you could crank out a half-assed graphic in Illustrator in about 45 minutes.
Slasher couch? No big deal.
Probably Jims single most famous graphic is the Speed Wheels screaming hand, and hes been working it and re-working it for about 20 years. Hes even got a folder filled with photos of tattoos of the hand that people from all over the world have sent him. The latest incarnations of the screaming hand are an alien hand and the rat version.
There were even plastic toy versions of the hand and paintings reproducing it in various styles, like the Cubist one here.
At one point, Jim pulled out a totally rare score: an issue of Santa Cruz comics.
By sheer coincidence, our German pal Daniel had once owned the same issue and had brought it to school when he was a kid to do a report on it. Hed since lost it and had never been able to find another. So you know what? Jim tells him to keep this one and even signs it on the spot. What an epic human being!
The next stop on our tour of Jims house was his actual studio, which is in his garage along with his board collection and some project cars. Jeremy and I kept saying to each other how it would suit us just fine to live this dudes life. Jim seems to have it all figured out. Im an unabashed fan.
Heres the corner of the garage where the magic happens.
Jim told us that he likes to draw by natural light, and so he had all these skylights installed throughout the house. Check out those boards!
Does anyone remember ever actually seeing a photo of this Toyoda dude? Who was this mysterious Japanese dude and what did he do to deserve such an awesome graphic?
And since were on the subject of awesome graphics, do you have any idea what this is?
Oh, only a collaborative graphic between Jim and Court Johnson. Its one of the boards that Jim has done for Pocket Pistols Skateboards. I already ordered mine for the collection.
Do you remember that one Slimeballs ad with Roskopp puking?
We got to talking about Jims new book and Jurgen mentioned that Skateboard Fieber had just done a retrospective of all of Claus Grabkes boards, most of which Jim had done in the 80s as well as Clauss new board on Pocket Pistols. Jim didnt have a decent photo of one of the graphics, so Jurgen hauled out his laptop and burned a cd of photos.
Nerding out over some graphics. Nerds.
It was about then that Jims son, Jimbo, pulled up. Jimbo has followed his father into the family business and has been doing skateboard graphics and band posters for years. Recently, Jimbo did a series of boards for Santa Cruz that parodied his fathers most iconic graphics of the 80s. Those boards were the best thing Santa Cruz has put out in ages. Jim told us that when he first saw the boards he wondered who theyd got to do graphics that could emulate his style so well. Then Jimbo fessed up.
Jimbo also happened to come across a stack of old Thrasher mags in his shed. Again, no big deal, right? Only the first couple of issues from 25 years ago in mint condition.
Oh look, the first Santa Cruz ad to appear in Thrasher. I couldnt even tell you what the dude in the ad is doing. It looks like some kind of layback on top of a set of stairs.
Jimbo, Jim, Daniel, and Fish. Interesting side note: Jim linked Jeremys website on his own site.
After a couple of hours, we thought wed annoyed the Phillips family for long enough. But as it turned out, everyone was having a blast. Jim told us how hed originally set up the Santa Cruz art department in a house he rented from his stepdad, which is where Jimbo and his family now live. They asked if we wanted to take a little drive down the road to see some more skateboard history, but we politely declined and split back to the city. No, actually we jumped at it and a few minutes later we pulled up in front of the former art department and current home.
Out back was the shed where Jimbo had discovered the old Thrasher issues. This place was like a time capsule. Look what Jim found:
Why would you have a sawed-in-half Rob Roskopp deck just lying around? There were tons of hand-painted surfboards, too, and more files of old graphics. We could have spent a day sorting through it all. The best score, though, was this poster of a bunch of Jims graphics.
Three generations of Phillips dudes.
Man, what an epic day. Heres one last photo I took while we were leaving the backyard shed area.
Many thanks to Jim Phillips for being a gracious host, and also thanks to Jimbo and the rest of the Phillips family. Jims new book will be out soonish, but you can get his boards now.
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