It is rare that you meet someone early in life that appears to live on parallel tracks. After attending the same high school, undergrad university, and similar graduate programs located in the same city hundreds of miles from Atlanta, Georgia, Chris Hall and I have experienced a lot of the same things, at moments completely unaware of the other's situations. We've stayed in touch for many years and have helped each other out whenever possible. I say all of this because Chris has a received some well deserved attention from the art world in Atlanta with a review of his upcoming exhibitions opening March 2nd, 2018 at Blue Mark Studios. An installation of 1,355 drawings, some of which were part of the Clarence Emmons deck release in Atlanta from 2015, will be display for one night only, so this should not be missed.
Below is a conversation between Bender Hardware Atlanta legend Jeremiah Babb and Slapstik artist Shawn Beeks. These two have known each other for more than 20 years and spoke in July 2017 about the skateboard industry, art, and what it means to be yourself. Additional images and interviews from this time period can be found in zine inserts of the Slapstik Skateboard Art Safety Face 2 deck available online and in select skate shops.
JB----1996, Why start a skateboard company? How did you find sources for boards, printing shirts, stickers, etc?
SB - In 1996, I was splitting my time drawing and painting at the University of Georgia and skating with a core group of about 15 guys all over Athens. I knew at some point I would need to start selling artwork, but couldn't figure out how to do it since it was pretty heavy handed. Skateboarding was going through a period where outsider companies like Calvin Klein and the Army were posting ads in magazines, conflicting with the identity and code of skateboarding that I grew up with in the mid to late 80s. Starting a board company was the best way for me to voice my ideas and beliefs while promoting the artwork coming out of my studio. What it also did was show others with similar beliefs and thoughts that they weren't alone with the voices in their heads, and it was ok to question the things going on at the time. As far as resources go, my friend Woody started a company called Pickle and needed someone to do the art. Woody eventually got out of selling boards and I kind of took over his production account with the manufacture. I worked as a screen printer at Screeners run by a guy named Jeff who allowed us to print shirts on our own time, which give me the hands on experience of learning how printing and design worked. Stickers anyone could get through a supplier called Sticker Guy, who I still use today. Most of this stuff is accessible to everyone with the internet. In 1996 you just had to try a little harder.
----You hand drew every board graphic to size, right? Why go that obviously difficult route? Although there was one Raped Inc logo board, every board has been meticulous art, to scale, right? And primarily black and white.
Right. Up until 2002 I drew everything, including the color separations, by hand. I'm a classically trained artist who entered school at a time when programs like Illustrator and Photoshop were being introduced to the students. I can be really stubborn, and didn't want to change no matter how much more time it took. All the graphics were drawn to scale with pencils, pens, brushes and whiteout pens, and they took forever to complete. Making them black and white cut down on the production time and forced the viewer to pay attention to the message. I didn't see the point in hiding a message behind pretty colors, at least not at the time.
----Each graphic had serious meanings behind them. beaten women, business men using the backs of others as a ladder, Jesus crucified backwards, insulting the Olympics, the CK One graphic, what was the response from shops in the deep south when you showed up with these boards? Was it totally over their heads, or did they even notice the graphics?
HAHA! Everyone noticed the graphics. If they didn't at first, they pulled them from the wall or spray painted over them. Most shops didn't really know what to do. I remember walking into shops and seeing challenging, even offensive graphics covering the racks, but that's what made skateboarding so good. You were sometimes forced into uncomfortable situations, whether physically in the act of skating, or intellectually when looking at art by Mark Mckee or Jim Phillips. Most shops in the southeast didn't get it. They were afraid to ask what the graphics meant, and just as afraid of having customers get offended for not asking as well. One thing I can say is the shops that did ask why were typically the ones who bought the decks and supported the brand because they could understand it.
----I heard the rumor that after the wood shop got the graphics for one particular board, there was a phone call made to you.
You're talking about the backwards crucifixion. Yeah, I got a call from my manufacture about a week after I mailed the artwork and was told he didn't really feel comfortable printing an image of Jesus on the cross mooning you. We had a good talk about its commentary on the branding of religion and he agreed to print it. I'm glad he called and wanted to talk about it rather than just refusing to do it. Again, that represents what skateboarding could be, stopping to ask why before accepting what's put before your wallet.
---- How did Jamie Thomas come to criticize and confront you about not only the name, Raped Inc, but the board graphics?
Where do I begin with this one. Each year, between 96 and 98 all of us in Athens would take a road trip to contest at Tampa to hang out and eventually find our way to Ebor City. I believe it was 97 when I brought a few shirts with me to the contest to get some feedback from people in the industry. I ran into Jamie Thomas and offered him a shirt with the mission statement on it because he was a big name leading the market at the time and I respected his opinion. He took a look at it, long enough to read the name, and handed it back to me stating "You won't sell anything with that name." I wasn't prepared for that because it contradicted his rebellious image, but it did let me know he was first and foremost a businessman. That's all there really is to say about that.
---- I'm sure people, open minded skaters such as DLX, had more of an understanding, right?
Not really. Large brands like DLX do a lot for people under their tent and communities throughout the country, but one thing you have to remember is none of it has a chance to go unnoticed. It's all PR. They're very smart in the way that they've figured out how to maintain their sales by churning out bright, eye catching graphics capable of poking fun of things, but never digging underneath the surface to address serious problems. The best comparison I can think of is a Warhol factory with 15 minutes of fame on a constant loop. There's no room for substance because it will get drowned out by the noise.
----There was always a team, but it never felt like the team was selling the boards. It felt like people were all in or disgusted based on the name and art alone. The team just seemed to be almost the dudes who were carrying a flag and supporting the ideas and direction. Does that make sense? How did you come up with choosing the team?
Yeah, for the most part, that makes sense. I looked for people I could hold a conversation with, enjoyed skating with, and most importantly had a desire to contribute to the image and ideas of the company. In that sense, it was more like a conversation rather than a sponsorship. I could always count on Chris Head to contribute some crazy ideas going well beyond what I thought I could get away with, which gave me a good starting point to work away from. Tyler Kline was always a source for abstract, borderline conspiracy theory input that's gotten more passionate over the years. Jeremiah, Mike Summers, and Nick Turner all fueled with the company with youth and excitement of what was possible on and off a skateboard. It was enjoyable just to watch people grow up.
---- I think that's one of the biggest points missed by kids, is that it really is all business. Every company that's marketed and put out there lives and dies by sales. And it seems that the majority of the "owners" whether they're who the magazines portray them to be or the money behind the scenes, would happily say, "Well, that was fun while it lasted. What’s my next investment?" or, how can we re-brand this into a modern company that kids will buy. It's a shame that reality isn't the romantic video/magazine persona. I've had many times during my sponsor-life, aka the best damn intern you'll ever have, that I said to people, "I should have just stuck with Shawn. At least he's true and I fully believe the vision."
As much as I would have liked to keep riders on indefinitely, I realized that it was in their best interest to see what the rest of the industry was like, even if just to give them some perspective on how it works. I remember telling everyone riding for me that raped inc. or Slapstik was just stepping stone to help them along to sponsors that could do more for them. It was really hard to tell someone that I didn't think it was right for them to come back to the company because as much as I may have wanted to support them, I knew that their ideas and skills needed a place of their own to grow without the limitations of my brands. Sometimes believing in something isn't always the best feeling.
---But the news is just a filtered version of happenings, right? People are super opinionated now, violently at times, but surely there are things to address and ways to do it. I thought the drawing with the Islam water fountain ripped off the wall was brilliant. It was truly a raped inc graphic. And finally, if people are being silenced by those in power, do you think those people are trying to gain some form of power themselves? I know that's not skateboard related, like we're speaking of, but the best thing about your art and brand is that there has never been a struggle for power or acceptance. It's here, 22 years, and if you're interested, come around it. It's been my favorite thing about Raped Inc and Slapstik. Terrible "marketing" strategy, but beautifully romantic, and exactly how I grew up skating and pulling from punk rock tunes.
The majority of the news has been curated in a lot of media outlets to echo the opinions of the people watching it, but that doesn't mean that all the news you may disagree with is "fake." It just means you have to look at multiple news sources from around the world to get a better view of what's happening here. I think your statement about the news easily applies itself to marketing in skateboarding. Kids want to be entertained with images and videos that fit their beliefs and lifestyles. Anything stripped of those elements that boost their self-esteem is often seen as a threat and dismissed. Think of Stereo in the 90s, and more recently Dylan when he rode for Gravis. If you didn't fit, you were dismissed. I've just tried to be a honest as possible, which as you know is a terrible marketing strategy in an industry that is built on fantasies.
---- Do they owe us a living?
Of course they do.
Jenkenmag was nice enough to take notice of the Casual Encounters skateboard graphics designed by Ivette Spradlin and Lenore Thomas from Pittsburgh, PA in November 2017 article Dissecting the Dick Pic. ANTHONY PAPPALLARDO & LARRY LANZA 's article delve into skateboarding's complicated relationship with bodies, censorship and capitalism. Take a few minutes to read, and a few days to think about it.
Do Something is a fundraising campaign designed to raise funds for nonprofits playing an active role is representing and defending the rights of minority populations in the United States targeted by hate groups, individuals, corporations, and sometimes politicians. The goal of Do Something is to raise awareness and support for proactive organizations through donations. In exchange for donations of $5 to $50 skateboarders will receive products they would have purchased anyway including shirts, wheels, videos, and decks from skateboard companies sponsoring the event. Nonprofits for each event are chosen according to current and ongoing issues in need of attention.
This event started primarily as a fundraiser for the NAACP Defense Fund to coincide with the release of The Slapstik Skateboard Art Safety Face 2 deck, a response to the August 12th, 2017 Charlottesville protest and murder of Heather. After further reflection it was clear that an attack on one oppressed group in America is an attack on all of us, thus prompting the inclusion of the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign.
Included with each Safety Face 2 deck will come with a new Benderzine celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Raped Inc. Skateboards’ start in Athens, Georgia in 1996. Raped Inc., started by Shawn Beeks years after reading Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, ran for 5 years serving as a way to start conversations in skateboarding about politics, violence, and identity. At its end in 2001, Raped Inc. became Slapstik Skateboards, which continues to address these same issues of politics and identity with a more humorous tone.
Please join us at Brook Run Skatepark on October 14th, from 1-4pm for the fundraiser and Slapstik Skateboard Art deck release.
MICHEAL ASHFORD, BETTER KNOW AT TATER, OR MR. TOT, IS A LONG TIME RESIDENT AND ARTIST OF NEW ORLEANS WHO SPENDS HIS DAYS AND NIGHTS MAKING ART INHABITANTS FOR PEOPLE'S HOMES. MICHEAL'S DEDICATION TO TO DETAIL CAN EASILY BE SEEN IN THE COLORFUL WORKS HE PRODUCES FOR ART FAIRS AND SMALL BUSINESSES IN NEW ORLEANS AND THE COLORING BOOKS HE'S CREATED FOR ALL AGES.
What's your name?
Micheal "Tater Tot/ Mr. Tot" Ashford.
How did you get the name Tater, Mr. Tot?
The legend is pretty uninteresting. I had been on a hiatus from the skate scene and I was coming back to a new shop opening up. Earlier in the day my friend Ben just looked at me and said "you look like a Tater Tot." I didn't think anything of it but when we meet the new shop owners before I had a chance he said "This is Tater Tot" and so the saga begins.
Where do you live?
NOLA! New Orleans, LA
How long have you lived there?
8yrs or so.
What got you interested in making art?
It's always been apart of my life. From drawing, coloring, or building things. Even in regular schoolwork I would draw elaborate diagrams or pictures from the book to study.
Do you think drawing a visual helps you gain a better understanding of things?
It's a therapy for me. My mind is constant whirlwind of noise and pictures. It all slows down just a bit when I'm working.
Have you seen any differences in the way you make, or promote images you've made for yourself and for others, like Sever Provisions, or the Slapstik deck you designed?
There's a definite difference. You have a outside influence that you're trying to cater to and a lot of time you have to water down your work. It's a practice in telepathy or mind melding in a way. As far as promotion goes when it's in collaboration with a company I try to promote myself more because it's not just for me. You have to help the company too who is kind enough to invite you in on a project. I'm pretty lax in self promotion. I just get stuck in the work.
How do you define art?
I think anyone can be an artist because I feel like if you put your all into something and people recognize that and appreciate it then you're an artist in your field, in your art. I guess I define art as a need, want, passion, etc.
How do you participate int the arts community where you live?
I participate in the Magazine Street Art Market and pop-up shows. I'm an artist for a local outdoor life company called "Sever Provisions". Really anytime I have a chance to help or promote art I'm ready.
How do you define success in art?
It's not so much a monetary thing. A little helps just for more supplies but like I was saying earlier to see someone appreciate and feel the love you put into something. Like you've made something someone else wants to love and take home. Marrying off kids.
Who are some of the artists or people who influence your work?
There are sooooo many. All of my parents are hard workers and have crafts that they're artisans themselves. My friend Andrew at Midcity Handmade. His dedication, work ethic, and the pieces he puts out are simply extraordinary. Marc Fresh has been putting out stuff in BR for a long time and I use to think "whoa! Who is this person? I want to do that!" Obviously skate art growing up. I didn't go to art school or anything so getting a catalogue was my school and there was so much input. It was great. I feel like back in the day there was more art on boards as opposed to more of graphic driven boards now. Years later I got Andy Howells book 'Art, Skateboarding, and Life' and grew up loving his work and then I read the book and was like I need to change everything and keeping me on the trail I'm trying to blaze.
What would you like to do with your art in the future?
I have tons of ideas and they grow everyday. So really to be able to delegate my time better so I can get to all the projects I have planned and to just keep refining my work.
Where would you like to see it and what do you think is the best way to get it there?
I don't have a end game or specific place I'd like to show. Each time someone purchases and loves a piece that does it for me. Everything else is happy lagniappe. Seeing stuff on people's walls, on stuff for Sever, and the "Forest Entry" are happy surprises that I never thought would happen so it's really humbling.
Are there any closing words you'd like to add?
Let your heART burn I guess. Blah.
Any people you would like to thank?
Oh my. My mom! Nothing would happen with out her. All my parents and family. Paul at Sever. You (Shawn) at Slapstik. Emily, you’re so cool. Chimento has done so much for me. All of my friends! Anders, Molly, Ben, Amy,Nah, Hannah all amazing supporters and artists in they're areas. Rukus, Chief, and Heartthrob for being my first platforms to put work on things. Also The Duke and Randa! And Hey! Cafe. Andy Howell and really, so many more. Doing a "thank you" list is my worst nightmare. I'm going to have to write a book on day. I love ALL of you with ALL! Merci!
To see more of Tater's art and designs visit Mr. Tot's Markings, Sever Provisions, and Slapstik Skateboard Art.
Forage Space Gallery in Scranton, Pa will be exhibiting a vast collection of drawings by Shawn Beeks with the hopes that many of them will not return home with him to Philadelphia. Works posted include illusttrations from Cat News, Arthur Asks, Jesus Answers, Flirting with Plastic Surgery, 100% Proven Ways to Enlarge Your Penis, Fairy Tales and other Lies, and various rejected submissions to history books. Drawings will be hung salon stye and available to take home upon purchase. Hope to see you there. And skateboards. There will be skateboards.
For more information, visit foragespace.com.
The Mr. Arm and Rachel at Trundle Manor locating in the hills of Pittsburgh were kind enough to provide temporary home for the paintings and prints of Slapstik Skateboard Art and Pusher Wheels artist Shawn Beeks. During the month of September and mid October of 2015 you will be able see the comedic nightmares illustrated in oils amongst the walls of taxidermic experiments at the manor. Pittsburgh's City Paper promoted the opening here. You still have time to check out the show and if you're in Pittsburgh on October 16th, come by for the closing.
Slapstik Skateboard Artist Andrew Thomas was interviewed by What Jasper Said reporter David Bland in his article Pushing Further. David and Andrew discussed his creative process and Andrew's involvement with Slapstik for his guest artist deck release in May 2015. Below is a portion of the interview. You can read the full text here.
"Andrew Thomas has to be honest. He’s a bit drunk—the ideal state for learning what’s at the heart of a man. He’s in Charlotte about to see Primal Scream, one of his favorite bands since he was young. You learn quickly that Thomas is more than a fan of music—he’s a cultivator of sound culture. He’s just as fast to give up the fact that David Bowie resides as an idol in Thomas’ personal pantheon."
"Thomas’s style consists of scrawled out sketches on a canvas dowsed in spray paint and acrylic. While the color and line work may be furiously formed what the pieces show are figurative and representational.
“I find it hard to hold back from all that stuff,” Thomas says about the frenzied process of his work. “I wish it would be more minimal, but I think frantic’s a pretty good word,” he says to describe his art.
The visuals Thomas contrived for the deck are being put to wood by Slapstik Skateboard Art out of Philly. The company creates skate decks on an artisan level, manufacturing a short run of boards that are probably better fit hanging on your wall than sliding down handrails. For now the board is exclusively available for purchase at Bluetile Skateshop and slapstikskateboardart.com"
Below is the second submission Cyst from our contributing writer Anonymous.
While working, I usually listen to music. During the summer, how I get sick of the battles between meand my 13 year old over who controls Spotify. Her taste is music isn’t terrible, especially considering her age, but there is only so much foxygen I can stand. Eventually I give up and watch or more precisely listen to movies on Netflix . Since I can only listen and not always see the images, I prefer documentaries for the lack of plot and characters. “How To Die In Oregon” was one such selection. I wasn’t so much interested in the subject of assisted suicide but it seemed depressing enough to keep me working and thinking huh liver cancer, well my life could be worse.
Except for currently being alive, I suffer from nothing terminal. I learned the lesson that life it fatal when my friend and I were candy stripers when we were 13. As a doctor was walking out of the hospital to take a smoke, one of us must have given us given him a disapproving glance (since 13 year old knows everything and anyone over 21 is a fucking moron). He turned to us and said “all life is fatal; we’re all going to die eventually.” I am sure someone must have just coded. My friend paled and looked shocked and though he was an asshole. I said he did have a point.
On my wrist I have a lump. I am pretty sure it is a harmless ganglion cyst. It doesn’t really hurt unless I smack my hand on something or try to bend my fingers to my arm, neither of which of I should do on a regular basis. I also have a lump on my right breast. It has been there at least a year. It has grown slightly and has recently become painful. Most people would make an appointment with a doctor if they had this type of lump. However, I have no interest in discovering my membership status in the pink ribbon sorority. It isn’t fear of hearing some terrible diagnosis, or undergoing possibly invasive testing or shelling out copay after copay that prevents me from making the appointment. It is I don’t want to step on the scale and hear how I’ve gained 10 lbs in a year. Really that is it and the fact that I am pretty confident that whatever it is, it is as inconsequential as the bump on my wrist. Pretty people; people with talent and skills; people who are loved ; people who contribute and improve the world; those are the one who get snuffed out at 40. Whiny, melodramatic moms who dream of escape are generally spared.
“How To Die In Oregon” did lead me to think about control. Obviously there is control in deciding when and how you die. But in my situation at what point do you just say fuck it and let go? I am not acutely suicidal but chronically so and without plan. This means I go through life hoping to drop dead randomly without any real effort on my part. I want neither control nor responsibility. It is less guilty that way and incredibly more spineless –the lazy way to die. In this the paradox lies. I must be in control over every aspect of how I live.
Every action and reaction is rehersed. My job is so mind numbingly dull that I listen to people suffer, and cry and pour out their deepest, darkest secrets while looking through page after page of trademarks with nary a tear in sight. My daughter crying and slamming doors because she is having yet another text argument with her girlfriend and my only response is “you won’t feel this way forever.” My other daughter is pouting and stomping because her sister isn’t in the mood to entertain her and my response is “entertain yourself.” It isn’t that I don’t love them or care about them but if I allowed any more of a response, any more emotional investment, the façade that I’ve built will crumble .