Comic books, Star Wars, Skateboarding, Rock and Roll, and Punk music; that about sums up my youth. Well, pretty much my adulthood too. Ok, I'm a giant child.
To go back as far as I can remember, these were the things that really inspired me in the beginning to be creative and put ideas to paper. These things may be common to a lot of kids, but they had a heavy impact on me in my youth, and have stuck with me throughout my adulthood. I didn't know it at the time, but these things that I loved, were commercial art in their respective ways, and I was mesmerized by them all.
What is "real art?"
I remember being about 12 or 13, and my art teacher asking me who my favorite artist was. I said, "Vernon Courtlandt Johnson." My teacher replied, "Who is that?" I said, "He does all the art for Powell-Peralta Skateboards." My teacher's response to that will forever be etched into my brain. In a condescending manner he said, "That's not real art." VCJ didn't paint fruit sitting in a bowl, and he wasn't from the Victorian era, but to me at the time, he might as well have been the inventor of art. This was the first time I fully realized that the beauty of art truly DOES lie in the eye of the beholder; art could be ANYTHING.
During this time, skateboarding was my entire focus. I got sponsored and was skating in contests. Although I wasn't a natural, and had to work extremely hard at it, my ultimate goal was a career as a professional skateboarder. I remember my parents asking me one day, "What happens if you break your leg and can't skateboard permanently anymore?" It was a good point, and skateboarders weren't making the millions back then that they are today.
I started to take art a little more seriously, and began taking advanced college level art courses in the last few years of high school. As I learned more about art history, the artists, and their work, there were only a handful who left a really large impression, Alphonse Mucha, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. Seeing Warhol and Lichtenstein reference comic-book-style art in their work, and knowing their pieces were hung in galleries and sold for millions, I felt that my inspirations were indeed legitimate. Mucha's infatuation with women and his intricate floral illustrations, as well as Warhol's and Lichtenstein's use of bold imagery and vivid color, have truly been the largest influences in my work.
There is always a soundtrack playing in my head.
From my parents playing the Beatles and Smokey Robinson records, to falling in love with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, thanks to my brothers, music has always been a major part of my life. Even though Zeppelin is still my favorite band of all-time, as a young skateboarder in the 90's, it was punk music that became my soundtrack. It was the music that originally inspired me to start my first band, and eventually, start my own record label. I first heard about punk music when I encountered an older skateboarder who had the words "Minor Threat" written on his skateboard's grip tape. I remember asking him what that was. In astonishment he replied, "You've never heard Minor Threat?" We immediately stopped skating, and went back to his house where he introduced me to this magical band. The band's rawness, aggression, and speed, changed the way I heard music. Punk music was still very underground at the time; bands weren't getting major record deals. These guys were using cut and paste techniques to make their own album covers and paying to have their records made. This punk attitude and do-it-yourself mentality really changed my life in terms of how I approached everything going forward. Whether it was learning a new skateboarding trick, getting a new client, or starting my own record label, my thought process of, "How can this be done?" became, "What do I have to do to make this happen?"
Do you know why they call it "The Big Apple?" It's ridiculous, Google it.
After college, my career was kind of a whirlwind. In just two years, I went from being a Junior Designer at a small ad agency, to being an Art Director at a Digital Agency. Two years later, that company sold, and I was out of a job. Struggling to feel inspired or creatively stimulated in my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and with only $1000 in my bank account, I moved to New York City in 2004. Life in Virginia, versus life in New York City, was like the difference between driving a Buick LeSabre and driving a Ferrari F40. The change of pace, scenery, and vibe, was exciting and incredibly inspiring. I was surrounded by leaders of the industries in which I wanted to be involved. Jobless when I arrived, my career as as a freelance designer, was thrown into overdrive. Initially, I cold-contacted numerous art directors and creative directors whom I found listed in my favorite art, music and fashion magazines. Luckily, a few of them responded to my emails, and before too long, my artwork was being published. Through exposure in larger publications like Entertainment Weekly, Suede, and Wired, my professional reputation became more widely known.
The big one that changed everything (and could have gotten away).
One bizarre night, after being out late (until 6:00 a.m. the next morning), I just happened to check my email. A guy from Belgium had sent a message, saying he was in New York and wanted to meet and discuss a project with me the next morning at 9:00 a.m. Well, that next morning was already here. I hadn't slept. As close as I was to blowing him off and going to sleep, I agreed to meet him. We met for breakfast at Pink Pony, a restaurant in the Lower East Side. It was a good thing I didn't bail on the meeting; he and his partner were there to discuss a project for Coke. This was a huge opportunity for me. They were commissioning fourteen artists or agencies from around the globe, and they wanted me to represent the United States. "The Coke Side of Life" wasn't just one of my favorite projects, but it became a massive campaign, and my artwork made it to all edges of the Earth. The exposure for my name, as an individual, and not part of an agency, was extremely impactful. Soon after, I began receiving projects from other world renowned brands, like Absolut Vodka, Bloomingdales, Universal Music Group, and even Pepsi, ironically.
"Hey man, glad you're not dead."
I guess I should start by saying, I was born with a genetic lung disease called Cystic Fibrosis. It never hindered me from doing anything growing up and I believe soccer, skateboarding, and surfing had a tremendous effect on keeping me healthy. Most people born with it are in and out of the hospital their entires lives, which are also relatively short. I was 32 years old before I ever entered a hospital for it. My case was mild and I was fortunate not to go through a lot of pain, sickness and medical issues. However, in two years, I went from feeling completely healthy, to being unable to walk up ten stairs without being winded. My lungs were deteriorating rapidly, my lung capacity was down to 7%, and I was close to death. Fortunately, I received a double lung transplant. Thanks to God and the transplant surgeons at New York Presbyterian Hospital, I am still here today. I remember one time, a former client of mine found out about my surgery. He came by my office and the first thing he said when he walked through the door was, "Hey man, glad you're not dead." That joke will live with me forever. It still makes me laugh to this day.
I've got a lust for life. (That's an Iggy Pop reference. You know, the whole music thing i've been talking about?)
I'm still here, and still doing my part in making the world more visually appealing. I still skate as much as possible. Music is still a huge part of my life. But most importantly, I spend as much time with my family as possible. Be grateful for what you have, because it can all be gone tomorrow.