Read Stimulus with Nick Jensen, this new interview format delves into Nick’s pool of inspiration on and off his skateboard. Ben Powell’s conversation with Nick is fascinating…
One of the greatest things about skateboarding is the diversity of people it attracts to the culture. As a kid I was exposed to all manner of obscure music, literature, art and ideas through the portal created by a shared interest in rolling around in supermarket carparks pretending I was in California. Without skateboarding I’d very probably never had heard of Minor Threat, or Del tha Funkee Homosapien, nor would I have picked up books by Charles Bukowski or Noam Chomsky that I saw referenced in interviews and on skate videos.
With that in mind, we figured that it might be interesting to speak to some notable heads about their other interests outside of skateboarding, (alongside some discussion about the video parts that were most influential to their own development), to give you the chance to find out about some things that might be outside of your own worldview at present.
We can’t promise that they’ll all be as high brow as this one with long time Slam rider and Isle skateboards co-owner Nick Jensen, but what we can promise is that you’ll probably find some new things to read, look at, listen to and think about via this new series.
So without further ado – welcome to the first Stimulus feature…
Hello Nick – cheers for making time to do this…
No worries man – I’m just in a café right now so if you hear me go off-message and order a fish finger sandwich, that’s why.
So before we start on the five sections you’ve picked, I’ve noticed a few recurring themes, firstly Alien Workshop related stuff – is there a particular reason for that?
I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but to me Alien Workshop was a company that was always pushing the boundaries of how a skate company should present itself and they did it in an ‘artistic’ way without seeming corny or trite about it. Added to that, the skaters who rode for Alien during this period had the best steez and did the best tricks.
I just found their output interesting I think. Alien Workshop just somehow cast a spell on me that has remained to this day.
There’s also a repeated Transworld theme here too, right?
Yeah, they made the best videos back in their golden era though, didn’t they?
I mean 411 was the best video outlet before that, but there was a period around the late 90’s/early 00’s where Transworld videos were just so much sicker than anything else. It was hard to pick just five to be honest and I wouldn’t want to say that the five I’ve picked are going to be written on my gravestone as my ‘all-time favourites’ as I might change my mind, but after you asked me to think about it, this five definitely seemed to be the sections that inspired me the most personally and probably had the greatest influence on how I ended up skating.
All the ones you’ve picked were released on VHS too – from way before the Internet era. Is there something about the physicality of these particular videos and the ritual involved in unwrapping the tapes beforehand that adds something to your memory of them?
Honestly I think I was just less jaded when the five videos I’ve picked were released. As you get older you’ve just seen so much stuff: ‘jaded’ probably isn’t the right word, but it’s just so overwhelming these days.
That probably does tie in to these being on VHS tapes originally I suppose, in the sense that we were getting information in a much slower way than the situation today. These days everything is available within two clicks on your phone, but I think being the age I was when I first saw these parts, I’d still have got the effect from watching them, even if the format wasn’t one that seems archaic these days, you know? It was more to do with where I was at mentally myself.
Skate footage was just a bit rarer back then – the same thing applies to music these days too – we’re all so bombarded and overloaded with content now that maybe it’s harder to find things that are original anymore, or things that speak to you like these videos did to me when I first watched them.
So your first choice: Anthony Pappalardo’s ‘Photosynthesis’ section that was released in 2000. The first thing that occurred to me was that you were probably a similar age to him when this came out…
Little kids appearing in skate videos was kind of frowned on in wider skate culture at that point, but Pappalardo never seemed to be viewed like that, despite his age…
I think that’s because it was obvious that he had a mind of his own where he didn’t come across like, ‘I’m young and I’m good so I’ll just do all the cool tricks that the filmers ask me to do’. He had such a strong voice of what he wanted to do and such a strong style. Almost self-deprecating in the sense of going and finding a gnarly spot and going on his own: there was a sort of brutal quality to his skating. Almost like a loner kind of atmosphere to what he filmed, I’ve always loved loners and been attracted to those kinds of figures.
There’s a real heavy emphasis on switch ledge skating and city contexts in this too, which I’m guessing resonated with you too, right?
At the point this came out I was skating Southbank a lot. I remember it being premiered at the Southbank’s NFT cinema, a place that I’d never been to before that night. Those factors definitely had an impact on me. I’m pretty sure we’d just started working on Lost & Found when this came out and I can remember thinking, “Oh God I’m so shit compared to him” after watching it at the premiere, (laughing). “He can do switch backside tailslides like they’re nothing, I need to learn that…”
The next section you’ve picked is Ave and Dill’s part from Transworld’s ‘Feedback’ video, which came out in 1999. What was it about this one?
Well, I’ve always loved Dill and Van Engelen so when you asked me to pick five sections it made sense to have one with them both in. There’s something about their connection, almost like they were brothers. You’d often see them featuring in each other’s parts, or even just being visible in the background of each other’s footage so you knew they did actually skate together all the time. There’s just so much strength in the way they both skate, even though they both skate very differently. Watching them made me want to learn how to nollie over something massive, (laughing). Their whole thing was about going fast and being powerful. It made me realise how important ideas were in skateboarding and how important style is, rather than just flying towards something massive…
It made me realise how important ideas were in skateboarding and how important style is, rather than just flying towards something massive
The Ian Brown track too…
There were two different versions weren’t there? There was an original one with a different track and then the one with Ian Brown’s ‘My Star’, which was the one I first saw. It’s hard to articulate why this one was so inspirational to me – there was just something so physical about this section that really stayed with me.
So the next one you’ve picked is Ricky Oyola’s part from ‘Eastern Exposure 3’, which came out in 1996 – how old were you when you first saw this?
I was born in 1984 so I would’ve been 12 years old. I’d already been skating for a couple of years by then. I remember watching this part so much. I probably watched it non-stop for the first few years of skating. I used to spend the summers at Southbank skating till late with Channon King, my parents were cool with it because I was with him so I was relatively safe. We’d to go on these little skate missions starting at Southbank and going up the Thames at night and this video really made that into an experience.
Watching Ricky Oyola skate made me embrace curb cuts and drains and all the things that I had never paid attention to previously. It was almost like having an imaginary ghost friend – you know like, ‘there are three drains here, I’m just going to make it into a gap’. I definitely took that perspective from this particular video part…
Ricky Oyola was always really transparent about the effect that he wanted this part to have wasn’t he?
Yeah absolutely: he almost catalogues his perspective on what you can actually skate with the pole jam being the most obvious example. He does them relentlessly throughout, like he’s saying ‘look you can do this, and you can do it this way…’ Just hammering his view of street skating home.
It’s dictatorial in a way, as in telling you that this is the way to skate and then filling the part with all these forms and objects that represent that very particular approach to using the streets. There’s an almost religious element to it I think, or ‘zealous’ at least – and that atmosphere is made even more obvious through the use of black and white and the heavy metal music.
He obviously holds it close to his heart and that rings through this part – almost how graffiti artists are with the city with a sense of territory and unwritten codes of engagement if you like.
My friends and I were really heavily influenced by this one – we got bigger wheels, concentrated on going faster, started looking for different things to skate.
Context-wise I’d probably been watching Hot Batch before this came out, which was full of people in massive trousers doing triple flips and then Eastern Exposure totally changed the focus. Almost like bowl skating for street skaters in a way – like a switch of emphasis away from technicality and a move to simplify street skating by focusing on speed and going for it. Like I say, it really inspired me…
And the backside flip in traffic with the motorist blasting his horn at him…
Yeah, I remember watching that the first time and just knowing that he was cool. It was just such a stripped down and pure approach to street skating.
His part ends on a switch shifty ollie on flat too – definitely a mission statement of sorts…
Oh yeah, I spent forever trying to learn them the way he did them. I mean that’s the whole part in a nutshell isn’t it?
Next up you’ve picked Heath Kirchart’s section from Alien Workshop’s ‘Mindfield’ (2009), which I guess was his penultimate video part…
I kind of saw it as his final part in a way because you knew he’d have the last section in the video and you also knew that it was going to be fucking gnarly.
He’s similar to Pappalardo, in the sense of being a loner and challenging himself in a way that’s realistically quite un-fun you know?
It always seemed with Kirchart that he was going through some heavy emotional pain – like it was more than just skateboarding. There’s a mythic element to him as a figure. Maybe because it just seemed as if the journey he’d put himself on was just so, so un-fun (laughing).
There’s so much good skating in this part…
Yeah, probably the best double flip ever done, the way he pushes in that first line. Kirchart is one of those people who could transcend rails and stairs too because he has such an amazing, independent style. The quality of everything he does is just so high…
There’s an elegance to his approach to what in somebody else’s hands would just be stunt-man skateboarding too…
Yeah absolutely, I mean it’s obvious that he enjoys the adrenaline rush of putting himself in situations where he genuinely might die but then at the same time he’ll be wearing some dress shirt or something and somehow manage to look beautiful. All his parts are like that; they all have an emotional quality to them. And the Morrissey track too, I can’t believe how perfectly that goes with his skating.
Normally when a skater uses a musician that I love I generally find that it ruins the tune. Maybe because music can open up your brain in ways that skate footage can’t so if you had, I dunno, say Peter Smolik skating to The Smiths then I’d probably never be able to listen to the song again (laughs). With this section though it’s almost as if Kirchart’s skating and the song were made for each other – like they work so perfectly that it feels as if it was supposed to happen.
I definitely felt as though I needed to give a standing ovation to this one the first time I watched it.
The ‘being towed in by a motorbike’ thing was kind of enshrined in skate culture and popularised by this section too, wasn’t it? Have you ever tried to emulate that?
I did try using a bungee once, (laughing), but I couldn’t fucking handle it.
Bartok had set it up at this bump to bar spot where the run up was uphill and at that time using bungees to get speed for otherwise unskateable spots had become a thing in LA. I was up for giving it a go but it was so stupid.
I did try using a bungee once, (laughing), but I couldn’t fucking handle it
I was so used to pushing, that experiencing going from a complete stand still to going 100mph towards a spot just felt ridiculous, (laughing). It was a bizarre experience. I was imagining Puleo judging me too as I was setting up to try it, not that he gave a fuck obviously, but I remember that thought going through my head. Like, “If Puleo had an ounce of respect for me previously, at this moment it has completely evaporated”. (Laughing), I know it sounds like I’m trying to claim it here and I’m not, but I do honestly remember thinking the above during my one and only bungee experience.
Okay, so the fifth one is Stevie Williams and Josh Kalis’ shared part from Transworld’s ‘The Reason’ (1999) – back to Love Park and Philadelphia again eh?
I wasn’t conscious of those recurring themes when I picked these but I’m glad that you’ve mentioned it. Funnily enough, I’ve never actually made it to Philadelphia either which is maybe a good thing. Sometimes the dream is best left untarnished by reality. To me Love Park and Philadelphia in general have this magical aura and maybe that would’ve been ruined if I’d actually been and skated any of those spots.
This is peak Stevie too isn’t it?
Yeah I mean he’s fucking insane in this isn’t he? He’ll do a switch tre with the tiniest adjustment of his big toe beforehand going at a 100mph and it’s absolutely perfect.
Obviously this section introduced the world to “run, skate, chill” too…
Yep, a classic: I used to try and beatbox that intro bit all the time as well – the ‘Love Park wah wah wah…” bit.
Coming from London you probably resonated with parts like this one that were site-specific and focused on a particular place, right?
Yeah, in my head I could make Southbank or Paternoster Square feel like Love Park. It was easy to pretend and emulate what Stevie was doing – you know, stick a keg on its side and try tricks over it. It was a direct link to the environment that I skated in.
It was around the time that The Reason came out that everyone started flying out to Barcelona to film and the emphasis on home spots started to be lost a little.
Absolutely, this was maybe one of the last of those kinds of parts – like the send off or crescendo part for all those local dudes who had spent their lives skating Love Park. It’s crazy to think of it that way – when you think about how influential this section was and it was all (minus 2 Pier 7 tricks) filmed in one spot, in one city that they had all skated their entire lives. It did seem that right after this was released that whole thing unravelled and skate videos were all about people flying off massive sets of stairs and Stevie flew into LA like Jay-Z or something…
Greatest switch backside flip ever done in this section you think?
Oh man, that one. It rotates so strangely – he just does tricks in a completely unique and incredible way that it made a flatland trick stand out so much.
I do remember thinking after seeing this part that I needed to practice all the tricks that I thought I could do well over and over again.
It was sick like that because it meant that you could go to Southbank or even just outside your house trying to perfect the technique of every trick the way Stevie did them. That charted Charlie Young’s and my desire to get more pop as well. We’d try so hard to learn how to pop every trick fat like Stevie – just to perfect the technique and do it as high as possible. Considering that it’s primarily a flatland part and that it’s all filmed at one spot – this is still really heavy.
Okay so moving on to your other 5 selections – I asked you to pick five paintings that are important to you to go along with this. Are the ones you’ve picked all by contemporary painters?
Yeah, they’re all contemporary – I decided that because it seemed a bit boring to pick old works, well not ‘boring’ exactly, but I wanted to pick people who are making work now that inspires me. I figured that it might introduce people to some artists that they might not have heard of as well.
Painting is undergoing a bit of a renaissance at the moment isn’t it?
Yeah it seems like it. For a while conceptual or shock art got all the attention and people were asking, ‘what’s the point of painting? It’s dead. Let’s challenge Art’. There has definitely been a return to painting recently though…
This first one ‘Column (White on White)’ by Sam Windett – what are you seeing when you look at this?
Well that’s the thing I like about it, it challenges your eyes to see something. There’s an object with shadows there but the painting is very much about understanding space and trying to discover an object where nothing is given to you on a plate. It’s an invented form that sits between an abstract language and a representational language. You can see something that could be part of a tree, but equally it could be something completely made up that has no connection to a real object. It has a lot of mystery to it I think.
A lot of his paintings start with him making sculptural object first and then translating them into a paint I believe?
Yeah exactly: I’ve seen a few of his sculpture in real life too and they have that same tension to them – like they might be constructed from real things, bits of wood, plants, etc but the overall result is mysterious.
Is white a difficult colour to use as a painter?
Well reducing your palette to one tone, (even though there a various tones within the white) is a challenge. It’s difficult to make something that will be pleasing to the eye with just one colour I guess. In some ways it’s very easy to use just one because you don’t have to mix anything but then you’re faced with how to scrape away the paint in some areas, or how to use different brushes to give various textures to the painting. It’s more of a sculptural skill in a way…
He paints on a pretty small scale too, which I guess relates to your own work…
Not so much these days, I did used to paint on a small scale like this but I’ve moved onto bigger ones more recently. Sam Windett is one of the best painters when it comes to working with smaller scale works in my opinion, even though he has moved onto painting on a much bigger scale more recently too.
The second one you’ve picked is ‘Resort’ by Christian Hidaka – he was born in Japan so even I can see a mix of influences in this one from both Japanese and Western traditions…
Yeah, if you met him in the street you probably wouldn’t know he was Japanese even though his DNA is 90% from there. I only know this because I’m mates with him and spoke to him about it recently. He was born in Japan but he’s spent his whole life in London but he’s reconnected with his Japanese roots and has a strong connection to that Eastern way of thinking and representing the world.
He finds that fascinating I think. Like the way that Chinese painting works – how artists work on scrolls and with infinite space vertically. And using weird devices with perspective, where you’re never really certain where the horizon is…
This one is like that – it’s difficult to work out what’s in front for the layman.
Yeah, it’s a bit of a mind puzzle. I’d describe it as kind of Piero della Francesca meets Mario Kart, (laughing).
Well he has cited Terrence McKenna and psychedelic thinking as an influence on his painting so it makes sense.
Yeah exactly: If you look at his other work, particularly his mountain paintings, he does use a lot of very psychedelic colours. There’s a definite connection between digital technology and traditional forms of Japanese and Chinese representation in his work. It’s a really interesting perspective I think.
Definitely check out more of his stuff if you like this one.
Your third pick is ‘Boudoir’ by Matthias Weischer – why did you choose this one?
I picked this because I love the way he uses the colour brown in it. The figure in the space, like all of his work, isn’t really a real figure if you like – like this one they tend to be pin ups or cut outs of figures, rather than an attempt to represent a real figure if that makes sense? It’s still talking about a physical world that is collaged rather than an attempt to represent reality.
So this figure in this is cut out and stuck into the painting?
No, it’s painted. Just the way that it’s painted is an attempt to describe that kind of figure in the simplest way possible – there’s no detail of her features or anything for example, but you still instantly know what it is that you’re looking at.
That goes back to what I said about Sam Windett again and creating space that is between abstract and representational. The figure is almost an anchor to create that conversation but in this piece the figure is no more important than the rectangle next to her.
It looks pretty chunky…
It’s insanely chunky yeah. He uses paint in a way that would never work for most human beings on planet earth, mixes loads of resin into his oil paint to make it really thick and somehow pulls it off. There are so many layers to the paint but it somehow still retains all the detail and still has a delicacy to it. That’s what I find so fascinating about his work. I’m a massive fan of his.
He’s German right?
Yeah, he’s part of this Leipzig School group. He became super successful at quite a young age and started selling work for fucking loads of money really quickly. I feel like he was just naturally really talented at painting without necessarily being that self-conscious about it because he was so young.
As time caught up with him he tried to make sense of it all and started doing things that were more challenging for the audience. This painting we’re talking about is huge, as were many of his other earlier successful works and everyone in the art world loved him working at that scale. Then over the last four years or so he’s done ten works, none of which are bigger than an A3 piece of paper. Sort of deliberately confounding people’s expectations and not giving the viewer the satisfaction that they want in larger scale works.
I see a connection between what he does and people like Heath Kirchart and Pappalardo – just ‘keeping it real’ and not letting wider fashions change what they believe in.
Next up you’ve picked ‘Commuter’ by Ted Gahl. From what I’ve read he’s an American painter who chooses to paint the banal and everyday world and then uses that as a jumping off point to go into abstraction. Is that right?
There’s a quote where he talks about abstraction and about how you need something representational to start with as kind of an anchor for a work before you can abstract it. For him, pure abstraction is sort of impossible. Hence the title of this one – ‘Commuter’ instantly makes you start looking for things that relate to that idea – like ‘am I looking at windows here? Is this on a train?’
He’s really cool like that. He’s done a ton of paintings called Commuter and they all kind of relate to similar ideas, like moving through space in the city in a sense. He’s just done a series for Isle too actually…
So you know him?
No, I was just pissed and decided to email him one night and ask if he’d be up for it because I really like his work, He was into it and sent me a box full of his paintings a week later. He even said I could keep one too and I was like ‘cheers mate – they go for quite a lot of money on the Internet’, (laughing).
Was he aware of skateboarding to any degree?
Yeah he is – I didn’t know this when I emailed him but he knows about skateboarding. He’s from New York or Connecticut or somewhere in between and he definitely knows some skaters because I’ve seen him commenting on skate stuff online and forwarding Thrasher stuff around sometimes. Once we got talking he told me that he’d skating when he was younger. Pretty sick really.
I can see his stuff working well as board graphics.
He sent me some small paintings and I took them on this canal walk from my house to my studio and took photos of them in various places. That was our collaboration if you like, I took his abstract works and put them into different textured space – sort of another layer of abstraction. I was so stoked on him being into it and on how nicely it came out. It also made me get his idea of abstraction too as it was clear to me which paintings worked in which kind of space, so it was a real insight into his work from a completely different perspective. Like I could see that they really were ‘things’ with internal grammar and punctuation.
Okay the final one is John Finneran ‘Black Black Night’…
He also did a series for Isle skateboards too; he’s an amazing painter. He does these strange figurative paintings that borrow Egyptian figures and does all this cool weird shit of orientating things in space that I feel has definite parallels with skateboarding.
I read an interview with him where he talks about trying to find the mystical when he’s painting by connecting it to ancient, mythical imagery.
Yeah, almost like he’s trying to summon something from a different realm.
This one has that kind of atmosphere, almost like you’re looking into a tomb or something. I just like his skill – it’s almost like a drawing painting where he knows what colours are going to look great together. He’ll do things where he’ll leave portions of the linen untouched too and it’ll look sick – there’s a definite skill to being able to pull off things like that. Almost like a Gino kind of thing where he’ll just do a front nose to fakie but it’ll look perfect.
Whereas somebody like me is uber labour-intensive and I’ll try something for hours, chuck my board around and then not land it – that’s how I paint as well. Whereas he just does it, follows his instinct and it always works out perfectly.
It’s dark this one but it’s not gloomy or boring to look at.
Yeah, there’s something mesmerizing going on in his paintings. He has this quality of tone where his work always hums at a certain pitch that I find really enjoyable.
I also asked you to suggest a few galleries that people could go and check out if they were interested by any of the things you’ve talked about here. The reason I did that is that for a lot of people the idea of going to a gallery might seem a bit pretentious or outside of their experience.
Yeah they can seem quite threatening places where maybe you need some special knowledge to enjoy looking at paintings but honestly, you don’t.
I’d encourage everyone to just go and have a look.
At the end of the day all you’re doing when you go into somewhere like the National Gallery is looking at an experiment with pigment and canvas that another person underwent however many years ago. You don’t need any special pre-knowledge to get something from that. All galleries really represent are spaces where you can go and look at these objects that have existed for centuries in some cases and you have access to most of them for free. Why not go and have a look?
It always amuses me how many thousands of people make the trek to Barca and spend countless hours outside of MACBA but never think to go inside.
(Laughing), yeah I know, but it’s like the thing where the guy who lives closest to the office is the one who’s always late. I mean I don’t go to the Hayward Gallery that often and it’s at Southbank where I’ve spent half my life so what do I know?
Interview by Ben Powell
For anyone who might be interested in having a look here are a few places that Nick recommends:
The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, (which is free).
The Royal Academy in Piccadilly (also free).
The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square (really close to Oxford St in central London and again, free)