In most circumstances, art is elevated. Out of reach. Don't touch it, don't look too long, certainly don't get near enough to get a smudge on it, leave it ‘perfect’. But does it need to be this way? Can't we mix, mingle, coagulate the art of moving our bodies in beautiful and precise ways with the oftentimes indefinable processes of painting, sketching, molding elements into pleasurable forms?
This summer, the team behind the Dew Tour and Mountain Dew pursued an avenue that is gaining traction in the world of sports, as well as art – the vision of combining athletic prowess with artistic pursuits. The opposite of keeping art out of reach.
Mountain Dew and the Dew Tour tapped Steven Harrington, an artist known for his fantastic, colorful characters, a running cast of figures that seem to jump straight off of the page and into your consciousness. For this year's Dew Tour Long Beach, the team behind the event knew they wanted to implement art, and they knew one thing: it needed to be colorful. To pop. To capture the minds and hearts of skaters of all ages.
For Harrington, this last detail was paramount. "A large part of my work focuses on not trying to make it too young, because when you mess around a lot with characters and cartoons, and cartoon references, it can look like it was designed with a younger demographic in mind. But for me, it's always designed for the old adult.”
When approached with the project, Harrington's initial vision was an elevated, adult look at his signature characters. "I wanted it to be monochromatic; black and white, really classy." In collaborating with the Dew Tour team and their technicolor vision, Harrington got on board with the color, but with one caveat: it had to work for everyone.
"I didn't want your mom or grandma to look at it and think, 'This was designed for five-year-olds.' It needed to feel authentic to all ages."
Not only did it need to feel authentic, but it needed to ride well. That's where California RampWorks came into the picture. After Harrington designed his cast, the California RampWorks brought the characters to life, forming the narrow trunk of the palm tree, the gaping mouth of the giant, and more.
TRANSWORLD BUSINESS chatted with Harrington about his work on this summer’s Dew Tour – the process, the results, and what it means for the artist as well as the community.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was it like creating the sculptures, when you knew that people were going to be skating them and riding on them? Did that change your approach at all?
SH: I'm so used to working 2 dimensionally – this project was really cool, because it was thinking 3 dimensionally, while creating characters that are very flat and 2 dimensional. I'm a huge fan of skateboarding, and grew up skating, and I'm very familiar with the parks in Long Beach, and so I was familiar with the concept – in skating there's this cool thing that's going on where it's about trying to skate things that aren't supposed to be skateable. A lot of these pieces became kind of about that – kind of about creating this fun, really playful thing from a distance that feels like it's designed for kids, but then even like an older kind of pro athlete, once he gets on it and starts skating, he realizes 'Dude, these things are kind of a little bit deadly', it's a challenge to skate. It became really about, let's embrace the fact that the palm tree is very narrow, and it's like a total challenge for somebody that's skating, and I think all ages responded to it really well.
How was it working with the Dew Tour and Mountain Dew in terms of mixing your vision of the project with theirs, and coming to a collaboration everyone wanted?
SH: It all ended up being really open. I think the one thing they kept pushing was 'Make it fun, and colorful and bright and really playful.’ So as soon as I heard that, I kind of thought to myself ‘Okay, well how do we get this thing to work?’ A large part of my work focuses on not trying to make it too young, because when you mess around a lot with characters and cartoons, and cartoon references, it can look like it was designed with a younger demographic in mind. But for me, it's always designed for the old adult, if that makes sense?
The whimsical adult that appreciates cartoons but doesn't want it to be childish.
SH: Exactly. I wanted them to be able to work not only for the 8-year-old kid that shows up, but also the stoney, 23-year-old pro skater that's like ‘What the fuck is this thing? How do I board flip this thing? This is crazy, can you get an Instagram of me riding this crazy, acid-trip skatepark? This is so weird and awesome.’
Had you done anything like this before, where people were engaging with your art physically?
SH: No, no. Not for skateboarding.
That was probably pretty rewarding to go outside your comfort zone, and do something a little different.
SH: Completely. People ask all the time, 'I know you like painting and stuff, but you're also working on these commercial projects, does that get lame? How do you balance that?’ After all these years of working, there are so many people that kind of get it now, that even the commercial work ends up pushing me within my artistic side. I would have never made a skatepark that is skateable by myself, and wouldn't even have the resources to do that. I think in this case, it ended up being this really cool, amazing opportunity to have this fall in my lap, and kind of evolve it, and push it as best as I could.
Now that the sculptures have been available to the public for a few weeks, and you've seen some of the reactions, do you think you'll want to do more of this sort of project?
SH: Yeah, definitely. I think it's sort of funny, because I think everything that I just described, I think that it was successful. It’s not always these projects are successful in that way. When you work for bigger brands it's not always – it can easily go one side or the other, like a really young kid or an older kid only. I think in this case, I think we really nailed it, because I did see some videos and some bloggers starting to post this work around, and I think they totally go it.
He just totally got it. He was like ‘What is this thing? I don't know, but I'm totally gonna rip it.’ And the thing is, they're professionally built, so they're designed to be skated by someone who knows what they're doing. It's really fun.
Will the sculptures fade at all?
SH: I think within a year you almost won't even be able to see the graphic anymore. It'll just be completely fucked up and ridden. But I think that's the beauty of skateboarding, and the beauty of this project in general, too – these things are designed to be ridden. You kind of cut the red tape, let Sean Malto skate it, get some pro photos and all that stuff out of the way… Most art that is designed to be shown in a gallery or museum, you're supposed to only touch it with gloves, and it you get a smudge on it then it ruined its value, and I kind of live in that world – even with sneakers, or clothing, it's like everything has to be crispy and new, and a product that's never been worn, and it's a time capsule piece, and this or that.
These ramps are actually really reflective of what happens in life, and I like that.
This is one of those things where it's like ‘Dude, that's not how the world works.’ Your car for example, you try to keep your car pristine but it's like your car is meant to get fucked up, and dirty, and messed up and that's one of the things that I've always loved about skateboarding, and this project really sealed that in. That's not how life is. These ramps are actually really reflective of what happens in life, and I like that.
SH: The whole project has been a pleasure to work on, and I hope to do more cool stuff with them down the road, and I think it's been really cool.
Check out more Dew Tour stories on TRANSWORLD BUSINESS