Artists of Theory: Cosme

Anyone getting into skating outside of the United States in 1991 had to really want to skate. Gear wasn't an easy thing to obtain and when you did get it, it was two years behind due in large part to the small nature of the industry at the time. While skating's popularity was on a slow rise here in the US, in Spain it was an even smaller and obscure thing. For the fourteen-year-old Cosme, it was something exciting and he quickly took to the culture, sponging up every image in the American mags, from Transworld Skateboarding to free copies of SLAP his local shop handed out. It was in those pages that he saw a certain aesthetic that caught his attention more than the others. 

Today, he is a Spanish immigrant in England, making his ends meet through freelance work and a part-time soul sucking day gig, spending his free hours coming up with animation and graphics for Spirit Quest, Hopps, Theories and others, and long nights to get it just right, hours bent over a desk for what? A paycheck? Props? No. Cosme, as with many others create because they don't know what else to do with their time. There is a force, a drive, an energy that propels them to continuously work. Cosme is a part of that force, or has tapped into it some how and will continue to create and push his own abilities. We have only just seen the start of what he can do.

Photo: Josh Mansfield

When you first started skating, how was it looked on by regular people in your town?

I am sure that regular people looked at it like it was just another kids fad. I started skating in the Spring of '91. My cousin had already been skating for some months and he came to visit one weekend, so I took him to this spot downtown where I’ve heard other kids gathered at. We became instant buddies. I don't know why skating was so popular that year. The up-down cycles of popularity in Spain happened at different times than in the US. By the end of that Summer almost everyone quit to play arcade video games.

Was it considered an American thing? How many people skated in your city?

Oh yes, definitely. I remember this local photographer that had an exhibition during those years and one of his images was a poached shot of some of us skating at that same spot downtown. The place is called Orense and he titled his photo "Oregon…?” - that was his explanation for more than fifty kids dressed as Bones Brigade wannabes making noise in the heart of town.

How long did it take for you guys to start getting current boards and product?

At first we had mainly Powell and H-Street products that were a couple of years behind. Then the two regular sports stores that carried skate products stopped doing it altogether. We ended up having to order on the phone from a shop-distro in Madrid and they had all the new stuff. That's how we started getting proper 90’s shapes and small wheels.

In 1994 were you seeing Stereo/Real/Girl/Menace boards?

By that time there were no more than six of us still skating. One of our friends, the one that was really good, his family moved out to a bigger city nearby, where he got noticed and sponsored by DLX’s Spanish distro. So, he became our connect. We had to send him a postal order with the money and he would mail us the product: Stereo, Real, Thunders and bigger Spitfires. We were a little Bay Area colony.

What was your set-up back then?

A flat Real deck, some James Kelch model probably - the one with the flower growing from the Embarcadero brick - some raw Thunders and Spitfires that felt big but were probably around 48mm.

When did you start getting into art? Were you inspired by board graphics and ads?

I remember being extremely bored at school, daydreaming about skating and drawing skate related stuff from memory on my books. I can’t recall being specially interested in anything before skateboarding. Then I became obsessed with it and I used to read magazines infinite times. So I guess that I started to pay special attention, not only to photographs, but to all the other stuff that happens in a page as well: layout, logos, graphics… but I wasn’t thinking in art terms.

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Did you go take art classes in school?

No, that was not an option back then. There was not a single creative option. School and high school followed standard academic paths. And I thought that art belonged only in Fine Arts universities. I didn’t even know that illustration or design could be careers. I wasn’t even thinking about careers back then. I was only interested in skateboarding. Then one day at the spot I heard someone talking about this art school, two friends just started studying photography there and they were talking about trying to edit a skate video under the table using the school’s equipment. They took me there one morning and I instantly fell in love with the place. I signed up to join the next year the illustration degree and some years later I went back again to study graphic design.

What current artists or designers inspire you?

I found art through skateboarding so what I like the most has always been related to it. Everything that was featured on the early issues of Slap. Then “Beautiful Losers” was huge and I tried to learn more about all those guys and their scene. Then, of course, the work of people like Evan Hecox or Geoff McFretidge - I was in awe when I stumbled upon them. But right now I tend to enjoy looking a little further back to the history of design. I am in love with Corita Kent, this California nun from the 1960s, Sister Maria Corita who was friends with the Eames. She ended up being expelled from her community for blasphemy, then moved to Boston and continued doing amazing secular design work full of colour. Truly beautiful and still modern, even as it is a thing of the past.

Do you draw your inspiration mainly from the past?

I think so, I don’t know. I like to look back to get perspective. Trends in design and illustration carry a really short life span. I used to work in advertisement and grew frustrated with the dynamics of the job. I think I like stuff that carries something personal even if it is not proper technically. Looking back makes it easier for me to appreciate the work without the context implications.

Are you familiar with the Bauhaus school and their design work? I've always seen some of that influence in your work but can't pull from a specific example.

Really? Thank you. That’s so flattering, even if I can’t pin a particular thing either. I don’t know, perhaps I got all their theories so imbued in me that it ends up reflected some way in what I do. Klee and Albers… Also really interesting the Ulm School during the 1950s with Max Bill and Dieter Rams. Oh man, I was always a bad student and then I became the exact opposite. And the best thing is that I had to make no effort whatsoever, I was going out on weekdays and skating all weekend.

Before Spirit Quest, had the larger skate world seen your work before?

No, I had only done posters and designs for skate events around my area. I was not confident to try to contact anyone out of my close reach. That changed around the second time that I went to Art School. I started to feel more comfortable with what I was doing and, of course, thanks to internet. The first time that I did something that a wider audience could see was the animations for a Crailtap thing that they used to promote the deluxe edition of Lakai’s Fully Flared in 2008.

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What made you enter the contest?

Back then I checked the "Daily Randoms" with my first coffee in the morning, back when Aaron Meza was doing the columns. So it was a no-brainer when they made an open call for that thing -- not for the contest, cause I’ve never thought I’d win, but because it was a chance to show my stuff around and have an excuse to knock on Andy Jenkins' door.

When did Colin Read first approach you about doing the animation?

The first time that he told me about "this crazy new project" was in May 2015. I had just moved to London and was still sleeping on my friends’ living room.

How long was that project and what difficulties did it present?

I think I can say a whole year. During the first few months, I was only trying stuff on random days. I was working part time at a friend’s shop and doing some freelance design. Filming wasn't finished yet. Then Colin started to send me rough edits and we found the style that we needed. I was worried because I didn’t want the animations to just add noise to the footage or get in the way of the skating. Then I think I might have been putting a couple of hours everyday for the next three months. During the last six weeks before the premiere, it was a full time job. Everyday, including Saturdays and Sundays. Animations are tricky, a quick instant on the screen means a whole day of work.

Had you done anything of that length and intricacy before?

No, not like that.

I imagine it took up a lot of your free time.

Yes but I didn’t mind. I love to be involved in projects that mean something. Skate videos mean a lot to me and working together with Colin in that insane project was worth it.

What made you move from Spain to England?

Work - I was doing graphic design for advertisement agencies and things started to go bad. The economy was a joke and the prospects were bleak. So I was talking with these friends that I went to school with, they had been living in London for some years and they kept telling me to come and stay at their place for a while.

How has that transition been?

Easier than I thought it would be. At first I was sort of scared about getting used to the big city dynamic but I’ve learned to love getting lost in its hugeness. The city is endlessly wicked, although bloody expensive.

What are you doing to make rent and pay the bills?

I have a part-time job in a stockroom near my place that means some guaranteed money at the end of the month, on top of the freelance illustration and animation. My plan is to find an agent to be able to get more solid editorial work and forget about the admin side of the job.

How much does the physical act of skating play in your weekly life?

As much as I can. It depends on work and the weather. Some weeks it means just one evening on Mondays with my friend Rhys, because it is the only day that he can make it, so we go down to Queens Road Station to fool around on the small curbs. If I can go out any other day I’d go by myself to break a quick sweat and infuse some meaning into the day.

Do you think it is important that if you work in skating, on any level – that you still skate on some level, even if it's rolling to the store once a week?

Yes, at least for me that’s an ethics and morals issue.

Noseslide // Photo: Josh Mansfield

Noseslide // Photo: Josh Mansfield

At what point do you think the commitment to art took up more time than skating? Did it?

Well I think I am way too responsible. There are different types of commitments - work is work, but there are times when I get stuck and the best thing that I can do is to go out skating. It gives me a fresh pair of eyes.

How did doing the 10 year Theories graphic happen?

I believe it was a domino effect - Joel Meinholz showed my stuff to Jahmal Williams, Jahmal wrote me about maybe doing something together, I sent him a dossier with a dozen ideas, and he happened to be with Josh Stewart when he received it. I think that Josh liked the NYC trash can idea and saw that there was some potential to do something with it for the Theories Brand. So he asked me about tweaking the original design and turning into a Theories graphic by adding all those references. It was awesome getting all his indications. I loved the whole process. So after that we tried to keep doing newer stuff for Theories - like the animations for Mark’s clip for HOPPS or the Red Cube graphic.

I know you've been a fan of Jahmal Williams' skating and Hopps for a long time, how stoked were you when the graphic got the go ahead?

Oh, it was grand. Jahmal is a legend and HOPPS is the coolest. Do you know that Jahmal is the first pro that I ever met? Back in 2001, I think, he was touring with the dNA dudes filming for Continuum. I have no idea why or how they ended passing through Northwest Spain but there’s footage from Vigo in the video. Anyway, they also did a demo at the one indoor skate park in the area and Jahmal was the only one that skated, or at least the only one that I paid attention to. I remember seeing photos of him in magazines since the early 1990s, but seeing his style in person was hypnotic.

When creating a graphic, such as the one for Hopps, why choose such a minimalist approach? Why not some thing more detailed and that covers the entire board?

I guess it’s a problem of representation. I think that a detailed drawing of Jahmal’s backflip wouldn’t be effective because the real thing already exists and it’s in everyone’s mind, from his Static V video part. So if I needed details I’d prefer to go for a real photography of it or a halftone version of the screen capture. But I didn’t need details cause I wanted to convey the idea of that image - making it an icon. And the best way to do it was to keep it simple and easy to read.

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Are you currently working on anything? If so can you say?

Right now I am doing more graphic stuff for Theories next season, as well as some animations for Richard Hart’s new “Partial World Tour” video that will be accompanying the 8th issue of “Push Periodical” and a new series of portraits to go along with interviews for the Village Psychic site.

You recently did some work for Leica, how did that happen?

That was through Julian Dykmans’ agency from Berlin. We got in touch some time ago and we kept talking about doing something together. He is a really solid dude and still kills it.

What's the process like for making something like a client like that? Does it differ from your other motion work in a technical aspect or just in an emotional aspect since it is a high profile company?

Of course I wanted to nail it, but I try not to think about that too much; otherwise, I end up bumming myself. Technically, it was no different and I got the briefing through the agency so I only answered to the art director. It was all pretty straight forward because the turnaround was quick, so once the idea got green lighted we went forward. If I have too much time to think about what I am doing I tend to overcook it.

Do you have any theories on the Illuminati or if the moon landing was faked by Stanley Kubrick?

I know nothing about the Illuminati but I am positive that Kubrick was on the NASA payroll to be able to fund 2001: A Space Odyssey. Honestly, I like earlier Kubrick best. The Killing from 1956 - it doesn’t get better than that.

Interview by Isaac McKay-Randozzi