Artists of Theory: John McGuire
John McGuire........interview by Isaac Mckay Randozzi
The Big Lebowski, Aliens, Life Aquatic, Blade Runner, the Osiris D3, Kramer and Richard Scarry are popular cultural references that evoke specific immediate responses. Under Mr. McGuire's pen and ink they are combined with an illustrative style that is inspired by humor and appreciation. As you look at his work in the following interview you will notice that his main focus is having fun. There are few, if any of his works that display signs of ill will, negative sarcasm or mean spirit. One could go as far as to say that his work while adult in nature, content and technical skill it has a childlike outlook that evokes a sense of innocence. In his recent work he uses a familiar character style (Richard Scarry) and content from his generational sources to turn a scene of horror, an alien bursting from a chest cavity into something that creates a smile and laughter. While not a hard concept to think up the execution and rendering of it onto paper takes another set of skills. His talents do not just end as a two dimensional artist he is a physical comedian as seen in Giddy Up and most recently in the Seinfeld sock commercial. He is a humorist on many levels.
His natural ability to create irreverent, detailed and playful images can, in part be attributed to a solid work ethic and more importantly a constantly running imagination. Not many would have thought to combine a Xenomorph with a D3 and a face hugger pod with a G-bag. It takes a very specific type of depraved mind to bring those distinct cultural icons together in such a succinct way. It's no wonder that so far this year his work has been seen in print, on trucks and very soon on a Theories deck series art directed by the one and only Theorizer. With such skills and positive motivation I am sure we will be seeing more of his humor and skill over the years to come.
Have you always had a Kramer fetish, or was it something that just happened to you?
That's a really great question. When Seinfeld was happening in real time I actually didn't watch it. All my friends were totally on board and huge fans. I guess I was in that strange art student mode of "TV is stupid" frame of mind #nedsatomicdustbin. I was always a total klutz on a skateboard. Truth be told I pushed mongo until I was 24. Anyway, I was always slamming and crashing and my friend Rich Vaughan was the first to make the connection between the similarities between Kramer and myself. That was kind of an inside joke and laid dormant for a long time. Then when I moved back in to Milwaukee in 2011, Tim Olson from the Friendship suggested we do a Kramer L.A.R.P skate video. Mike Burnett from Thrasher was totally behind and really supported the project. The whole first Kramer "Giddy Up" video was filmed in like 4 days.
What is your connection to the Friendship crew?
Tim Olson the brains behind the brand is one of my oldest friends. We started skating together in 1989 and our hearts and enthusiasm always kind of stayed and lived in that era. The Golden era of skateboarding. We've always just really been on the same page. Constantly brainstorming and brain farting on ideas and projects. He's also a huge believer in there are "No Bad Ideas" just sometimes there are better ones. It's been so awesome watching one of my friends finding their groove so much later in life. He really got swept up in the magic of the Peter Pan quality of Skateboarding. He's living his best life. Some serious "Pinch me" type shit.
Road Warrior in the style of Richard Scarry-John McGuire
How did art enter your life to where it became your main focus? Do you come from an artistic family?
My mom was an artist and was very supportive and active in my brother and sisters drawing constantly. She wouldn't allow us to have coloring books when we were young. She really impressed how it important it was for us to just draw from our imagination. I was constantly drawing as long as I remember. But, Star Wars really pushed me over the edge. I was 6 years old when it came out and it just blew my mind. From that day forth just constantly drawing Darth Vader.
Which five or so artists do you think have inspired you the most?
WOW. That's like asking me what's yer favorite Smiths song. #1 artist is Richard Scarry!!!! The Stone Coldest and G.O.A.T!! His artwork engaged me like nothing else. It made me wanna draw and also gave me an amazing and compassionate love of animals. It also inspired a 30 plus year vegetarian lifestyle that and loads of Morrissey. Otherwise Shel Silverstien and of course Ralph Maquarrie who did all the concept art for the original Star Wars. Picasso is the All-Timer!!! Whatever time-line of his you wanna land on he's always "Bringing the Heat to the Streets". Still blows my mind. As far as skateboard graphic artists it's always Jim Phillips and I love Evan Hecox and Joe Roberts.
What came first for you the brush and pen or the mouse and pixel?
Pen and ink for sure. I was late to the dance on the whole digital frontier. I graduated from art school in 1996 with the wrong attitude and no Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop training. I charged out to California with a million drawings and loads of crowded sketchbooks. Dave Bergthold at Blockhead gave me an amazing opportunity with Invisible and 16 Skateboards and we had a good run. Unfortunately my stubbornness and digital fears kind of sidelined me from the art department and flopped me into sales. I got sidetracked and a little disenchanted but I got really good at sales. I ended up a key accounts rep at Blackbox during the "Glory Days" of Zero skateboards. It was an amazing 8-year run and I learned so much from the Chief and tons of amazing employees and riders. I awkwardly clunked around in Photoshop by teaching myself in 2002. But it wasn't until 2008 that I learned Illustrator. It was the hardest thing ever to learn. But, I youtube'd the F out of it and suddenly it started to make sense. If you really wanna make it in this game you gotta learn Illustrator/Photoshop. It's like learning to skateboard. You gotta learn how to eat shit and get back up first.
Which do you prefer?
Well.... since the dawn of this new Ipad Pro with the stylus pen. I think we may have stumbled upon the most harmonious and glorious synthesis of pen and pixel. There's a learning curve there that takes a little finessing. But hell, think about how long it took you to learn 360 flips.
Toy Machine series by John McGuire
You have done a lot of work for the Tum Yeto camp, how did this Theories project come about?
Back in 1994 I was a sophomore in Art School at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. I made a zine that I sent out to like 10 companies. A week later I got a call from Chris Miller, Tod Swank, Dave Bergtold and Tony Hawk. This is before cellphones. So my mom paged me and said to call her. She said Tony Hawk called. So of course I thought she was lying. So that was a serious highlight at 23-year-old skate rat. After the dust cleared from that wild week Tod Swank flew me out to San Diego over Xmas break and I smashed out like 3 graphics. I think it's one of my proudest moments is that I can say that I did Heath Kirchart's very first pro model. Then in 2009 my TumYeto time-line intersected again and I was in the art department for Foundation. It was short lived and we never really found our groove but it was an amazing opportunity with some great people. Working with Ed Templeton on a Toy Machine series was a highlight and produced some of my favorite boards I've ever done.
They Live full piece for the new Theories Brand collection
The Theories opportunity really just came about through Josh Stewart reaching out via instagram. I had been doing those Richard Scarry inspired "Scarry Movies" illustrations and Josh asked if I'd be down to do a THEY LIVE one. Josh and I had met a few times over the years through our amazing mutual friend Paul Zitzer. I owe Paul a lot, he gave me my very first professional skateboard graphic opportunity for Entity skateboards.
Wow, I haven't heard that name in a long time. Did you do graphics for them?
Yeah, Entity was a very short-lived deck brand thru Gulwing trucks. They were the very first company to give me a shot and I did 3 graphics for them. If I remember correctly I think that was Donny Barley's first sponsor.
John and Pizza Man
Are you one of those cat people? There seems to be a running theme centered around that household friend.
I'm a HUGE!!!! Cat guy!! My whole life I had dogs and cats. But, I just always connected more with the moody and magical ways of those mysterious and elegant dudes. They make me laugh and bring joy to me every single day. I currently have 3 cats Pizza Man, Nova and 35. I also want to go on record about the social injustice about how it's cool to "Hate Cats". That's just total BS. I meet so many dick-heads who say they hate cats. But, if you say you hate dogs people TRIP OUT!! I tell people all the time I think dogs are wack! Cats are like Morrissey. People always think they hate cats/Morrissey. If you spend 2 weeks with the right cat under the correct conditions with Morrissey playing, you will change your tune. Just ask FOS from Heroin Skateboards.
Seth Curtis, John, Olly Todd and Fos
Favorite skate spot and favorite trick to do at said spot?
There are so many classics here in Milwaukee and my second home of San Diego. But, I'm an old slappy curb guy. So all need is a long luxurious double sider and a killer crew and I'm entertained for hours and bursting with stoke! Also a big fan of no-comply and some crusty old wallrides.
Full Cab No Comply-photo by Michael Burnett
Have you seen the movie Krull?
Man, I gotta be honest. I'm so familiar with the film and could totally draw the Glave. But, I have never seen it. This issue always pisses my friend Josh of "BEEZ" fame off. Here's the short list of 80's classic I've never seen. Goonies, Top Gun, Gremlins, Revenge of The Nerds, Risky Business, Police Academy, Monster Squad, Real Genius. True confession.... I never saw THEY LIVE until Josh asked me to do it. But.... I'm always amazed at how many of my peers and fellow skate nerds have never seen Godfather 1 and 2, Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner and other crucial film school classics. I'm a bit of a film snob.
No Country For Old Men
Those are some serious films not to have seen. Do you feel depraved because you have been deprived of such pinnacle of our shared social culture? Many board graphics have been inspired by those films.
You're totally right. However, to try and watch Goonies for the first time at this age just doesn't seem fair. The golden age of 80's cinema needs to be rooted in that natural timeline. I still watch the 1985's Back to the Future and it's just as great as the first time. The date that Marty uses as his Destination time is my actually my 15 birthday 10/26/1985. I still watch all the John Hughes classics. Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club are so great.
Who would win in a stand-up battle, Seinfield or Robo-Cop?
This is a very unfair and skewed question. I'm not sure it's even something you could address on any even playing field. I love em both. Sometimes I just put Robo-Cop on like a skate video. Like Welcome to Hell or Bag of Suck it's just that awesome. And Seinfeld is just on constant repeat. I usually watch an episode every night right before I got to sleep. I love the idea of going to sleep with a smile. George Costanza's grief and anguish can always LOL me to sleep. I'm also constantly re-watching True Detectives Season 1. And have HEAT, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049, Mad Max Fury Road on heavy rotation. I'm just always watching movies over and over.
When the deadline is hours away how do you make things happen? From an image in your brain to something that is on paper and pixel?
I almost always draw exclusively with sharpies. I think the method of not doing a pencil sketch has a lot of distinct advantages. You just tend to go with your gut and then figure your way out of mistakes. It makes you a better artist. That next stage of scanning it and manipulating in photoshop and illustrator gives you one more opportunity to make necessary changes. But, at its core is the original idea.
The "They Live" Board for Theories Brand
In your opinion, what or who is skating's worst enemy right now?
That's a strange question only because I tend to see the silver lining in all of skateboarding's growth. I love it all. From the wacky Dad on a longboard, to the kid with the Primitive board who only plays SKATE. Obviously a lot of hardcore skaters are totally opposed to skateboarding in the Olympics. Is it going to be corny and give me "geek chills".... of course. If we think about so many of the current top pro's said they were first introduced to skateboarding because of the Tony Hawk Pro skater video game. In 20 years there will be pro's saying they saw the Olympics and that got them fired up.
Conversely, it's best ally?
This won't be a very popular answer. But, I think Instagram has been a huge asset in the advancement of trick difficulty and creativity. I'm always more excited to see something new then another crooked grind on ledge in a line. Of course OF course I'm required to say how important great style is. But, my all-time favorites were always the dudes who were creative on and off the board and who looked like they were having fun. Neil Blender, Matt Hensley, Louie Barletta and of course Jason Adams.
I consider my self an illustrator and not an artist. I think the term "Artist" carries some serious intellectual weight. I always picture the classic tortured artist i.e Jackson Pollack or Vincent Van Gogh. I just make art because it's super fun and sometimes you occasionally get paid. Making skateboard graphics was just the combination of all my favorite stuff. I make stuff with a very clear commercial purpose; I want that deck to sell a lot of units. The real tragedy in the long legacy of skateboard graphics is this. At the end of the day most kids would rather see or buy a graphic of Sponge Bob getting a blowjob from Smurfette then some unique graphic that truly reflects the personality of the rider with some creative depth and passion. Chronic The Hemp Hog will always dominate the precious real estate of skate shop board wall. Graphics go in very distinct trends. It's currently peaking in the National Geographic Cut/Paste collage phase. It will bounce back into something else. But, I think I always kind of return to the glory days of Jim Phillps, VCJ, Cliver and the classics.
Thanks. My entire family and grandparents for unwavering support even when I was crappy selfish teenager/adult. All the amazing friends I've made thru skateboarding past and present and all over the world. Heather Wojner, Brain Barber, Joe Pease, Todd Collins, Kyle Leeper, the Bartie's, the Rattrays, Tim Olson, BEEZs, The Zitzer's, Wade Barth, Tif and Matt, Josh Ellis, Russ Clark, Sween, Pat Forester, Fos, Seth, Mike Burnett and Matt Mumford. Erica at Stance, Mike Sinclair, Kevin at State, Mike at Beer City, Pete at DLX, Ron and Joe at KRUX, Blackbox and Tumyeto crew. The Smiths, Morrissey, Francis Ford Coppola, Sir Ridley Scott, Rust Cohle, Denis Villenueve. I know I forgot a ton. But this is a good start. Thanks Skateboarding!
Please give me a follow on Instagram @computerblueart and feel free to #cyberbully or support a starving artist.
Interview by Isaac Mckay Randozzi