Posted by: Necci – Oct 03, 2012
Think of a cryptic demon lord from space. Go ahead--think of one right now! Now give it some acid and a skateboard. Watch as it picks up an enchanted crystal staff, puts on an ancient shamanistic mask, and becomes one with the universe. Don’t get freaked when it comes closer, it’s only trying to give you a high five. Give it a high five. Good job! Now it’s time to party, because you just got one step closer to understanding the mind of one of the most gruesomely talented artists around.
Skinner works out of his studio in Sacramento, California. He’s totally self-taught, and has been regularly pumping out a shit ton of seriously fucked up, head-turning artwork for years now. So needless to say I was pretty excited to be able to drill a hole in his brain and see what kind of sorcery he’s been working with lately.
So you must be a pretty busy guy these days! What do you find yourself currently spending most of your time on?
Wrapping up the art for a commercial for Santa Cruz Skateboards. I'm doing it with my buddy Jim Dirshberger, who I did my Hell Dream cartoon with. It's going to be pretty great, I think. I got to legally get away with doing my own versions of the iconic Santa Cruz characters: the Screaming Hand, the Ripper, and that big yellow Rob Roskopp face. I’m also trying to wrap up an album cover for the band Holy Grail and some toy concepts. Then I’m doing something for the Pangea Seed [shark conservation society].
You’ve done quite a few shows at this point. How has seeing your own work in the context of so many other artists around the world affected your artistic approach?
Well, I can do more involved installs and be more a part of a show when it’s closer to me. It’s nice to have shows in other countries and I’d like to fly over and go off like fuck, but it's something I will get to when I do. A lot of shows in Europe are more diverse in genres; more of the spectrum is represented, from fine art to sculpture to graffiti to weird shit like what I do. Here it's very gallery-to-gallery and each one has a focus or a parameter of what they show. But there are always artists who are exceptions, ones that cross barriers. It's cool to see.
I love the Butcher Kings series. How does it feel be an artist at a time when we have so much pop culture to pull from? Compared to, say, a hundred and fifty years ago or so when artists like Gustave Doré were doing amazing work but it was all limited to subject matter drawn from Biblical influences?
It's interesting to live in this time and be an artist. I feel lucky that I live in a time where art is kind of put on a pedestal, as well as the artist. How many times do you hear about the stereotype of the starving artist who only gets popular after they die? It's almost like a PSA on why you should never become an artist. But the art movement that I am in affects so much: movies, video games, toys, shirts, design, cartoons, skateboarding. Almost every part of our culture is inundated with art and design. It's a good time to be an artist. I feel lucky. And it's all on the backs of those that came before me: the Robert Williamses, the Big Daddy Roths, the underground comic companies, the weirdos and the visionaries who just did it and weren't being given big-ass checks by Nike or whatever. All the kids my age who grew up with cartoons and 80s pop culture are now kind of the prevalent adults, and determine what's kind of cool. So here I am, doing all this stuff. I'm not into heavy-handed pop culture stuff for myself, but it was fun to collaborate with Alex Pardee on [Butcher Kings]. I got to be like Mad Magazine cartoonist Basil Wolverton for the month! As for Dore, he would have been better off living now, as well as Virgil Finlay--the best of the best.
In your Fragile Art of Existence series, you deliberately moved away from your typical freaks and ghouls type of thing and went into a whole other world. There are elements of nature and mystical spirituality. The overall tone is much deeper. How did this come about? Why do you think it’s so hard for so many artists to move away from what they’re used to and explore new territory?
I think if you are concerned about keeping up an idea of what people can expect from you, then your concern is immediately about appeasing a projection, and your art immediately takes a back seat to being liked. It's a pressure everyone feels once they are establishing themselves. This series of paintings was a risk for me, and it’s a place I am going back to as soon as I have the time. I want to take the risks because the rewards are great. I recommend that every artist do it.
Your work definitely has a very recognizable aesthetic and style. How did that develop? What advice would you give other self-taught artists who are trying to find their own?
Well, I would say it’s OK to be influenced by other artists, but be honest with yourself about it. If you really, really like someone’s art and you kind of use it as a guideline, that's fine, but you have to know that your own style and voice is waiting to get out. The sooner you come to terms with the fact that you are deriving too much influence from someone else, the better. It takes years and years to get your shit together. It's weird, because I worked my ass off for ten years and then was like, “I'm ready to try and do this for a living.” But dudes are hitting me up on the interwebs asking me what I think about their art, and they just fucking started doing it. I'm like, “Keep going. Do 100 paintings and then hit me up.” I had 190 paintings in my first solo show, 180 in the next. They may not have been good, but I was dedicated to it, growing and learning. The internet has made it so people do a few paintings and are pushing them on their Big Cartel [online store]. That's fine, but check your dedication to shit if you want to rise above the ocean of this stuff. What is going to make you better, or good, or memorable? That you already made prints out of your first 20 paintings? Fuck no! You haven't even begun. Just work. Work your ass off and make sacrifices. The rest will work itself out.
There’s something about really vibrant color patterns mixed in with super grotesque and demonic subject matter that just seems to make sense at this point. Why is that?
Because it’s the visionary inertia of every ancient culture, and it is our collective consciousness and ancient world mind.
I remember being young and always imagining these fantasy battle scenarios, like Terminators and Predators somehow making it to Jurassic Park and everything going crazy. I feel like your work somehow embodies that same kind of spirit.
Yeah, except I think what I do is like a third grader gone mad. It's funny; I'm just doing more twisted versions of what I have always done. I'm more gods and cosmos than Terminators though.
Were you ever into Ralph Bakshi’s stuff back in the 70s and 80s?
I got into it later, but I did remember liking the Lord of the Rings stuff. He really did some great stuff, except I think he bummed out a bunch of people he worked with. I love Fire and Ice.
Top 5 favorite monsters of all time. Go!
5. That horned thing from Conan
Can we talk about your band a bit? What role does that play in your life overall? What are your musical influences?
Ungoliant is on hiatus, maybe even indefinitely. Some of the dudes in the band developed different priorities, and I'm too busy to be a band dad, which is what every band needs to keep going. There's always one band dad. I’m still jamming on my guitar for fun and will form another band at some point, but I'm doing this album of dance music that will blow your freakin' socks off. The project is called Absolute Warriors, or AbWar for short, because abs are awesome.
Have you ever had a bad trip?
Yeah man, I did. I was on a long, long walk with a lot of people and it kept going into this forest for so long. It got darker and darker, and I asked everyone if we were going to die. It turns out [this] isn't the best thing to say to a group of people high as fuck on LSD. Some were all concerned, and others were like, “Oh shit! Are we going to die?” [laughs] Seriously, I wasn't that scared, I just wanted to know. I was curious. It seemed like it was supposed to happen. I have tons of stories like that. The lesson being, don't ask questions like that while frying with others.
Can you tell us about the first time you ever saw The Neverending Story?
It was right after my mom got us a small little apartment after she divorced my dad. This is taking me back. We got one of those early cable boxes. We never had that before. My mom got it working, and we were flipping through the channels. There must have been 26 channels on this thing! My sister found The Neverending Story. It was awesome! All three of us wrapped up on one small couch in an unfurnished apartment watching cable for the first time. Wow. This is kind of an emotional thing to remember. I wish I was young again.
Ancient Aliens, what’s up with that?
Well, there's a lot of unexplained shit that points to a lot of different theories that have little to do with preserving our fragile grasp on reality. It's hard for people to feel okay about aliens, or that our beliefs in some way aren't the whole story. You will find fierce resistance when challenging the narcissism we have with our importance. It's not safe for a little eggplant brain. Gotta go easy on these lumps or they start freaking out. I'm open and hoping that aliens are flying by our planet and pick up a Nickelback song on their advanced alien radio and say, "We gave them the technology of the ancients, the crystal skulls, the understanding of the vast universe and its beauty, and this is what happens a couple thousand years later? This aggression will not stand. We have to destroy the planet. Every mewling pink worm must pay."
What are your thoughts on death?
I fantasize about it way more than I should, but I'm super sensitive and I'm really affected negatively and grossed out about our privilege and how much people and animals suffer. I want it to stop and I feel powerless and I get depressed. I try to hide it from people but I'm really transparent so my friends know. My girlfriend knows. She's really sweet though. She makes it worth it.
If Satan came up to you and he was all like, “Hey listen, uh, I just wanted to say that I’m really just trying to chill, and if you ever need anything you know where to find me, OK?” what would you say?
Easy. I would challenge him to a rock-off and make him pay my rent.
So what’s around the corner for you? Any long term endeavors or projects in the works?
I’m just trying to make time to focus on my weirdness expansion, skills, and travel. I have some cartoon pitches out right now with Jon Shnepp, and art direction on that. I’m going to get more involved with my company, Critical Hit, making shirts and prints. I’m going to dial it in more, make some music videos, focus on my music, laugh more. Get some vinyl figures. I’ve gotten inspired to get weirder with that stuff. Be a good partner to my girl, Kristie. Have more fun.
I would like to leave you with this hypothetical battle situation: An army of countless thousands of Satanic Tyrannosaurus Rex Warriors are standing their ground on one side of a battlefield, and on the other, an army of countless thousands of Doom-Enchanted Hello Kitty Mutants…
Well this sounds really, really good, but what I'm really hoping is that they join forces after realizing that their real goal is to annihilate mankind. Just wash that shit away in a massive sweeping wave of gnashing teeth and bone splintering cuteness. Crush all the malls, destroy the politics, smash our cute outfits and fake boobs, disintegrate our social hierarchies and judgments, slash our self-importance, and disembowel our arrogance.
By David Kenedy