Dave Carnie recently sat down with LA-based artist Cleon Peterson to discuss art, skateboarding, and his recent "In Killing We Live" capsule collection with HUF. Check out the full interview below.
Cleon Peterson makes beautiful, fucked up art. It’s fucked up art that is beautiful. His art is beautifully fucked up. He fucks up art beautifully. It’s beautiful, yet fucked up. And now it’s beautifully fucking up a HUF jacket. Cleon was working in Paris when we needed to talk about this “In Killing We Live” capsule collection, so the following interview was done via email. (I’m glad it wasn’t in person because more than one of his responses made me go, “Oh my god! I know, right? Me too!” kind of squealing like a little girl. Very embarrassing.)
What’s your relationship with Keith? When/where did you guys meet up?
Keith’s a great guy. I think we met in 1991 in New York. My brother, Leigh Peterson, and I were over there skating and met up with Keith and Keenan [Milton] and cruised around the city for a few days skating a bunch of spots. This was a long time ago before everyone knew them.
Is HUF a skateboard company to you? (I ask because I find it odd/amusing that a lot of people don’t realize that HUF has its origins in skateboarding.)
That’s interesting. I like HUF because I see it as one of the only skate companies that still maintains that original soul that skateboarding had back in the day. HUF’s staying true to skateboarding as a subculture, or a movement, outside of this mainstream branded shit that everything turned into.
How did you get into skating? And is there a relationship between your art and skateboarding?
I started skating in the late 80s. My parents brought me over to a rich kid’s house and he had a brand new Alva board and I got obsessed with it. I think it was just the vibe it had with the big Alva logo and the fresh two-tone spray-paint job. After that board I got a Neil Blender because I liked the drawing on it. I started riding around the neighborhood with my brother, then met up with some older punk kids that would session super late at night at these circular, brick-banked planters down the street from our house in Seattle. After that we’d go to a place called Fallout Records And Skateboards where they had punk rock, comics, and decks. It was a great place that sold everything your parents wouldn’t want you to have: art, music, and skateboarding. This is what life was and is about. I think a lot of people doing creative stuff now grew up with these influences. This culture was a catchall
or the people who didn’t fit into the mainstream. Skating is creative: it’s about finding your own individual style and creative approach to riding on the streets. Same thing applies to art and music.
How has skateboarding affected your outlook on life and art?
As a skater in the 80s and 90s, we were definitely outsiders and “others” in society. I think it’s a good position to be in in the world—someone trying to find themselves, not trying to follow mainstream trends or whatever—being able to break the rules and not care about fitting in is a good thing.
Was “In Killing We Live” created specifically for the jacket, or is that an image that existed previously? Why that particular image for the jacket?
“In Killing We Live” was originally a painting. It has a pattern-like quality and is a reflection of the times we live in, a comment on our world, the wars we’re involved in, and the impulse we have to destroy. This is stuff we’re all implicit in.
Your art contains possibly the most incongruent themes with fashion—or maybe you think violence is compatible with fashion? Does it make you giggle a little to think of people wearing this jacket with your violent imagery on it?
I think fashion is compatible with everything, actually. Think of the skateboarding art of the 90s that appeared on t-shirts that was often a direct assault on political correctness and mainstream, goody two-shoeness—or Raymond Pettibon’s Black Flag art that ran on t-shirts—I’m sure I could come up with a ton of examples of violence in fashion. The t-shirt is actually one of the best vehicles we have to express some form of individuality and politics.
You seem to have strong opinions about art and marketing and commercialism. How do you feel about your art and this collaboration in that context? Does art lose some of its value when it is used for commercial purposes, or is this just one of the ways we celebrate art in modern culture?
This project is a way to do a cool project with an old friend, Keith, and to revisit my roots. I skated every day of my life for like 10 years so it was a huge part of what made me who I am today. For a long time I avoided being associated with skateboard culture because I thought that it got blown out and shitty, but now I think that embracing my past is a cool thing. I fucking hate the idea of not doing things I want to do because of what people will think. I’m at a point now where I don’t give a shit. Not to mention making art accessible to normal people is a good thing and has a long tradition from Durer, to Rembrandt, to Keith Haring—and they all did it respectably. I think the main thing is not pandering, or changing your work, or aligning with a shit brand for money. Advertising—the Devil—in today’s world often exploits artists to give their products a cool factor. Exploitation is bad and devalues the work, but what we’re doing here is a special partnership between two people doing a cool project.
How do you feel about street wear? Have you ever stood in line in the wee hours of the morning outside of a shoe store to buy shoes?
Ha ha. I don’t know. It’s not my thing. I like plain clothes. Haven’t worn a shirt with something on it for like 20 years. And don’t give a shit about the new Nikes.
Are there any fashion disasters you’d like to see make a comeback? Are there any current fashions you’d like to see go away?
I think it’s funny that the hipster girls in Silverlake are wearing those high-waisted grandma pants now. There are some entire brands that I think the world would be better without, but really I don’t give a shit what people wear. If anything, bad clothes are a good thing: they are a fast and easy indication of who you want to avoid.