Most of us go about our daily lives without thinking twice about our surroundings. We walk the same streets, pass the same walls and buildings and cross the same roads taking no time to stop and absorb the world around us. But there are others, like Evan Hecox, who see beyond the concrete structures, the battered walls and the urban decay. For the Colorado-based artist, we live in environments that are constantly changing and evolving, filled with colours, shapes, lines, angles and negative space and, through his work, Hecox breaks our everyday landscapes down to these elements, and changes our perspective on the ordinary.
Recently in Australia for a residency at La Casa, Byron Bay, we had the chance to speak to the acclaimed artist about his work, his previous life as a skater, his connection to Chocolate and Girl Skateboards and eating pan-seared fish in Hanoi.
As an artist, what’s your mission statement? Or, to put it in less dry terms, why do you do what you do and what drives you to keep doing do it?
I’m not sure really, it just feels like I have to do it, I just feel compelled to make things. I always need to be doing something creative, even when I’m on vacation somewhere relaxing, I’m still constantly drawing in a sketchbook and out taking photos, I can’t just hang out and do nothing.
I’ve also decided to make a career out of doing creative things, so I suppose there is that aspect too, I need to be productive to survive. I should say I enjoy it also, which is true, but it’s an odd sort of enjoyment. Doing things that are worth doing means that there is a challenge involved, it can be frustrating and difficult so it’s not always fun, but it is always satisfying in the end.
You’ve been doing this for a long time—how has the art scene changed in those years in terms of audience, galleries, practices? For example, given the emergence of digital media, have traditional forms of art taken a back seat?
For me, I used to show more in San Francisco when I lived there. The show openings were really just big, crazy parties where everyone had a fun time but people didn’t really buy that much art. Now I show in galleries where the openings are a lot more mellow, and collectors actually come to buy things. It’s just how things progress I suppose. I think it’s the same for most artists I know who have been showing for a while.
In terms of new media, I’m not sure that has really diminished traditional forms of art, if anything I think there might be more of an interest in things that are hand-made, organic, even somewhat primitive looking. I think people overload on their computers, it’s nice to get your hands dirty and cut up some wood, get paint on your clothes. I think the audience for art likes that stuff too.
You’re deeply fascinated with urban landscapes. What is it about city life and the concrete jungle that interests you?
I suppose I just see it all in somewhat abstract terms. A city to me is just this living, crazy thing full of shapes and colors and textures. I’ve always been fascinated with the different phases that a city goes through where things age and deteriorate, get covered with graffiti, buildings are torn down and new ones go up. Cities are alive and always changing, I find it all fascinating. I just like to imagine all the people that have come and gone on city streets over the decades, all the things that have happened on any particular street.
You depict—as many have said before—the ordinary and the everyday objects and structures around us. Things like corner stores, walls, fire escapes, street signs, subway entrances…what is it about these that fascinate you and why do you think most of us take no notice of them?
I think it’s just a matter of perception. For some reason I’m just the sort of person who is very observant and I don’t just take my environment for granted, I see into things a little differently. At this point my artwork and the way I view the world are very intertwined, it’s difficult to know if I see things that way I do because that’s how I draw them, or if I draw things a certain way because that’s just how I see the world around me.
I try to detach the literal meaning or use of things from how they look aesthetically. A fire escape on the side of a building isn’t a fire escape to me, it’s an interesting sculpture of lines, angles and negative space. I might walk past a wall that has been painted and re-painted a hundred times with posters pasted on to it and then scraped off, the end result to me looks like the most amazing abstract expressionist painting, only no single artist made it, it just happened. It looks like a Robert Motherwell painting, just off on the side of the street.
You’ve also recently spent some time in Byron Bay—how was that experience for you? What were you working on here and what did you learn from it?
La Casa was a great experience. I suppose I learned that trying to get work done with a beautiful beach right outside and cold Coronas in the refrigerator is not the best way to be productive. No, but seriously it was really nice. I was able to relax and let go a bit more than I’m often able to in my own studio. It’s nice just to re-calibrate in a new, beautiful environment and work on some different things. I went around and collected some organic materials to paint on, leaves, old pieces of wood and smooth rocks. I was trying to bring some of that natural landscape into my work. There is a rocky island in the bay that looks just like the profile of a face from the angle of where I was staying, I had fun doing some sketches of that.
Did you do all any of the stereotypical ‘Australian’ experiences—eat Vegemite, hug a koala, that kinda thing?
I did go to this very interesting didgeridoo concert one night where everyone reclined on the floor, that was a first. I think there is the cliché about Australian men being more manly than Americans, which I pretty much found to be true. One of the guys at La Casa had ahold of a big python by its tail one night, I just stood off to the side peeing my pants.
What do you do in your downtime—what do you do when you’re not working? I know you’re a keen photographer…do you feel you’ve switched off when you’re not working or do you find your hobbies also feed you artistically?
Yea, photography is a big one, I just like to go wandering with a camera and see what I can find. I enjoy woodworking, building furniture and things. Some skateboarding now and then. I live in Colorado so camping, hiking, outdoor activities are great. I try to be pretty healthy with exercise but then I usually ruin it later, I’ll go for a five mile run and then go out and drink way too many beers.
Top 5 things you need to do when you’re not making art—go!
1. Eat, I’m kind of a food person I guess, I like good restaurants.
2. Spend time with my daughter, especially now, she’ll be a teenager before I know it and then she’ll want nothing to do with me.
3. Travel, I get the itch to go places, I love new experiences.
4. Run, I like to run and stay in shape, I get crabby and feel lousy if I don’t get out and move.
5. Clean, sounds boring, but I’m just kind of neat person, I have to always keep things looking good.
Let’s talk about your skate background—are you still skating? And more importantly, are you any good?
I do sort of the bare-minimum to even be called a skater at this point. I go hit the skatepark on weekends in the summer with my friends. Rarely any skating in the winter. I enjoy just going around my neighborhood on my little cruiser board too. I used to be kind of good, that’s the sad thing. When I was in my 20s I can remember ollieing down flights of stairs and doing wallrides and stuff. I can’t imagine doing any of that now, seems like another lifetime, like I used to be a skater and then I died and was reincarnated into this nerd who runs and does yoga and shit. I used to make fun of guys like me.
Was there a point in your life when you felt like you had to choose between being a skater and being an artist?
I don’t think being an artist ever compromised my skateboarding, it was more just getting older and not motivated to skate as much. I’m a much better artist than I ever was a skateboarder so I don’t think it was any big loss to the world of skateboarding. In the early days of doing skateboard graphics I did sometimes think about the irony of being too busy with the graphics to actually go skateboarding.
How much did—or does—the skate culture influence your work, other than the skate graphics…does that lifestyle have an impact on what you do?
I don’t think that now it has a really direct, literal influence. I guess as much as anything there was a time when I was 13 or 14 when I started picking up skate magazines, listening to punk music and meeting other skaters and getting into it that whole world and it made me realise there was this whole other way that you could live your life and do things that were so much more interesting than most ordinary people. Skateboarding just freed up my mind and that extended into my artwork and everything else. I’d like to think that I’m still continuing on that path now almost 30 years later.
Are you still working with Chocolate? How did that come about?
Yea, I’m still doing board graphics for Chocolate. I used to do pretty much every graphic for them, now I just do a few every season. I like to have more time for my own personal work now, skateboard graphics were taking a huge chunk of my time before. I still like doing them. All the people at Girl and Chocolate are great, more like old friends than an employer, I just like keeping some involvement with them.
Chocolate represents a lot of my life, I’ve put a lot into it and will always feel attached to it even if I’m doing less of the work now. I started out with them when Andy Jenkins, the Girl art director, had seen some of my work in magazines and called me up to see if I was interested in doing some board graphics. It was a huge deal for me then, I had always wanted to see my work on skateboards since I was a kid. That was around 1997. That was when the first few Chocolate boards I did came out.
I believe your designs for them is somewhere in the many hundreds – how difficult is it to design hundreds and hundreds of skate graphics? How do you come up with the ideas? Is it a group effort or do they just tell you to go and do it?
Skateboard graphics are pretty wide open as far as subject matter, so that helps a lot. Sometimes if feels like just about everything has been a Chocolate graphic at one time or another. It’s a collaborative process really. Sometimes I have ideas for a board series, sometimes they do, we all just throw out our ideas and go with whatever sounds good. It’s a lot easier than doing a snowboard graphic, because snowboards are so much more expensive and only come out once a year, skateboards are relatively cheap and somewhat disposable which makes doing the graphics for them seem like it’s not so serious, you just have fun keep cranking them out.
How hard is it to design a graphic for a skateboard? I know that’s a weird question, but I always thought it would be harder than it looks.
The shape has started to drive me a little crazy over the years. It’s such a long, skinny canvas to work on. I have a lot of ideas for things I want to put on boards but it’ll be something that’s more square or round and it tends to not look good leaving a lot of empty space on the board, so you have to find ways of fitting your idea onto that shape, that damn shape.
What’s one project you’re yet to work on, or one medium you’re yet to work with?
All kinds of things I suppose. I’ve never done a really elaborate installation, like something that fills a room in a museum or something, that would be amazing. I’ve never worked in any sort of more technical medium, like film, video or something interactive and computer generated. I’ve done very little three dimensional work, I have it in mind as a goal to move into that area more. I like building things with wood, but I don’t do a lot of it for my artwork yet, but I want to.
Are you still based in Colorado? I had a chat to Paul Budnitz a while back, who was loving his new, peaceful life in Boulder — how is it for you in Denver? It’s obviously a bit more removed from the art scene compared to living in NY or LA or SF — is this a conscious choice?
Yea, I’m still in Colorado. I love it here, it’s where I grew up. I liked living in California a lot too, but Colorado is just easier and more mellow than California, believe it or not. My wife is from here too. She grew up in Boulder. Denver is becoming a cooler city all the time, it’s really starting to come into its own as a great smaller city, like Portland or Seattle. It’s less expensive than LA or SF or New York too. I own a nice house and was able to build my own studio behind the house, I could never afford to do that kind thing in San Francisco. I have a 9-year-old daughter too, it’s a good place to raise kids. I can always hop on a plane if I want the big city, New York kind of experience for a few days.
You’re really well travelled, having exhibited in galleries all over the world. How do you absorb a new city?
Walking is the best way. I seem to naturally have a good sense of direction and can learn to navigate a new city pretty quickly with the help of a map. I don’t get lost very easily. I just like to wander and take it all in at ground level. Always with a camera, taking photos as I go along. I’m also fortunate that a lot of times when I travel it’s for art shows and things, so I have people there to greet me and help show me around, that makes a big difference, it makes me feel a lot less like just a tourist when I go somewhere.
What’s the one thing you must do—without fail—when you’re in a new city?
Eat the best food that city has to offer. I think Sydney has the best oysters and seafood of any place I’ve been.
And finally, could you please answer the following super quick questions…
Favourite city in the world?
I’d have to give it up for New York, it’s all it’s cracked up to be.
Scariest city in the world?
Probably Mexico City, which is a little unfair because I’ve had great trips there and I like it, but you’ve also got to watch yourself.
Best dish you’ve ever eaten?
That’s a tough one! In Hanoi we had this fish, pan-seared in a tamarind sauce right at the table with fresh herbs and cold beer all of which cost about 6 dollars for two of us.
You’re killing me. I hate favorite questions, they’re impossible. I’ll say Lance Mountain, he was always a big favorite when I was in high school and the guys still rips now.
Best city to skate?
The one artist you must work with before you die?
Ed Ruscha, probably not going to happen.
The album you’re listening to right now?
Father John Misty
Top 5 dinner party guests?
Tom Sachs, Wes Anderson, Bob Dylan, Cate Blanchett, Jay Z
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing?
Optimistically…. an architect
Follow the La Casa residency series here.