Tony Larson is an artist, designer and an all-around great guy. It was a real pleasure working with him for the Poketo x Club Mumble series, and we couldn’t be happier with his t-shirt and wallet design. Tony designed skate decks for Girl Skateboards for about nine years, and his bold aesthetic continues to influence skateboard graphics. These days, Tony is the Creative Director for SUPERbrand, a collective of surfers, designers, and friends, lending his skate-flavored aesthetic to t-shirts and surfboards.
How did you start designing skateboards and how did you segue into surfboard design?
I’ve been around the skate and surf scene in San Diego since I was pretty young, so I’ve always had a lot of friends and connections in this industry. After I graduated from CalArts, I needed a job so I ended up working in the warehouses of a couple skate brands before I was finally given the opportunity to join the art department at Girl Skateboards. Michael Leon introduced me to Rick Howard and Andy Jenkins, and they gave me a shot. I was there for almost 9 years. I started out doing colorways, but ended up being an art director and designed lots of skateboard decks, tees etc… I had so much fun there.
Then I ended up at DC Shoes, art directing the skate category. Not so fun. It just wasn’t as creative of an environment as I was used to. While I was there I was contacted by the guys at SUPERbrand Surfboards. They were trying to do something different from everyone else in surf and were really following a skateboard-inspired plan. They were looking at companies like Girl and Chocolate to model themselves after. They wanted to do signature boards for their team’s guys, well-designed board graphics etc… Just like in skate. So, I ended up resigning from DC to launch an apparel division of SUPERbrand, which is skate-based, as well as creative-direct the surfboard division. So, after all these years, I’m still involved in skateboarding and surfing and couldn’t be happier.
How did your time studying painting at CalArts inform your graphic design work?
It informed the graphic stuff in a huge way. I essentially approach graphic design in the same way I would approach a painting. For instance, if it’s an illustration, I’m using composition and layering techniques that I use when I paint with oils. I don’t think I use the Adobe software in the way it was intended, but in a way that works best for me. Conversely, the digital stuff is impacting my fine art. My new body of painting work is very much linked to graphic design in terms of materials. I’m using actual magazines as paint essentially. Overall, I love the computer as a tool for creating anything, be it fine art or design.
Well, Ted gave us the theme “Fiction” as our starting point. I used some hand-drawn elements that I had used for a tee shirt that was produced for Bob Kronbauer’s old tee company Crown Farmer. Since he was the curator for this project too, I thought the fit was great. The 1-2-3 drawings are meditations on money as a fictional device in pop culture. I guess, I’m asking “What is REAL?”
We’ve seen some beautiful pieces from you that use cut paper and collage–a real departure from your design work. Could you tell us a little bit about your fine art projects?
Before I fell into graphic design as a career, all I did was paint. I essentially stopped making paintings for 10 years to focus on learning how to be a designer. But I’ve had these abstract paintings in my mind for a long time, and they are just now coming out. Pretty soon, all of my creative focus, apart from SUPERbrand, will be on painting again. It’s where my heart truly is and it’s what I think I’m supposed to do on this planet.
Whose work are you really excited about right now and why?
Oh man. Mark Bradford has really awakened me from my paint-less slumber. He is just unbelievable. We went to school together at CalArts, and what he has produced in the last 10 years is staggering. He had a huge influence on me hanging out in school together and even more now. I feel so claustrophobic right now, with the inundation of language, signs and ideas. Artists like Mark are doing what is needed right now and breaking that all down. That’s what I want to do. Create some silence.
Part of the Poketo x Club Mumble project entails a re-release of Ground Beef, a skate zine from 1985, produced by my brother Tony Vadakan. Its contents explore art, friends, music, being young, community, and of course, skating. We sent you a copy… what kind of nostalgic anecdotes do you have about being young and skating?
What is really crazy about Ted sending me the copy of Ground Beef is that I was at one of the events featured in that zine. I was in 8th or 9th grade, and I was at the Del Mar Easter Pro Am. Your brother Tony must have been sitting next to me, because there’s a photo in there that is shot from the same angle as some of my photos. It gave me chills when I opened it. But yeah, skateboarding and learning about making art happened all at the same time for me. My early heroes did both. They are forever linked in my mind and I owe so much to the people I have met thru skateboarding and to skateboarding itself. It’s bigger than me and I’m glad I have had the chance to leave my little grind mark on skateboarding.
Many thanks to Tony Larson for lending his art to the Poketo x Club Mumble series. You can keep up with Tony on his blog.