Russ is the perfect blend of natural talent and unrelenting hard work. He is constantly creating and seems to be working tirelessly on any number of projects, seven days a week. And while you might think this would cause him to be a bit of a recluse, hang by the clover bowl at the park downtown and you'll usually find him scratching some coping on his lunch break. An artist, a lover of music, and a certified coffee aficionado..but above all, skate rat. This is our interview with Russ Pope.
Alright Russ, thanks for doing this. Why don’t we get into the basics a little bit - why don’t you tell us where you grew up and how you became introduced to skateboarding
I grew up in Northern California in a town called Salinas, it's right next to Monterey. I lived There until high school when I moved to Los Osos in Central CA. After high school, I moved to Santa Cruz, CA. My dad made me my first skateboard when I was 5, that was my intro... when I was in grade school I'd look at Skateboarder magazines at the grocery store (just look, couldn't afford them) that was kind of my window into what was being done on skateboards when I was a kid. By junior high and high school we had ramps and were traveling to spots.
You rode for a company back in the day called Small Room skateboards. Was this your first sponsor? Were you able to contribute any graphics for the brand?
It was my second sponsor, and one of my most favorite. I did contribute a couple drawings that would become logos and helped with a shape or two.
Was skateboarding something you wanted to pursue as a career? Were you ever wary of making it into a job?
I wanted to ride my skateboard as much as I could. I also wanted to talk about and creatively work on skateboarding products as much as possible. I was never wary, no.
When did art enter the picture? Was this something you were doing prior to skateboarding or did you start drawing after you had begun skating?
I had a kindergarten teacher that told my mother I was a great artist, haha. She handed her a drawing of a rabbit I'd done and made a point of it, I'm sure she did the same with all of the kids and their parents. I listened and believed her though. Pretty funny now to think back on it. I started skateboarding and making art about the same time and haven't stopped either since.
Do you have any formal training? Was art school something you pursued alongside skating?
I applied to and was accepted into art school but didn't have the money for it. I went to college at night while I was working at NHS and worked at a Fine Arts degree.
How did you transition from Small Room to SMA? What was being the brand manager over there like? Did you have the opportunity to do any art for them?
I moved to Santa Cruz with my girlfriend (now my wife) to go to school and work for NHS who distributed SMA. When the team/brand manager of SMA left to start Consolidated, they offered the position to me. I didn't make any art for anything at SMA, hey had an art department that did all of that. I shot photos, filmed and edited videos, chose and managed the team, created concepts for ad layouts, catalogs, trade shows.... lots of multitasking. My team and era at SMA was Jason Adams, Tim Brauch, Ron Whaley, Israel Forbes, Paul Sharpe, Joey Suriel, Justin Strubing, etc.....
After SMA, you started up Creature. Given skateboarding’s relatively small size, what was it like starting a brand back then? Who were the original team riders?
Skateboarding was pretty big actually, there were less brands and the brands that were around produced and sold a lot more then than today, talking basic hard goods, decks and wheels. When we started adding apparel and footwear that's when things got really big and got us to where we are today. When I started Creature, it was at a sorta stale time in skateboarding and the look/feel and range of products, even distribution that I set up for it was really forward at the time.
Scarecrow was the sister company to Creature right? How long after Creature did that company come about and what was your thought process behind that move?
I left Creature which I had started at/through NHS, took the team and started Scarecrow on my own with a partner and a small business loan. Creature was shut down shortly after and restarted by NHS years later. I learned a ton on someone else's dime with Creature and then even more on my own dime with Scarecrow.
Wasn’t starting all these companies tiring? How much skating were you able to do around this time?
It was tiring for sure, I loved it though, and I skated at least 6 days a week. It never effected my desire to ride my skateboard and I always made time to go ride.
What was your inspiration behind Creature? What were you looking to achieve with the aesthetic of the company and the riders that skated for the brand?
I was always super into the old horror film movies, the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, etc. I wanted to start a company based on the aesthetics of the old poster art for those films. Pantone spot colors, hand drawn letters, etc. The riders were my friends and skateboarders who I appreciated what they did on skateboards most.
What led to the demise of Creature? Were you approached at all when the brand came back? What are your thoughts on the Creature of today?
Difference of opinions with the Senior manager and owner of NHS, silly stuff really. Yes I was consulted and asked for my blessing on bringing it back. Creature is way more "hesh", and not really about the old horror genre stuff it was started on. That's not a bad thing, to answer your question. I'm glad it's around and that a crew of dudes are employed because of it.
Fast forward some time and you’ve created Transportation Unit. Whats T.U all about and when did the company begin?
I started T.U. 6 or so years ago. I'd been asked a few times to start new projects by/with owners of distribution companies and wanted to start something small, but I wanted to do and manage it on my own with no partners. I wanted to make art and put that art on things my friends that skated used and then share them.
You also moved out from California for work with Converse. What’s your role at Converse? Has it been tough balancing TU and your full time gig there?
I run the global skate program for Converse. It's a busy life, art career, skate company, Converse.... I work 7 days a week and till late most nights. I start a second shift after dinner most nights. I move to my studio and make art. I pay a good friend to warehouse, sell and customer serve T.U.
Alright, let's take it down a bit and get into the "Lightning Round":
Best Thing About Moving to New England: It's fucking beautiful, man.
Worst Thing About Moving to New England: I don't have 1/10th the skate options I did in CA.
Favorite Book: Travels With Charlie by John Steinbeck
Favorite Band: The Clash
Favorite Skateboarder (all time): The Gonz
Favorite Cereal: Frosted Mini Wheats
Favorite city you’ve been to: Milan or Tokyo
Worst Trend: Walking your skateboard
Alright, you survived the lightning round - let’s talk art - What artists did you look up to when you were younger? Was there any styles or artists you were drawn to outside of skateboarding?
I loved Dr. Seuss and Picasso when I was young and still do today. Most of the art and artists I was and am drawn to are outside of skateboarding... Jules De Balincourt, Jason Jagel, Ralph Steadman, Pettibon, Saul Steinberg, Hockney, Neil Blender, Zio Ziegler, Marco Zamora, Nathaniel Russell, Chris Johanson... Some of those artists live near or are in the skate/surf zone, but all are accomplished outside as well and I'm lucky enough to call a chunk of them friends.
You have a lot of different caricatures of everyday people and everyday routines - are these characters based on real people? Are they people you know personally or just see out in the world?
Sometime they're people I know, more often they aren't. It's all social commentary. It's my visual diary, really. Things I've seen or heard, reportings if you will. Sometimes they're fabricated to tell a story or convey certain feelings. Most commonly though, they are my life in pictures.
You’ve said music has played an important role in your life and in your art. What are some of your other favorite bands and which would you say are the most important to you personally?
I listen to a pretty eclectic selection of music. Some favorites though, not in order and not a complete list would be:
The Clash, Johnny Cash, High On Fire, Witch, Slayer, Lots of old Brazilian vinyl, Yma Sumac, The Cramps, B.A.D, The Damned, New York Dolls, The Ramones, The Cars first albums, The Pretenders first album, ZZ Top's first two albums, old Jazz (long list) Miles, Monk... ,Solid old blues like Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly. Silly shit like the Blues Brothers and George Thorogood and the Destroyers, old Hawaiian music on vinyl, crazy old movie soundtracks on vinyl, NWA, Public Enemy, Hawkwind, Motörhead, Slayer, Marley, Peter Tosh, The Grateful Dead, The Growlers, Sinatra, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr., I could keep going...
Serious Art Question Alert: In your opinion, is there a difference between high art and “skate art”? Do you think that what’s on the bottom of a skateboard has a deeper, artistic value or is it just a commodity to be bought and sold?
Hmmm. I think the commoditization isn't the determining factor. I think most art is for sale. A skateboard has a low cost of entry and a Miro, a high cost. I think that maybe it's in the artists intention? There are graphic designers who make designs and are made to be produced in quantity and sold. That I think is different than making art for the sake of art, for storytelling etc. Sometimes art is made, and at a later date can find it's way into production as a print or purchased and made into something printable to be applied to a skateboard or a T Shirt. I do think that is different than something that was discussed in a meeting by many people, made into a line plan or a brief designed to net commercial success and then handed to a graphic artist to be produced. That doesn't mean it can't be neat to look at or can't make someone happy. I think it's different though.
I was just looking at your website and you have done a fucking ton of art shows. Is presenting your work at a gallery something that you enjoy doing?
I dig art shows, yeah. They're fun to work for/towards. It's nice to make a body of work over an extended period of time and share it with people. It usually means travel, fresh conversations, and new or reuniting with old friends. Similar to skateboarding, they've given me extended family and friends all over the world.
"That doesn't mean it can't be neat to look at or can't make someone happy"
You and I share a real burning love for coffee. What’s the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had? Do you ever drink Dunkin' Donuts or do you always spring for some artisan shit?
No Dunks dawg, not because I'm above it, I just think it tastes gross. I make coffee at home and have lots of favorites around the greater Boston zone. Some stand out coffee shops with great coffee throughout the globe: Good Coffee Good People in Tokyo, Paddlers Coffee in Tokyo, any cappuccino or espresso in Milan, Tandem Coffee in Portland, ME. Locally, I go to Loyal Nine in Cambridge, Barrismo in Arlington, Haute in Concord, Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington, Thinking Cup in Back Bay Boston and Three Little Figs in Somerville. Some of my favorite roasters: I love ACE coffee from a small roaster friend of mine in NY, George Howell, I really like Stumptown coffee, Tandem..... probably more than you wanted here.
Speaking of coffee - could you enlighten me and some others on what the Thursdayman is all about? Where does that name come from?
Thursday is cool man, it's the day before Friday. The Thursdayman is where I share drawings on apparel, postcards, make books and zines, pins, prints, pencils, etc. I sell that stuff directly to customers all over the world and through a handful of higher end retailers, galleries, and independent bookstores in the US, UK, Japan, and Italy. It's small but consistent.
Which Collins brother do you like more, Rob or Paul? (Be honest)
I love 'em both, Small Paul and not as small but still kinda little Rob. They are good humans.
Follow up Collins question - if Paul and Rob got into a fight who would you put your money on to win?
Paul. Sorry Rob.
Natas said that style is an extension of someone’s personality. To borrow from Chromeball - how would you define the word “style”?
Cardiel, Scott Oster, Gonz, Blender, Jason Jessee, Steve Bailey. More current style offerings, Greyson, Raney Kevin Rodrigues, Pontus, Ronnie Sandoval, Stink. I could add more, these dudes are style. Total style.
Thank you’s/Shout Out’s?
All the dudes in the T.U. crew, they are a loyal, supportive, productive, creative group of ripping skateboard homies. I shout out Japan (the whole country) for the love and support, homies in Milan, all of the great people who give a crap about what I do and offer their love and support. Most important shout outs go to my family Jennifer, Blaize and Lorna. Love you, Mom.
We want to thank Russ for taking his time to do this interview with us, as well as Rob Collins for setting it up. Be sure to take some time and go check out all of Russ' work at http://www.russpope.com/ and be sure to follow his Instagram here. Thanks Russ!