Interview and Photos by Jack Spilberg

Why is it that you try keeping your artwork separate in some ways from your career as a professional skateboarder?

I was in New York at an opening for one of my shows, and this little kid walked in with his mom and I literally watched the whole thing. They came in from the street—the kid was all wide-eyed—and when they came inside the gallery, his mom’s jaw just dropped. They didn’t come up to me and say anything like, “I can’t believe you would let kids in here. The kid had came up to me before they pretty much immediately took off and said, “Hey, I thought I was going to see drawings of Transistor Sect and Turtleboy fighting each other. That’s what they thought it was. Ever since then I’ve been kind of wary of advertising like, “Hey, everybody, come and check out the Ed Templeton art show.

Do you think you’re more well known for your artwork or characters featured in skateboarding ads and graphics?

I think the general public—and readers of TransWorld SKATEboarding let’s say—knows me for Toy Machine graphics.

Do you ever think you may be separating your art from skateboarding too much?

Maybe I’m being overly safe because I know a lot of kids can look a little deeper and see what I really do with my art, but I just feel that in general it’s safer to keep a little separation there. I always felt like using skateboarding to get somewhere in art was a little weird, so I keep that separate. I want to be presented as, “Here’s what I do I don’t want to be seen like, “I’m just jumping on this bandwagon of ‘skateboarding is cool right now…Hook me up with an art show because skateboarding is cool. I don’t want to do that, so there’s always in my head a division between one and another.

Do you always keep your professional artwork separate from the Transistor Sect graphics and characters you use in Toy Machine ads?

Before, I didn’t want to do skate graphics that looked like what I’m doing at art shows with paintings and photographs. Now, though, the lines are more blurred, and I’ve done a lot of graphics that are more like my artwork. It goes back and forth, but the art crossing over to my skate graphics has crossed over a lot more than the Transistor Sect graphics have crossed over to my art. There’s been maybe one or two paintings that I’ve had total in art shows before with Transistor Sect characters.

What separates you from most professional skateboarders out there?

I take being a pro skateboarder as a responsibility, and I have since day one. My first interview was in TransWorld SKATEboarding for my first Pro Spotlight in 1990. It was actually an interview done by the editor of a rival magazine at the time called Power Edge, and TransWorld wouldn’t allow that, so he just did it under the fake name. So my first interview was by “Josh Money who was really Josh Klein, and was a good friend of mine who wanted to ask me real questions. He told me that kids were going to read this and be influenced by what I say, so don’t say nothing. A lot of kids these days say nothing, like when they’re asked, “What kind of music do you like? they just say nothing, like, “Oh whatever, it’s all cool. No one ever seems to take a stand on anything.

How do you think you were different from these kinds of ambivalent pros?

I came out of the gate just going, “I’m gonna talk about this stuff. I spoke about homophobia, racism, art, America, and spoke out about all that stuff. What that did for me was set a precedent. After doing that right off the bat people were expecting me to take a stand, and it just became easier and easier as I went along to explain my views.

Do you think pro skateboarders need to be more responsible and realize they’re role models?

I guess what it boils down to is that kids are looking at you. I think that pro skaters nowadays don’t think about that because they’re st kids themselves and don’t realize the real fact that there’re a million kids in the middle of the country reading their interviews and fully following what they say and want to be that guy. Who doesn’t want to be an amazing seventeen-year-old rad skateboarder kid? That’s what they want to be, so they really take what he says to heart. If he mentions a band, chances are there are a lot of kids that are going to go out and buy that band’s album just because he mentioned it. I feel like I’ve realized that and acted accordingly and tried not to just say stupid things.

What’s the message you try to get across to those who look up to you as a skateboarder and artist?

I try to get a message across that’s going to guide a kid to being saved by skateboarding like I was saved. That’s the point I guess—if I can get any kid out there to use skateboarding the way I used it to create a life, then that’s my goal. If a kid comes to an art show and goes, “I want to do art, then I feel that making a decision as a kid to make art is a good decision. I think that being creative in general—I don’t care what it is, just the fact that you want to do something creative, creating something rather than consuming—to me, is a life affirming type of thing. I think that if I can inspire a kid to read a cool book or see skateboarding in a different way, then I am using my responsibility wisely.

Were there any people in the skateboard community who especially encouraged you to pursue your interest in art?

Thomas Campbell is a really good friend of mine who was one of my early inspirations to even start doing this kind of stuff. He’s the one person who saw what I was doing and told me that I should get it out there. That started me on the path to do art shows and everything. I was never really thinking about it before—I was just kind of painting and doing what I felt like doing. He came to me at one point and said, “You’ve got to send this out to somebody, you’ve got to take the next step. Anyway, I love his paintings and photographs. They’re really beautiful.

Who are some other current artists you respect?

Margaret Kilgallen, for sure. I was fortunate to be a friend of hers before she died. There’s so little of her work in the world really, because most of the stuff she did was on walls that were painted over, so there are only a few paintings of hers left.

What are some other projects you’ve currently got in the works?

I’m working on a book right now—it’s called Deformer. It’s a word I’ve been using for a while. Mike Mills did a documentary about me a while ago called Deformer, because I was using that word back then, too. That word to me means life, in that life deforms you.

What’s the book about?

For me, “deformer means growing up in Orange County or in suburbia, basically. That’s kind of what the book’s about. I’m not consciously making a decision to not put skateboard-documentary-type stuff in there. It’s going to exclusively be paintings, street photographs, and especially ephemera things from my childhood. Stuff like letters from my grandfather, clothes, and other stuff that illustrates growing up in the suburbs. I have a lot of photos from this area and all kinds of weird stuff that is going into the book. That’s basically the story I want to tell with the book. I’m getting into the mid-stages of getting it all compiled, but it’s going to hopefully be out this year or possibly early next year.

How is your time divided up lately between running Toy Machine, skateboarding, and working on these art projects?

It’s completely fractured right now.

Do you try to plan your skateboarding projects around your art projects?

A lot of times, if I know I’m going to be somewhere for an art thing, I’ll try to organize a Toy Machine trip around it. We’ve got a trip with the team planned in Russia after Vancouver and Deanna (Ed’s wife and artist) has an art show in Paris then so we’re going to Paris before meeting the rest of the team in Russia after her show.

Does all of this get overwhelming sometimes?

It’s just crazy and all over the place. When I’m home, I’m busy doing ads and graphics and trying to skate. It’s kind of f—ked—sometimes I get to the point where I’m in tears flipping out and other times I’m like, “I’m blessed. This is a great life! I just go back and forth all the time, and I’m constantly completely tortured by it or completely stoked that I get to do all this. e’re going to Paris before meeting the rest of the team in Russia after her show.

Does all of this get overwhelming sometimes?

It’s just crazy and all over the place. When I’m home, I’m busy doing ads and graphics and trying to skate. It’s kind of f—ked—sometimes I get to the point where I’m in tears flipping out and other times I’m like, “I’m blessed. This is a great life! I just go back and forth all the time, and I’m constantly completely tortured by it or completely stoked that I get to do all this.