Ed Templeton is hard to pin down. At once professional skateboarder, owner of skateboard company ToyMachine, photographer, illustrator and painter, Ed’s work merges these activities on a level and democratic field of subculture art.
With origins in the skateboard and punk scenes, his work reflects the DIY aesthetic and endeavor of these cultures, which is furthered by having no formal training as an artist. Templeton’s use and mingling of multiple mediums (painting and/or writing on photographs, etc.) demonstrates his non-hierarchical approach, whilst his subject matter in turn reflects an non-judgmental perspective of his surroundings.
I had the pleasure of picking his brain a bit about being a very unusual kind of entrepreneur. Ed will be opening an art show here in Copenhagen, May 6, through Nils Stærk Gallery.
When did you realise you could make a living doing what you love?
My grandfather wisely told me that if a person can somehow figure out how to make money doing the very thing they love to do, then they will be truly happy. But I can’t claim that I just made that happen for me. Luck and geography had a lot to do with it too. But in 1990 I did start getting paid to skateboard, and I was making a living by doing what I would normally be doing. That didn’t really sink into my head for a year, that I was actually doing it. Then I tried to start a new skateboard company with a friend that quickly went south and I had an 8 month period where I had no job, and no prospects. That scared me to the point where I never want to take for granted that I can make a living doing only what I love.
Growing up, did you have support from your parents and/or society in general to pursue a career as a pro skater and artist?
There were constant battles with my grandparents. (my father had left, so my grandfather became my father figure and disciplinarian) Skateboarding took over my life and my schoolwork suffered. That is what caused the most conflict. They changed their tune when I brought home a check from skating and started to be sent to Europe to skate in big competitions and came back with great success. But there was no template to follow aside from what I saw in the skateboard magazines, I had to figure it out as I went.
What was the biggest challenge for you on a personal level to make a living as a creative, life documentating skater?
The challenges were not so daunting. I think the groundwork was set by my upbringing which was a contrast of total chaos with my mom and dad and our poor status and calm safe upper “middle-classness” of my grandparents. Getting through that was the challenge and the rest is built on that. All else was just choices being made in the directions I found interesting.
What would you like to say to kids who dream of pursuing a career as a pro skater and artist?
Those two things are very different! Being a pro skater is a ridiculously physical pursuit and takes crazy hours of practice with no real path to success. You either have it or you don’t. I was lucky to start my skateboarding in the mid-80’s in southern California where the skate industry is located. I was born into it. The place I live, Huntington Beach is famous for it’s surfing spots, and skateboarding went right along with it. Being an artist takes the same long hours of practice, but is much less physical. My advice is to start early, and practice whatever it is you’re doing with obsessive tenacity. Hard work does not guarantee success, but there is no success without hard work.
Do you think about the importance of being an inspiration to others? If yes in which ways and why.
I’m honored if I have been an inspiration to anyone. I think we all look to certain people’s lives from history or living among us as an inspirational template of how to live or work. I have taken examples from others, and if people have taken an example from me, then the natural order is working. It feels good to hear about making a difference in someone’s life.
Is Ed Templeton a good business today or are you still a struggling artist?
My plan is to always be a struggling artist. If you think you have made it, even in your head, it’s a death sentence. I have no complaints about the business side of art. I work with 3 great galleries and I keep my head out of the business side as much as possible. But things are good, but not so good that I feel like I can stop being a struggling artist. Plus I have my skateboard company to run, and sponsors to work with on different projects.
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur and if so, please explain in which ways.
I guess on a technical level, I am. I started a business. But I never introduce myself as an entrepreneur. That sounds silly.
Do you find it embaressing to talk about business and art in the same sentence?
A little bit. I still have that part of me that regards art as sacred, and bringing numbers into it, placing value, and charging money sullies it. But I also realize that is how the system works, people make a living off of the production, marketing and sales of art, myself included. It’s the same with skateboarding for me. I cherish the act of skateboarding, and yet have to, as a company owner, place values, market and sell the very thing I love. There is a balance that I try to keep. In art by staying out of business deals as much as possible. And in skating through comedy, making fun of the fact that I’m selling the very thing I love.
Of all the medias and projects you have done, which once means most to you and why?
Aside from building my company for the last 18 years, I would say my book Deformer. And the project I’m still working on, Wires Crossed, a photography book about my years among skateboarders.
What do you value most in life. Name your top 3´s and shortly why.
My wife Deanna. My health, my family. All the other stuff is transient.
What is soul and surf?
Soul is just a word. In most uses I find it annoying and meaningless. But I use it for certain things like I might use the word essence. Surf makes me think of the beach and waves. I have no clever analogy for the word surf. I have heard of the term “soul surfer” which sounds a lot like an alliterative marketing term.