By Juan Cruz Molas y Molas
Have you ever tried to abstract yourself from being a human? Imagine for a moment that you are from another dimension and you hit earth and see certain situations... For example, at a random street a guy looks at the floor very concentrated, a lady a closed door, another woman stretches her legs, an old man makes a small gesture with his hand, isn’t it strange? Isn’t it strange to have fingers and nails? Why do we queue at a bank? Why do we queue anywhere at all? Why do we do what we do?
The other day I was walking through downtown, coming back from work, it was one of those days... How to say it? Where at one moment I felt a mental clarity very difficult to explain... I saw the simplicity of life. A woman jogging along the sidewalk, a guy in a suit in a hurry, a man having a coffee, two dogs sitting on a bench looking at nothing, resting. As if everything and nothing existed at the same time.
And sometimes it's almost noon, you're at home, minutes pass and nothing happens, and you feel like you're going to sink like a stone in the sea, but you go to the bar and have a cup of coffee, and you feel better, and you go back to your house and again you don’t know what to do.
Suddenly your phone rings...
Is Thomas Campbell.
Molas: Hi, how are you?
TC: Loose connection this morning.
Molas: No problem, man. I was cleaning my house, so everything’s cool.
Molas: How’s everything over there?
TC: Everything’s good, man. Just, whatever, busy morning.
Molas: Well, since the Beautiful Losers documentary, 2008 more or less, I’ve been following your art, like, for a long time. Right now, I’m 31, so, then I was 23 I guess, so…
TC: One thing I’ll tell you, I think, the 30’s are the best years of your life. Because your body still works, your brain calms down a bit. I really liked the 30’s. And I’m almost 50 now.
So, what do you wanna talk about?
Ok, here we go…
One thing I see in your work is this ‘eternal youth’ thing, like this interior youth that stays through time. What do you think about that?
TC: Well, I want to say that related to my creative process, it really came from being a skateboarder. I started skateboarding when I was 5, 44 years ago. Probably in my early teens it seemed that skateboarding was getting more creative, I started making fanzines, meeting a lot of people that were artists, just getting to know and getting inspired by different people to wanna like... take pictures, draw, make music, it was a part of the culture… it was like, yeah, have fun, make stuff, the purpose of it was never to do it for money initially because at the time there wasn’t opportunity, far before the internet, it was very organic and small.
I think in a lot of ways what you are asking, this eternal youth thing, it really comes from that idea, let’s make things to enjoy the process and be thankful for that, you know? I think a lot of people start off doing things because they want to make money from it and to this day the foundation of a lot of things that I do it’s that I make different projects to make good things to express. There is an excitement, you know? The thing is I’m excited to do that, and I get to do that, it’s a gift.
We Are the Cosmos - Acrylic, gouache, and spray paint canvas. Bonny Doon Calif. 8 x 5 feet.
In everything I see of what you do… I ask myself, how is this guy able to stay curious, contemplative, and being so focused in everything? You don’t waste your time.
I’m just trying to keep the focus on things that are important, and things that are truly expressive.
And you know, I’ve had other opportunities to do things that aren’t like that for money and I don’t do it. Last week I went to a museum, they wanted to have a show, and I was talking to this lady and she was really cool, coming up with some good ideas. And, people that were controlling were like… no! We want to control it down! We want to tell you where you are gonna put it, how you are gonna do it. And then I was like… You know what? I don’t wanna do this. It’s not for money, it’s for good vibes. If we are not gonna have a super good vibe I wanna go do something else. It’s just like, try to feel it out. The older I get, I’m able to go… ok, I want to try this thing. Actually, I’m a bit more cautious, because I learned so much that when I go to things like that I just try to go and be like… oh, is this gonna be cool? Is this gonna be a good vibe? Am I gonna be able to be expressive? And if it is and it feels right, I’ll do it and if it doesn’t feel right, I won't do it. But everyone has a different path, and I can’t say that my path is the right path. It’s just where I’ve been to that. And I would say that skateboarding culture is a big part of that because to me, it’s really like ‘outlaw’, you are gonna do whatever the fuck you wanna do and probably go and have a good time. I’ll never gonna hurt people, or anything, not in an outlaw sense like that, there is a lot of honor in it, the essence of that culture is like… yeah, just do the right thing.
Cole wilson , Bakersfield - pic - Jai Tanju
How was it to work with other great artists such as, for example, Barry McGee, Ed Templeton, Aaron Rose, or now with Fred Mortagne?
Umm… I guess I could start with Fred. Fred and I come from this similar idea, to try to do great work as the main thing, whether you make money or you don’t, in the end you are happy because you did the thing you wanted to do, I think he is a great example of that, and he is a very, very talented guy, a true visionary, a wild visionary. I just feel really fortunate and lucky, different people have different skills, and I think I have skills in a way that I can communicate well with other people and I’m able to make this kind of connections. I mean, in far as the Beautiful Losers thing goes its kind of random. How many art movements do you know of in the modern day? So, the probability of finding yourself in an art movement that well documented is pretty bizarre. It’s just one of those things, light minded people gravitate towards each other.
You know, I met Aaron Rose a really long time ago, I connected with him, we were light minded outlaws, we started doing stuff and then I had other friends, I introduced Ed Templeton to Aaron. Ed wasn’t even showing anyone his art, he had all these paintings in his closet, I said: what the fuck are they doing in your closet? That’s stupid, give them all away! If you wanna be an artist those aren’t gonna do any good in the closet. Go make a show, give them to everyone and make more, you know? And he did! It’s that light-minded thing, it’s like a snowball, it starts to roll and then different people connect to it. I probably met Ed because I used to shoot skateboarding pictures of him in 1993, we used to shoot a lot of skateboarding pictures together when I was a skateboard photographer.
I think I met Barry in 1997 maybe, we became friends and started surfing together, art and stuff. It’s just that light minded... but he is really an outlaw though, I’m slightly an outlaw, but he is very much an outlaw. His view of society and the structure of society, his hatred for authority is very strong, more than mine, for sure. And his perspective... I didn’t grow up in a city.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Southern California in a small beach town called Dana Point, it’s right between San Diego and Los Angeles. It was quite rural, there was not much there at the time, it was quite a nice place to grow up, it was very beautiful. Now it’s very built up.
Ralph the Papoose - High Fire Ceramic. Made during residency at Fullerton College. 26 x 15 x 9 inches 2017.
Donk - High Fire Ceramic. Made during residency at Fullerton College 364 x 23 x 18 inches 2017.
I don’t know if I agree with that title because, I just think that humans are like any other animal, they are reproducing. The population is growing, and, sure, I do think that in some scenario’s gentrification is a realistic word but it’s also like… Southern California the weather is incredible and I think people from other places go there and they are just, like… fuck, man, this is amazing! What am I doing where I live where it’s snowing the half of the year? And they all moved because it’s incredible. And now there’s way too many fucking people in there. And people just keep fucking and making kids. In anything, if you have a petri dish with different germs, the germs will grow and then there are too many germs and they die, they all die. You know, that’s just how it happens, I don’t know if it’s bad, I think we are bad, I think we are all really shitty stewards to this earth. We are very complexed animals.
Ushi - Bronze number 2 of 7. Made with Bronzeworks, Santa Cruz. 38 x 25 x 22 inches.
Your work transmits me some kind of peace. I don’t know so well in what way it brings me peace but entices me to that. Do you live like you paint?
You know, I want to say one thing, it’s not something that’s always the case because we all have different emotions and different times, but I would say that one of the things that I try to do is to have a positive intention for my work. Self-affirmation ideas, personal affirmation, try to be a better person, try to be a good person, maybe it’s not always that obvious, sometimes it is and sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s darker but in general I think it’s much easier to make dark artwork that it is to make light artwork. I try to strive towards making artwork that is happier.
And that’s cool if you feel like a sense of peace from your interaction with the work, I think that’s very cool. I’m sure everyone has a different experience. But I think that’s one of the things about art, I try not to say too much about it because I really like that, I like that is your experience. That your feelings gravitate towards peace.
To Lay in Thought - Acrylic, gouache, epoxy on wood panel.
Yeah, what I felt is like, I see a painting that you made or a surf or skate video and I’m seeing a lot of the process behind it. I see a picture that has obviously taken a lot of time to do it, like with fabrics and sewing, thinking of that process gives me a mindset, like… ok, I have to be calm to do this, to do all these little details…
In the end of the day that makes things good, it’s details. It’s good to hear that you talk about it because it gave me perspective on it. You have to calm down and bring your energy in and put it in the right places. That’s cool, that’s what I’m saying, everyone has a different perception, and I like that. I just feel that all art is just whatever you get. Honestly it doesn’t matter what I think, why I’m making anything. I really love that because you are having your experience with it and anyone else... maybe they are mad, you know? Or whatever. I think that’s cool, I don’t like when people tell you what art is, I like when you just have an experience with art. That’s all it is. It doesn’t matter what you think anything is, because whatever it is, is yours.
Paper Quilts - Paper, acrylic, packing envelope, thread, spray paint, pencil, money, rice bags, bubble wrap, thread, recycled gold chocalate wrappers. Bonny Doon Calif. 44 1/2 x 66 1/4 inches (framed) - photo Mariko Reed.
Paper Flower Render , Yep _ Gandhi , Zee Queen - Ummm / Spray paint and acrylic. Rendered by ICU Art. Bonny Doon and San Leandro Calif - photo Mariko Reed.
That was one of the things I wanted to talk about… the process. I have this word that has being following me since a couple of months that is Solitude, the time spent alone with yourself in solitude. It is important for you to be alone? To work? To not be disturbed by other people, computers, stuff?
I mean, I like to be around people, but I also really need my alone time and I think it’s really important for everything. But not everyone is like that. Some people need to be around people all the time. I don’t. I think having a good amount of time to be quiet, with yourself, and think about things, is really helpful.
"I don’t like when people tell you what art is, I like when you just have an experience with art. That’s all it is. It doesn’t matter what you think anything is, because whatever it is, is yours".
- Thomas Campbell.
Self Affirmational Ditty No. / Acrylic, gouache, and spray paint on wood panel and gourds. Bonny Doon Calif. 53 1/2 x 37 x 4 inches - Photo Mariko Reed.
Dancer - Recycled skateboard on bronze base. Made in collaboration with George Rocha of Iris Skateboards. 70 x 34 x 22 inches 2017 - Photo Mariko Reed.
Shelf of high fire ceramics Chandran Gallery San Francisco - photo Mariko Reed
Shelf of high fire ceramics Chandran Gallery San Francisco - photo Mariko Reed
Painting in studio - Bonny Doon California - photo Mariko Reed.
Can we talk a little bit about some memories? One of my favorite skate videos of all time is the one you made with Supreme in 1994 ‘A love supreme’, and I always wanted to know how it was made? How did you get to do that? To collaborate with Supreme to make that video? Where you living in New York at that time?
I think it was 96’, that I made A love supreme, I was a skateboard photographer, that was one of my main jobs at that time and I lived in New York, I worked for Transworld Skateboard Magazine. So, I was working with all the best skateboarders in the area, at New York and New Jersey at the time, shooting pictures.
I would say before I moved to New York I was really into more indie music like Sonic Youth, or Dinosaur Jr. When I moved to New York in 95, I lived there for three years, I just got really into jazz a lot. It felt like it was the soundtrack of the place, it fit very well with the place. The guys at Supreme at the beginning where quite into jazz as well and they were my friends and I would go there all the time and meet up with the dudes. I was skating all the time in New York and I just had this idea that it would be cool to make a skateboard film with the soundtrack of John Coltrane A love Supreme for Supreme. A love supreme is one of my favorite pieces in music in the world ever, it’s amazing. I proposed them the idea and the day I started shooting A love supreme was the first day that I ever touched a 16mm camera.
Caddy sj freeway - pic - Jai Tanju.
Smash up derby - pic - Jai Tanju
This film, A love supreme, is incredible, in black and white, and then we go to right now, the present, have you already finished ‘Ye Olde of Destruction’ or are you still in the process of making it?
It’s been seven years. So, it’s almost done. In a way it’s kind of similar to A love Supreme, it’s not at all very similar, but it is a black and white film skateboard movie, so in that way it is similar.
The new movie it’s just a celebration of skateboarding, showing the life a little bit more than a lot of tricks kind of videos. We are building DIY spots, people having fun. Whatever, I’m not saying anything bad about any other kind of videos, they all have their different function. This although I do think it’s gonna have a very different pace and a very different feeling and I’m not saying it’s the best feeling or the only feeling or anything. At the end of the day I have a way of making films and it’s very much like that. And it has a similar pace (to A Love Supreme), not that it’s exactly the same but it’s 22 years later than A Love Supreme but in a way it’s not that much different. I thought I wanted to do something different than what I normally do but at the end it really wants to be like the way that I normally do it.
Zack and louie - sj - pic jai tanju
Rainey Barres - frontal handstand - lower bob's oakland - pic - Campbell
John Whitworth - Dealano pool - pic - Campbell
Build - photo Campbell
Jon Dickson - nosepick - lake isabella - foto Arto Saari
Rick Mccrank - backside 180 fakie 50-50 - ripon - pic jai tanju
Caddy Sf - pic - Jai Tanju.
Smash up derby - pic - Jai Tanju
Diy build Bakersfield - pic - Campbell
Eli Williams lien - Kernside - Bakersfield - California - foto Acosta
I have one more question, how is a day in your life?
A day in my life would be… I wake up, maybe have breakfast with my wife and my daughter, she is two, she is really small and she is really cool, really crazy. Then spend some time, these days I’ve been just editing, view emails. Then if it looks good maybe go surfing and if not maybe trying to make some other art stuff or go skateboarding. I have a little cement quarter pipe in my front yard that is really fun. And, I’ve been thinking about a lot, to change it and built some different stuff. It’s not a very big area but I wanna make it as fun as possible in good for old man shredding because I’m like… Do you know what a ‘wuss’ is?
It means like when you are scared of everything. I’m like the team captain of team wuss, I like really small transitions that do everything for you. It throws you up in the air, and you make the smith grinds perfectly. It needs a little work, it’s not as easy as it needs to be. So, it’s gonna be like a geriatric skatepark.
It also depends because sometimes… sometimes I might be having a big exhibition and then it’s totally different, I might be painting for 16 hours a day for four months or something. But, then, at the end of the day, I’d probably have dinner with my wife and daughter and try to chill out at night.
Caddy Sf - pic - Jai Tanju
Thomas Campbell is a painter, sculpture, photographer, and filmmaker. He splits his time between his studio in Bonny Doon, California and traversing the globe making surf/skate films and taking photographs. An artist who perpetually introduces his audience to new stages of his of his own artistic evolution, Campbell blends together scribbles, scriptures, slogans, and anecdotes to assemble multilayered, interconnected works that draw from a symbolic system of meaning and associations. Inspired by various aspects of street art culture associated with graffiti, skateboarding, punk, and hip-hop, Campbell’s defiantly animated assemblages pay homage to the roguishly creative spirit of urban signage. His films and photographs mimic the intensity of the paintings, yet in a more abstract fashion. (extracted from Raw Footage Film Archive).