San Diego skateboarder, artist and entrepreneur Andy Howell wasn't interested in publishing the standard art book. Par for the course for a guy who's been bucking the system and doing things his own way his whole life.
"Every Tom, Dick and Harry that has ever put brush to canvas has an art book out," said Howell. "It's not really interesting for me to make that kind of book because it's nothing new."
What emerged instead is Skateboarding, Art and Life, a vibrant, 304-page monograph of Howell's work plus an examination of a cultural movement that surfaced in the 1990s and continues to gain traction. The book was released in February by Howell's own company, Untitled Publishing, in collaboration with Gingko Press.
As Howell began to sort through his artwork-which he describes as "kind of creepy," a perspective filtered through "a fish-eye lens or distorted funhouse mirror"-he reflected on the narratives behind the pieces. He realized there was much more story to tell.
"I was intricately woven into the whole history and culture of skateboarding, street art, graffiti, hip hop.... I've just been involved in it my whole life," he said. "My peers and the people I've hung out with for the last 15 years are basically the key people in the whole industry, both on the creative, artist-designer side and as company owners and founders."
Those friends and acquaintances appear in print and on the accompanying two DVDs: skaters like Tony Hawk, Ed Templeton and Natas Kaupas; artists such as Shepard Fairey, Dave Kinsey and Kenton Parker; occupational hyphenates like musician-skater-entrepreneur Tommy Guerrero; and others like music producer Dallas Austin and Patricia Arquette.
Yes, that Patricia Arquette.
The book details the convergence of like-minded creative types-agitators and radicals in art, music, design and action sports before it became an industry-and follows what Howell calls the "neocontemporary" art movement and skateboarding culture through to mainstream fruition. The book is essentially a timeline of Howell's life, divided into chapters, with the stories of others woven into his own. It starts at the beginning.
Howell, now 38, grew up surfing the waves at Virginia Beach, Va., and began studying art at age 5. In high school he set his mind on two things: art and skateboarding. By that time he was stealing wood to build skateboard ramps and crafting his own skate 'zine-he wrote Tony Hawk's very first fan letter in a bid to secure an interview with the skater.
Following high school, Howell enrolled at the Art Institute of Atlanta. He got into the punk scene, hip-hop, graffiti art, designing 'zines and album covers, and late-night skate sessions. Somehow, in between classes and everything else, he went pro in 1989.
"At that time, hip-hop, punk rock, skateboarding and graffiti were all being done by the same guys," he said. "The scenes were so small that you knew everybody.... It was an organic community, everybody fed off each other's creativity."
From these creative types sprang the do-it-yourself culture of guerilla entrepreneurship and independent artistry. Ingenuity and imagination are the essential ingredients for those who put a high value on doing things their own way.
In the mid-'90s, the X Games took board sports into the mainstream, along with attendant subcultures of punk music, hip-hop, urban fashion and street art. It was the perfect set of circumstances for Howell, an energetic pioneer who likes to keep his fingers in a lot of pies.
He co-founded New Deal Skateboards in 1990 and introduced the first baggy jeans made for skateboarding, still worn by thrashers and grommets everywhere. Throughout the decade, he set up a host of other businesses, including Element Skateboards, 411 video magazine, Sophisto Clothing, Girly Things Clothing and Freedom Video. His advertising agency ImageWerks created the McDonald's fingerboards-mini-skateboards among the top-10 best sellers in Happy Meal history.
Howell still sticks by the DIY philosophy. His latest endeavor is Eggprojects, a brand incubator and hatchery that "launches and grows brands produced by some of the world's most forward-thinking creative minds," according to its website. Eggprojects aims to foster non-exploitative relationships between artists and companies in which artists have some control over how their work is used.
Skateboarding, Art and Life, in addition to being an art book, cultural examination and skateboarder fantasy, is also a guidebook for young entrepreneurs and graphic designers.
"Once you pick it up and start to read it, and look at the DVDs, it totally demystifies the experience of being in the industry," said Howell.
But perhaps most importantly, the book underscores the impact skating and street art has had on society.
"Being at the forefront of the whole movement, it was a massive thought-change for our culture. It was a thought revolution in a way," he said. "We've helped to change the direction of culture."