This week, a fresh new documentary called Beautiful Losers dropped on DVD after years as a touring art show. Featuring luminaries like Shepard Fairey, Stephen Powers, pro skateboarder Ed Templeton, Kids writer Harmony Korine, and directed by Aaron Rose, the film tells the stories of a group of do-it-yourself artists who joined together to create an anti-establishment movement based on the subcultures of skateboarding, surf, punk, hip-hop, and graffiti. The artists featured—including Geoff McFetridge, famed graphic designer and ex-art director for the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal magazine—made history almost by accident, and Beautiful Losers is a testament to that truth.
McFetridge is no stranger to creating art on both big and small scales. He has designed for such corporate giants as Pepsi and Burton, as well as exhibited his own gallery shows for a number of years. He can count Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze as friends and collaborators, having creating the graphics for The Virgin Suicides and Where The Wild Things Are, while also making his own short films. Geoff's latest project is a return to his skateboarding roots: his very own skate company, Solitary Arts, which doubles as an undercover art experiment. Complex chatted with Geoff recently about his definition of a Beautiful Loser and what skate shoe receives his loyalty for life. Read on for the interview, samples of Geoff's work, and a clip from the documentary...
WATCH THE BEAUTIFUL LOSERS TRAILER BELOW:
Interview by Leah Nicole Tisdale
Complex: When did you guys actually shoot Beautiful Losers?
Geoff McFetridge: Kind of a long time ago. Maybe even three years ago now. Which feels like 10 years. I think if you were making March of the Penguins, you just go up, film the penguins in the winter, and then come down and edit right away. But this is like penguins and geese and polar bears, coordinating all species. And then there's monkeys! And there's only monkeys in Africa! OK, so we'll go film that! I think it was a lot to wrangle.
Complex: How did you get involved with the project?
Geoff McFetridge: Well, there was a big touring art show, so I was part of the show, and I've known Aaron Rose for a long time. I think they talked to me because what I do is different. Well, everybody does something different in the show, but I represented something that was unique in that I'm an artist but I also work as a graphic designer. I think when you're talking and you're making a documentary, you want to announce the relevance in a way that's clear. In me speaking about my work, it's an easy way for me to say in speaking to an audience, this is work that is familiar to you. You know this work, and that's what brands can do. Name brands are a way to describe something that's familiar to people, like you've seen this before. It seems familiar because it is. And I think that helps to put the work I'm doing, and maybe some of the other people's, in context.
Complex: In the notes for the film, Aaron Rose writes about how the film speaks to a lot of different themes, like the power of friendship and the transformative power of love. How does that come into play in your artwork?
Geoff McFetridge: I think that's great, and I think the reason he would say that is there are a lot of ways to talk about the art world that Aaron is involved in, and I don't know if people would say that, that it is about love. And that is a simple root to it, and the work is personal and based on something very primary. For me, love is the source of my work. I think my best work is introspective. It's like love and introspection, it's about the ideas being clear and communicating. An idea is like discovering language right? But hidden in that, the root of what I'm trying to get at is much more abstract and emotional. And I think that can be an emotion like love. I think the things I love—my family, my kids, my life, the sun—that's all in there [laughs]. I'm always confused if the tangible world is actually a part of my work. I don't really know how my environment, or the things I do in my life, have anything to do with art-making.
Complex: What's your definition of a Beautiful Loser? Because the whole time I was watching the film, I kept thinking, you guys aren't losers at all! [Laughs.]
Geoff McFetridge: [Laughs.] Right, like, you guys seem like kind of effective people, you're getting stuff done. It's impossible to know with this film and what Aaron meant by it, but to me, it's someone who decided not to participate in any ideas of beauty or success or competition. And in that, there's something totally beautiful about it. Like if you are just completely ignoring the pressures of the world and you're working on your own, and you have your own secret stash of hydrogen or whatever that your machine runs on. You've discovered that there's electricity and there's steam, but I've got this other thing that know one else knows about, that I'm running on. And you're part of the world, but you're running on your own thing. .
Complex: It's like an inner secret society.
Geoff McFetridge: Yeah, kind of. Or like those people you know, that you're like, that person is so awesome, so talented, I wish people knew. I wish they could get their stuff together. They're such a great writer, or such a great painter. Like your best friend back home, and you moved away, and they were always more talented than you, and you got your stuff from them. And they're home working a jack-hammer, you know. Those are beautiful losers for sure. I think America is full of those people. And then you watch this film, and you're like, some of those people might be these people after all.
Geoff McFetridge: Wow, that's awesome. I always wonder if my sneaker is in the history of sneakers, if it's part of things. I'm glad, thanks for putting it in there. I gotta see that.
Complex: What are your five favorite skate shoes?
Geoff McFetridge: I like really simple sneakers. I think my top shoes are all original Vans [laughs]. Those are the first shoes I ever really got excited about, and Jordans a little after that. I skate in Vans, in either the three-lace ones or slip-ons. Those are kind of the best to skate in because of the flatness of them, and the feel they give you is really good.
Complex: You're involved quite heavily in skate culture and now you have your own company, Solitary Arts. What is that exactly?
Geoff McFetridge: That is a skateboard company that I do with a partner in San Francisco, Yong-Ki. It's about looking at skateboarding as something totally new, kind of abstracting the idea of what skateboarding is. We don't really make any normal skateboard stuff. The boards are all meant to be ridden and have a use for skating, but they're about changing your perception about what skateboarding is to you by riding the board differently, or riding our wheels differently. The shape of our wheels or the combats are a little bit different. And it's also an art project disguised as a skateboard company [laughs]. It's drawing a parallel between art-making and the solitary pursuit of things like skateboarding. These things that you do in your life that open up your mind to your inner world. So all of the artwork and the identity of the company, is based on that kind of concept.
Big Red deck by Solitary Arts (BUY IT NOW!)
Complex: In Beautiful Losers, Ed Templeton says, "Have fun, and make it for your friends." I love that, because it's so simple. And it sounds to me like you're living that in your life and work. What kind of encouragement could you offer to those who aspire to live that lifestyle?
Geoff McFetridge: The first place to start is the closest proximity to you. Make the work in your immediate vicinity. And just don't put anything in the way of making things. Like, if your friends get in the way of your making something, then don't make it for your friends. I think it's easy to set up barriers not to make something, like, "When I learn to do concrete casting, I'm going to make this cool concrete thing." And it's like, No, get on the Internet and just find the simplest way describing concrete casting, print it out, and just do it. And with making things for your friends, everybody knows that if you show this to your friends, they're going to like it. Or, I'm going to show it to my friends, and they're going to think it's lame. Don't think about the whole world, or your parents, because you're an expert in your own community. Don't try to copy somebody you admire, don't try to do something that's going to be a part of something big—just be the best part of something small. I think when you're operating on that level, with clarity about your inner world, that stuff really does translate. People email me things and it looks like copied work, like I did it, or someone I know did it. And that's the stuff that doesn't translate. You can make a thousand coffee table books full of that. But if you make something that's really pure, and really from your heart, and part of your world, and if you're like a high school kid, and you took all of the work you and your friends made together, it'd be like the best coffee table book ever!
Complex: I think Aaron did a really good job of portraying Beautiful Losers as that high school coffee table book. All of the artists in the film seem very self-aware and connected.
Geoff McFetridge: Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, the people in the film are just people that we talked about earlier. People you know who are talented or funny or charismatic or interesting. But they all had some success, so these are people that have been encouraged to do what they do. What you have in Beautiful Losers is if you took 12 kids in a high school art class and really encouraged them, and also delivered them some real success, and then you end up with a Beautiful Loser—someone who's able to support themselves through their art. And for me, that's through doing work for clients or a sponsor, and for other people, it's being able to sell their art cheaply, or people who get sponsored by companies like RVCA or Vans or whatever. You just keep moving forward and escalating that success and getting that response through putting yourself out there. I don't know if "success" is a dirty word [laughs]. I think I said "success" before to Aaron and he was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't know about that word." I don't think he would communicate on those terms.
Complex: Lastly, tell us a little bit about what you have going on currently, and which artists currently inspire you.
Geoff McFetridge: The Nike Stages project I just did. I'm just putting together a short film for Solitary Arts. I'm working on a show in New York for early next year. What else am I doing? I'm doing a show in Australia next year. I just did an animation for Yo Gabba Gabba!, the kids show, and that's coming out. I did a bunch of animation for a film called 180 South. It's a documentary by [surfer] Chris Malone and it's coming out pretty soon I think. With artists? I like Alex Katz. He's an artist from New York, a painter. He's really great.
WATCH A LIVE GEOFF MCFETRIDGE DRAWING BELOW: