Exclusive Interview: Ian Johnson


Ian Johnson lives in two worlds: the world of skateboarding and the world of art. Yet assuming that individuals are so quantifiable, we must include the world of jazz- one that intersects Ian’s previous two. His works carry the intensity of low double bass vibrations coupled with a skateboard underfoot, all in a dynamic graphic style. They echo the soulful bellowing of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington send us deep into the cradle of contemporary music.

Painting what comes naturally to him, Ian produces golden canvases interrupted by vibrant colors and black and white portraits. Nothing short of inspiring, the iconic faces of jazz giants overlay design elements that reference contemporary skateboarding culture. Although Ian claims that these works have little explanation, we dug deeper to uncover some personal history. Tune in for insightful thoughts on starting a skateboard line, moving across country, and balancing brushes with a computer mouse. –White Walls staff

White Walls: Do you see yourself becoming a “full time” fine artist in the future?

Ian Johnson: Part of me would really like to be able to do that, but realistically it’s probably unlikely. I like being involved in skateboarding, it’s where I came from. I don’t know, maybe when I get too old to make skateboard graphics anyone would want to ride. Or if I got a residency somewhere and could just try to work on painting/drawing and find out some things about myself, and what I’m trying to do.

Do you regret not finishing art school?

Pretty much never.


How did you first fall in love with jazz?

It was in the background of my childhood at my grandparents’ house. They used to listen to this program on the radio called Leo Rahill and the sounds of jazz or something like that. I didn’t really understand or pay direct attention to it at the time but I think those sounds lingered in the back of my mind somehow. Then when the first stereo video came out “a visual sound” it was primarily a jazz soundtrack and that lead me into pursuing jazz more and then teaching myself about it from there.

What other music genres do you listen to?

I listen to pretty much anything. But not that much metal or show tunes.

How does jazz music relate to the act of skateboarding?

Jazz and skateboarding are actually very similar in my opinion, or should I say what I think is real skateboarding and what I think is real jazz. When you play jazz you generally improvise off a structure of chords. When you skate (just cruising around the street, or in a park) you pick tricks to do on certain objects and navigating people and obstacles. To me it is a very similar approach, although I’m not really that good at jazz or skating- so what do I know.

Worst job you ever worked?

I haven‘t had that many jobs so I would have to say FTC retail. I wasn’t good at helping people and alot of people thought I was a dick.


What have been the surprises and disappointments of starting your own skate company, Western Edition?

Surprises have been that we have lasted 10 years and people buy things I designed.
Disappointments would be…
• Not having graphics come out how I wanted them to.
• Having riders that I like leave (that I wouldn’t want to leave).
• Not doing the best I could do.
• Not being able to pay people more money for their contributions.

Do computer programs cramp your style?

No they make it easier. I learned on computer, unfortunately I wasn’t trained in traditional graphic design techniques, although I would prefer to be able to do it that way.

What’s up with Eric Koston?

I have no idea, I heard he quit Lakai or something.  I’m not worried about him, I’m sure he will be fine.

Who’s pushing skateboarding the furthest this year?

I don’t really care about innovation in skateboarding that much. I just like people’s styles; I don’t really care what they do too much. “Progress” has to happen but I’m not really interested in it. I am interested in seeing people skate intuitively and in tuned with the place they’re skating: making things that aren’t meant to be skated look like there were put there to be skated. I just like the way skating was when I was growing up, but I guess that just means I’m old now.


How do you compare skating to biking in the city?

Biking is better for pure transportation but skating is more fun.

Best eats in town?

My house, because my girlfriend is an awesome cook. Other than that I don’t know about best, but places I go to somewhat regularly are Bangkok 900, AK Subs, Sanmi, and Buffalo Burger.

What would you paint for your next show if viewers had no preconceptions/expectations of your work?

Probably something totally abstract: color field painting and abstract expressionist influenced things.

Look out for new works by Ian Johnson at White Walls Gallery, opening May 9th, 2009.


5 responses to “Exclusive Interview: Ian Johnson

  1. Pingback: Interview with Ian Johnson | Upper Playground News

  2. Pingback: Interview with Ian Johnson | StreetArtLocator

  3. phantomartists

    great work..love it..can we see it in london anytime?

  4. Jazz + Skateboarding = I love it.

    This is some cool art.

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