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Home FEATURES Studio Visits Studio Visit: Jim Phillips

Studio Visit: Jim Phillips
Written by Andreas Trolf   
Monday, 12 March 2007 04:46
"Jim Phillips is the man responsible for pretty much all of the most recognizable and iconic skateboard graphics pretty much ever."

By Andreas Trolf

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You know what’s great? People who “used to skate,” because that designation covers pretty much every American male from the ages of 18 to 40. Everyone relates. Every time I skate down the street, someone is sure to be thinking (or vocalizing to me), “oh man, I remember how much fun I had on my Rob Roskopp in, like, 1988. That sure was great. Hey, can I see your board?”

You guys know how that goes, right? Nothing important ever belongs strictly to you, it’s always shared and divided and sub-divided and its meaning gets lost in countless mall stores and Mtv shows and summer music tours. But it’s not just skateboarding—it’s the same with just about everything. No matter how personal it is, it will eventually be parceled out and imbued with a meaning you never meant for it to have. Everything truly good inevitably becomes part of a larger unconscious, and suddenly that thing (the curb you and your 12 year old friends would session for hours, your swimming hole, or maybe your first band in your pal’s garage) belongs to the world and you’re left struggling to hold on to that little spark it ignited in your chest at the very beginning. Don’t worry too much, though, because that’s just how it is. Invariably, that thing that made you you, will have made countless other people who they are as well. That’s just how it goes, so it’s best just to acknowledge it and move on and, hopefully, retain a bit of that childlike innocence and infatuation with all that the world can be and still holds in store.

So yeah, like I said, for me that thing was skateboarding. How unoriginal, right? Of course. There’s nothing new under the sun. Who was it that said that? According to the Google box it was in the Bible, in Ecclesiastes, actually. Go figure. I’m espousing biblical wisdom. Who would have thought? Holy crap, I’ve gone off on a tangent again. I don’t know how these things happen, but they do. What was my point here? Oh yeah, skateboarding. And why did I bring up skateboarding? Right. Skateboard graphics. Jim Phillips. All right, I’m getting back on track here. Not too fan out too much, but Jim Phillips is the man responsible for pretty much all of the most recognizable and iconic skateboard graphics pretty much ever. So you might be able to imagine a tiny bit how stoked I was when we got to visit Jim’s house and studio in Santa Cruz last week.

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This is what we saw on the beach on our way down there. How “California” is that? Jeremy Fish and I made the drive along with Daniel and Jurgen, the German dudes who run the Skateboard Fieber museum in Stuttgart.

Here’s some historical perspective: When I first started skating in the late 80s the most awesome company was Santa Cruz, and this was due in large part to Jim sitting at the helm of the art department. Along with V. Courtland Johnson and Pushead, Jim defined the aesthetics of skateboarding of the era. Whereas Johnson drew bold, emblematic skulls and snakes, and Pushead pushed over the top gory pointillism—both of them seminal artists—it was Phillips who established a true graphic lexicon. His graphics were not only synonymous with Santa Cruz but managed to become the visual identity of the pro—something notably absent from the majority of skateboard graphics, Mark Gonzalez and Neil Blender notwithstanding. Aside from doing surf and skateboard graphics for well over 30 years, Jim has produced a ton of rock posters for a slew of amazing bands.

We pulled up to Jim’s house and were greeted by old rusted out Ford trucks strewn about the property. Not in a haphazard way, but deliberately. This was our first time meeting Jim, and we couldn’t have asked for a more accommodating and gracious host. He introduced us to his wife, Dolly, and their two grandkids. Then the fanning-out began. Jim basically walked us through the history of skateboard art link, to which his entire house is more or less dedicated.

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After showing us the layouts for his new book, Jim led us to this gigantic flat file and proceeded to pull out graphics for us. The way he explained all the graphics to us was amazing because it seemed like he was reliving all the moments connected with each one. He’d pull out, oh I don’t know, only the first ever drawing of the Santa Cruz logo,

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and then say something like, “Yeah, that was a good time…do you guys remember Rip Grip?" and pull out another sheaf of drawings.

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And from there he’d say, “Yeah, when I first drew the Independent Trucks logo…” or, “That one Jason Jessee graphic..." and we’d just stand there, jaws agape, taking in the history.

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Speaking of Rip Grip, there was a whole box of the stuff. There were also rails. This is from a time in skateboarding when everything, every little trinket, was important enough to have its own graphic. Riser pads, foam cutouts, rails—Jim was in charge of making it cool. And he did. Just look at this box of wheels:

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Each wheel had these crazy intricate graphics. Check out the photo up above, the one with the Rip Grip logo. Those other two drawings are wheel graphics. Keep in mind that this was all before the time when you could crank out a half-assed graphic in Illustrator in about 45 minutes.

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Slasher couch? No big deal.

Probably Jim’s single most famous graphic is the Speed Wheels screaming hand, and he’s been working it and re-working it for about 20 years. He’s even got a folder filled with photos of tattoos of the hand that people from all over the world have sent him. The latest incarnations of the screaming hand are an alien hand and the rat version.

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There were even plastic toy versions of the hand and paintings reproducing it in various styles, like the Cubist one here.

At one point, Jim pulled out a totally rare score: an issue of Santa Cruz comics.

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By sheer coincidence, our German pal Daniel had once owned the same issue and had brought it to school when he was a kid to do a report on it. He’d since lost it and had never been able to find another. So you know what? Jim tells him to keep this one and even signs it on the spot. What an epic human being!

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The next stop on our tour of Jim’s house was his actual studio, which is in his garage along with his board collection and some project cars. Jeremy and I kept saying to each other how it would suit us just fine to live this dude’s life. Jim seems to have it all figured out. I’m an unabashed fan.

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Here’s the corner of the garage where the magic happens.

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Jim told us that he likes to draw by natural light, and so he had all these skylights installed throughout the house. Check out those boards!

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Does anyone remember ever actually seeing a photo of this Toyoda dude? Who was this mysterious Japanese dude and what did he do to deserve such an awesome graphic?
And since we’re on the subject of awesome graphics, do you have any idea what this is?

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Oh, only a collaborative graphic between Jim and Court Johnson. It’s one of the boards that Jim has done for Pocket Pistols Skateboards. I already ordered mine for the collection.

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Do you remember that one Slimeballs ad with Roskopp puking?

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We got to talking about Jim’s new book and Jurgen mentioned that Skateboard Fieber had just done a retrospective of all of Claus Grabke’s boards, most of which Jim had done in the 80s as well as Claus’s new board on Pocket Pistols. Jim didn’t have a decent photo of one of the graphics, so Jurgen hauled out his laptop and burned a cd of photos.

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Nerding out over some graphics. Nerds.

It was about then that Jim’s son, Jimbo, pulled up. Jimbo has followed his father into the family business and has been doing skateboard graphics and band posters for years. Recently, Jimbo did a series of boards for Santa Cruz that parodied his father’s most iconic graphics of the 80s. Those boards were the best thing Santa Cruz has put out in ages. Jim told us that when he first saw the boards he wondered who they’d got to do graphics that could emulate his style so well. Then Jimbo fessed up.

Jimbo also happened to come across a stack of old Thrasher mags in his shed. Again, no big deal, right? Only the first couple of issues from 25 years ago in mint condition.

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Oh look, the first Santa Cruz ad to appear in Thrasher. I couldn’t even tell you what the dude in the ad is doing. It looks like some kind of layback on top of a set of stairs.

Portrait time!

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Jimbo, Jim, Daniel, and Fish. Interesting side note: Jim linked Jeremy’s website on his own site.

After a couple of hours, we thought we’d annoyed the Phillips family for long enough. But as it turned out, everyone was having a blast. Jim told us how he’d originally set up the Santa Cruz art department in a house he rented from his stepdad, which is where Jimbo and his family now live. They asked if we wanted to take a little drive down the road to see some more skateboard history, but we politely declined and split back to the city. No, actually we jumped at it and a few minutes later we pulled up in front of the former art department and current home.

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Out back was the shed where Jimbo had discovered the old Thrasher issues. This place was like a time capsule. Look what Jim found:

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Why would you have a sawed-in-half Rob Roskopp deck just lying around? There were tons of hand-painted surfboards, too, and more files of old graphics. We could have spent a day sorting through it all. The best score, though, was this poster of a bunch of Jim’s graphics.

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Three generations of Phillips dudes.

Man, what an epic day. Here’s one last photo I took while we were leaving the backyard shed area.

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You can’t talk 80s skateboard graphics all day and not include a cattle skull. This one was nailed to the wall.

Many thanks to Jim Phillips for being a gracious host, and also thanks to Jimbo and the rest of the Phillips family. Jim’s new book will be out soonish, but you can get his boards now.

Also, check this out. Apparently, I have borderline personality disorder coupled with alcohol dependency. Who knew?
And if you're into skateboarding graphics, check out Sean Cliver's website.

{moscomment}

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