There are too many unsung heroes of skateboarding. In Australia, Jack Tarlinton is definitely one of the least sung and most heroic. Jack is a skateboarding, car-tweaking, art-directing, drawing, painting, sculpting, Skateboarder’s Journal co-founding visionary who’s creative voice is finally being heard millions of miles away. This interview was designed to profile and investigate the construction of his latest “Cursed” series for Baker, but there were so many other aspect of Jacks life which were valid for discussion. So here we have it: the first Chin Wag that has some how morphed into a feature interview. - mc
MC: Where were you born?
JT: Dee Hwy. My old man surfed a lot there, and we lived in a fibro on the hill for my first year before moving to a farm in Kangaroo Valley. There's now a block of flats where the house I was born in used to be.
When, where and how did you first discover the magic rolling board?
Back in 1984 my cousins lived in a house out the back of Chatswood, and they had a red transparent plastic banana board which they soon got sick of and passed on to me. It was super slow, so I guess it was good for a little kid to learn on. I've had a skateboard around the house for 28 years now, not that I claim to skate as much anymore.
Where are you now?
Surry Hills in Sydney.
Because Melbourne is nice to visit but I wouldn't want to live there... I've got my missus, my dog and my vegi patch. That's all I really need. Plus, you'd need a semi trailer to move my mountain of shit anywhere.
Have you always been creatively inclined?
Yep, I've been making a mess my whole life. I've always drawn, painted and built stuff, none of it very good.
Did you draw and create all the way through your childhood to now?
I actually gave up in my 20’s; my ex is one of Australia's best fine artists and is in amazing collections everywhere. I saw what she was making and just lost interest in doing it myself. I've had a feeling since I was a teenager that people don't really hit the mark with fine art until they're in their mid 30s so I just stuck to commercial work.
What are you favourite mediums?
I don't really mind; I just work with whatever is appropriate for the brief. I'm not very good with any of them, because I don't pick them up everyday like an artist does. Sometimes I just doodle with the medium until I get the feel for it. Working on Dustin's "Spanking Nun" graphic is a good example, I hadn't used gauche for about 15 years, so I made a bunch of blobs and lines until it started to come back, then I just went for it and got it done in a night. Drawing is the same, I don't do it a lot so I'm not fluent with it, but after I do a big job, like the Baker "Super Jack" series, I feel like I could draw anything, then I have six months off and pick up a pen and just go "Oooh, this sucks, I can't draw for shit". Sculpture is thing one that seems to come out of my hands with or without practice.
Who inspires you?
Two people come to mind, my missus Anna and my oldest buddy Dustin, both for their energy and constant motivation. I try to be constantly motivated, and those two just
spur me on.
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and make myself sound like an arsehole (because I am), but I'll tell you what doesn't inspire me... I fucking hate "street art", it drives me crazy, I like the old style murals with the different elements of the community etc going about their business - graffiti is like the rollerblading of the art world to me, or is it the scooter riding equivalent? I can't make my mind up. It's a culture that I wish would just supernova and destroy itself. It devalues the beauty of a blank wall, ha ha. The fact that this stuff has made it into galleries just mystifies me. They say that art should, in some way, reflect the human condition, and this stuff, to me, just reflects what a fools paradise the world is becoming. The funny thing about my bad attitude towards this stuff is that Neckface is a good friend of mine, I have two amazing aluminum masks he made on my wall, and with his permission I gold leafed them - they are some of my favourite things, like some ancient Aztec artifacts. He knows my stance on the street art thing, and I have to say that he's very tolerant of my rants... I'm a bitter old man, next question...
Any sculptors inspire you in particular?
There are so many. Most are nameless; I really love the sculpture of Africa, of the Aztecs and Mayans, of Pacific Islanders and of ancient cultures all over the world. All the old venus figurines which date back as long as 35,000 years ago get me excited about making stuff. There are some really great Viking sculptures I love. Most of what inspires me is uncredited work, real museum kind of stuff.
Of the modern artists, it's a pretty standard list, guys like Picasso, Giacometti, some Henry Moore, even some of Antony Gormley's work, it's a pretty broad list and always getting bigger.
Did you study straight after high school? If so what did you study?
I did the shortest graphic design course I could find. Two years was more than enough for me. I just wanted to get out there and make money. Coming from a broke family will do that to you, ha ha.
Before you worked at ASM (Australian Skateboarding Mag) you worked at the Sydney Museum right? What did you do there?
I worked for a guy who specialised in graphic design for public institutions. We did work for the Art Gallery of NSW, Melbourne Museum, the Maritime Museum up here in Sydney, the War Memorial in Canberra, even the Sydney Botanic Gardens. He packed his business up for personal reasons and I took a job at The Australian Museum, which is a natural history museum. I worked on lots of amazing projects, all of the "phy's" and "ology's" - geography, ethnography, paleontology, ornitholgy etc: everything that makes up our world in a scientific sense. I did graphics for exhibitions and a lot of educational material, especially on dinosaurs, which of course was very cool. In the five years that I worked on jobs for public institutions I learnt so much, I got to absorb snippets from so many people's lifetimes of learning. I'm very grateful for that opportunity to learn, as I'm not the sort of person to study academically, but it did set me up on a path where I am constantly trying to learn more about the world we live in.
What was the first paid creative role you had within skateboarding?
I think the first were graphics for shop boards for Extreme Surf & Ski in Wollongong.
How was it working at ASM? What ruled/sucked etc.
I was going a bit crazy at the museum and took time off work altogether and moved to the country. When the money I'd saved started to run out I took the job part time with Sean (Holland). It was weird going from working with scientists, architects and professionals to working in a publishing company that was all over the place. It was a very loose structure, which was great for me at the time; we'd just drink and fuck around. That was the fun part. The battle was trying to make something that wasn't wanted or appreciated by the publisher, so what came out in the end always seemed compromised. I'm not sure if the experience was the same for you (yep sure was - ed). Steve Tierney was up the hall doing Empire, and I learnt a lot of tricks from him - he's a top art director, and I've got to thank him for his tips. I met a lot of great people there, and most of the good guys are doing their own mags independently now.
Did you and Sean meet at the mag or prior?
I met Sean years before in the Bondi mini days. I've never been able to skate tranny so I probably just sat around drinking beer like a loser. It was when he moved to Surry Hills that I really got to know him, just drinking at the Shakey and talking shit. When his art director packed up for greener pastures he looked me up and got me the job.
How long were you there?
About a year and a half. I did a couple of issue of Australian Snowboarding and helped on some other titles, surf mags and stuff if someone was sick.
Did it (the experience at ASM) provide the fuel you guys needed to start The Skateboarder’s Journal?
It did, definitely. It provided me with so many insights into the publishing world. Once I was exposed to the business side of things it made me realise that doing a much better product was a viable option for the two of us.
When did you bring out issue one of TSJ?
Mid 2006 I think. I've been buying skate mags since the 80s, and would use my bedroom walls to create layouts out of stuff that I cut out of Transworld, Thrasher, Skatin' Life and Slam, so it's been a lifetime ambition to do what I do. There are so many people from the industry that because of their support made the Journal possible. They know who they are, and we thank them from the bottoms of our hearts.
In a world that is furiously embracing the internet, you guys have your feet firmly planted in print. No website. No bookface. Is this a part of your ethos?
In a way, yes. From the start we wanted to make something of quality, something people would value and hold onto. I think that in many ways the internet is diluting skateboarding culture, the all of the hard work that these skaters are putting in is now so disposable and throw away. I still watch videos like Hokus Pokus, Videos Days and A Visual Sound, they have real value to me and have been watching them since they came out, and in so many ways the current clips can get swept under the carpet and forgotten. I'm not saying that it's all-bad, but will they have the power and value that the DVDs have? That remains to be seen. When we get our act together, we will get a website up, but it won't be for gossip etc. We can't be luddites forever...
Since the industry has tightened up it has definitely affected the world of print. Are you guys finding it tough?
Absolutely. I don't think there are many people associated with the skateboarding industry that would claim to be doing it easy.
What gives you the momentum to keep it going?
This is our lives; it's what we love. Financial reward was never the reason for starting The Journal. We don't make money from it, we have to find work elsewhere to keep it going really. Our friends are our contributors, and if we can continue to support them with income, that in itself is worth it.
Any special plans for issue 23?
If we told you I'd have to kill you. I'd like to do a creative portrait of someone again, though I don't think I have 100 hours to spend this time like I did on Bjorn's viking, ha ha.
So you also like cars right?
Yep, cars are great. And fucking torture. Dustin gave me his old 65 Falcon wagon to drive while he lives in LA. I have just spent the last three weeks cutting huge amounts of rust out, welding in new steel and making it smooth and ready for rego. My family was out of town so I spent ten hours on Christmas day trying to get it finished. It's ready for rego now, which I'll do on Monday.
What kind? What breed of machine tickles your fancy?
Traditional hot rods and customs are my thing.
Ok now over to the board art. How many board graphics have you designed to date?
Fuck, looking at all the boards stacked under my bed I'd say close to 50.
How many series in total? And for which companies?
I've only done series' for Baker, I think three full series, the "Tattoo" series, the "Super Jack" and the new "Cursed" series. I did one series that Andrew didn't think fit the brand, which is my fault because I did it without pitching the concept to Reynolds first, so if anyone is out there reading this and wants a ten board series for their company, let me know...
Tell me about your most recent series. What made you want to work with 3D models and sculptures?
My missus and I were in Gerringong for Davey Cotsios' wedding and the night before we got to our hotel all boozy and ‘Bride of Chucky’ was on. Anna made the comment that I should do Dusty as Chucky. About a year later I woke up in the middle of the night with a series in my mind: the Baker team as creepy dolls. I emailed Andrew and he basically said yes, but needed me to make a sample so he could get his head around the concept so I started on he and Dustin first. I had approval after the first round of shots I sent.
Were you influenced by any previous series from any other companies?
I loved the early everslick graphics, and the Alien Worshop board with the frog thing with the knife in its head was pretty cool. I actually spoke to Sparkes first, saying I'd love to do some 3D shit for Alien one day, but then this job came up. I'd still like to do the Alien thing one day.
What were the main steps of the process?
I build up a wire armature first to articulate the body, and then build it up in tin foil before giving it a skin in modeling clay. Most of them have dolls hands and eyes, but I ran out of decent materials toward the end so Figgy and Nuge are made from scratch.
Who was the hardest pro to build?
Figgy for sure. I made him twice, the first time he was in a cave surrounded by bones, and frankly it was shit. I just chucked it in the bin and waited until I had finished them all so I could start with a fresh mind.
Justin 'Figgy' Figueroa
Who was the easiest?
I guess Dustin; I've known him for 25 years so it was less work to get him to look OK. Herman was the most fun because he and Spanky are very similar looking guys, especially when you are caricaturing them, so I decided he had to be disfigured, and making peeling flesh is just what the clay wants to do, it just comes naturally and looks great.
How long did it take for the whole series?
Six weeks in total. Ten hours a day, seven days a week basically.
Who shot them for you?
Pete Daly shoots all of my stuff for me. He has an amazing studio in Redfern and shoots a lot of product commercially. He's really good and super fast. They didn't require a lot of lighting work, and we got the lot done in an afternoon. I can't thank him enough, the shots came out great.
Have you seen the actual boards yet?
No, I'll get them in the next shipment that goes to PD Distribution to save them money: eleven boards cost a fortune to FedEx to Australia.
Were the graphics received well by the Baker guys?
They lost their shit. I sent previews as they progressed and the emails coming back were full of exclamation marks. That's always nice.
What is next for Tarlo?
I've recently finished four more boards for Baker, and am currently working on boards for Dustin and Spanky. There should be some more mini series in the works too. It's just a matter of coming up with the goods for The Boss - he has a very clear idea of what he wants for his company and it's just a matter of me coming up with concepts that fit in with his vibe. There may be something down the line for an Aussie company too, we'll see. Doing board graphics and making the magazine is about as much fun as anyone can have making commercial work, it really is a dream come true.
The "Cursed" Series
Now make sure you put this in your bookmarks: tarloart.blogspot.com