VERBAL: I really enjoy all of your work, from sculptures to the two-dimensional pieces, but I still can’t get over the technique! I used to be a skater, so when I see an old deck it brings up feelings of excitement and nostalgia. Using something so close to the heart as a means of media, and that there’s intention behind every single piece you lay down. It’s so special, that even if someone else were to try and do something similar, others would immediately recognize, “That’s Haroshi’s style.” You’re truly one of a kind.
HAROSHI: (Laughs) I’m grateful. I’ve listened to your music, so when we first met at dinner, I remember being nervous and thinking like, “wow, a celebrity!”. But later when I heard you used to skate the ice was broken instantly.
VERBAL: (Laughs) I was a street skater, for the simple reason that it was popular at the time. The first board I ever got was a deck called Extra Tough with Tony Hawk's Hawk Skulls on it, from STORMY in Harajuku. Then I moved on to Mark Gonzales, Neil Blender, John Lucero's short nose board, and Jason Jessee. Skateboarding has an anti-system attitude, or a philosophy to question existing structures and ask, "Why?". That might be what attracted me to start.
HAROSHI: Also, there’s that sense of getting a taste of being badass. There were some guys in the next junior high school suddenly wearing Dogtown or Suicidal Tendencies T-shirts and wrapping bandanas on their heads. I saw that and thought, “That’s pretty hard.”, and that’s how I first stepped into it. In middle and high school I was seriously into playing soft tennis, so I was far from being badass, but I absorbed skateboarding initially through fashion. I started off at the time as a huge fan of Christian Hosoi, also John Cardiel and Tony Trujillo later. It’s pretty intimidating as it takes guts to decide to start skating, don’t you think?
The Link Between Skateboarding and Creativity
IN CONVERSATION: VERBAL & HAROSHI
AMBUSH® CEO Verbal and contemporary artist HAROSHI discuss the intersection of art, fashion, music and skateboarding. What are the key links between creativity and skateboarding that they recall from their childhood memories?
With layers of fine maple boards stacked on top of each other to create one whole skateboard deck, contemporary artist HAROSHI molds and breathes new life into the wood scraps sourced from skateboarders around the world, creating sculptures and two-dimensional art pieces. The colorful pop pieces attract the eyes of many, even those not aware of his production process, and not only does his work depict his distinct concept and love for skateboarding, it also holds the secrets of the original deck owners, embracing the stories that have been told before them.
Taking place at Tokyo contemporary art gallery Nanzuka Underground during HAROSHI’s solo exhibition, AMBUSH® CEO Verbal — who grew up skateboarding himself — stands in front of the artworks and their countless stories with a beaming grin. How did HAROSHI and Verbal's creativity, connections with people, and the appeal of skate all significantly grow through skateboarding?
VERBAL: I'm the type I noticed the fashion later (laughs). I started because I saw clips of skaters overseas, and so one day I went up to some local skaters hanging in a vacant lot in my neighborhood and asked if I could join. They looked at me sideways and were like, “Who are you and what school are you from?” (Laughs). I went to an international school, so I didn't know anything about any relations or beef between local junior high schools, but they let me hang because I was always in the area. That’s where I learned about things like street culture and how to speak with honorifics (laughs). When we’d be skating, someone would pull up on a scooter and be like “Yo there’s a fight going on at so and so!”, then everyone would grab their boards and disappear. I’d be left stranded behind looking at the ramp like, “Oh, I’m cleaning this up?” (Laughs)
HAROSHI: I can imagine (laughs). But people who like to skate are all cool with each other, like having skateboarding as a mutual interest is all you need to spark a relationship. Even now there are older dudes covered in tattoos, shredding a bowl, but on the other hand are kids like Yuto Horigome whose looks are more conservative but are insanely talented. Both are equally appreciated and hold a place in the community. Race doesn’t matter, and when you actually go to overseas skate spots there are almost always all races.
VERBAL: I agree. You don’t need to be rich to skate. It’s very inclusive. I started skating around 1986, and skaters that were wildly popular then like Tony Hawk or Mark Gonzales are still extremely relevant today. I think the current youth culture still appreciates the spirit of questioning current situations. The basis of skateboarding from the beginning has always been to “question the status quo”, and that kept elevating the culture. Why do you think skateboarding, rather than other extreme sports, is so timeless and popular with young people?
HAROSHI: The coolness of skateboards doesn't fade, and even if you look at the pictures, they're so sick right? I might be a little biased because I obviously like skateboarding. But I can say for sure that skating, art, fashion and music are incredibly linked. Art, fashion and music are the centers of interest for the youth. Skateboards have ridiculously sick art drawn on the deck that can also be displayed. Even if something is drawn on a BMX frame or inline skates, it's hard to just put it up on your wall. I think that accessibility makes a big difference from other extreme sports.
VERBAL: So true! The deck is a canvas.
HAROSHI: That's right. If you go out into the city with a deck with art on it, it’s a way of self-expression and assertion — just like fashion.
VERBAL: Besides, a lot of people who used to skateboard are still in the creative field, such as artists, actors, designers, etc.
HAROSHI: Definitely. The main premise of skaters is to think and create. Especially street skating, it's all about how you enjoy yourself in the city, like trying to nose slide on a curb, or figuring out how to approach a flight of stairs.
VERBAL: That's right. Being creative with what's in the city may even lead to their future.
HAROSHI: You also get to explore music through skate videos and skate media. It leads to art, music and fashion. I think the story of Lance Mountain, as a kid, drawing the artwork for Suicidal Tendencies T-shirts is crazy, and Mark Gonzales and Neil Blender both drawing their own deck de-signs at the time. With that in mind, both now and in the past, it feels natural for young people to be attracted to skateboarding and to find creativity within themselves through it.
VERBAL: Absolutely. Speaking of Neil Blender, I was in band in high school — I was rapping, the guitarist and bassist only listened to heavy metal, and m-flo's Taku was playing the drums — and I drew the cover art for our demo tapes at the time, and you can tell that I was completely influenced by Neil Blender’s artwork. (Laughs)
HAROSHI: That sounds amazing, it seems to be the forerunner of Mixture Rock. You gotta let me listen to a song next time! (Laughs) [Editor’s Note: Mixture Rock is a genre of music in Japan, that mixes funk, hip hop and rock.]
Images: Kenta Iriguchi
Text: Saori Ohara