Jazz & Skateboards

Back in March, I reported about these beautiful Miles Davis Quintet Skateboards and the other day I stumble across a Marvin Gaye deck. Turns out, both were designed by Californian painter Ian Johnson.

Having spent 12 years of my own life on a skateboard and sharing the taste of music, I contacted Ian to speak about his work.

Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Ian Johnson. I draw, paint and am the art director for Western Edition skateboards.

You obviously have a passion for jazz music, where does it come from?
I think jazz is some of the first music I remember hearing at my grandparent's house. So it started back then and kind of stuck with me. When I got older and started listening to hip hop/rap music, the songs with jazz samples were the ones I was more drawn to. Then when I got a little older i started buying jazz and hearing and learning where those sounds came from. I love the music and the history, the stories and the visuals all at the same time.

Do you consider yourself being a records collector?
I have records, but I'm not a real record collector. I don't go hunting for rare stuff or spend tons of money on it or have 5,000 records or nothing like that. It's rad to see peoples collections and I respect their pursuits. If I see something I like I'll buy it, but I'm not obsessed with having it all or originals or rare stuff. I just try and get what I like and will listen to.


Jazz and skateboards, sounds like an unusual combination. Where I come from the skate kids listen to punk or hip hop.
I think there is a lot of people that appreciate jazz in skateboarding. Jazz had a big impact on punk and hip hop. I think people that really know about either of those genres respect jazz and see the connections between all of it. Jazz in skateboarding has been around for a while, I'm not the only one to marry the two. Mark Gonzales' part in Video Days (widely regarded as the best street skateboarding video of all time) had John Coltrane as the soundtrack. Stereo had a lot of jazz inspired graphics and their first video was almost exclusively jazz. Thats kind of how I got into jazz as well. So I think there are people that dig it. Some people think I suck to but what can you do.

Which jazz musician fascinates you the most, and who in your opinion is the greatest jazz musician?
Eric Dolphy is probably the person I have drawn the most. I think he always seemed to be deep in thought. By all accounts he was a really kind and gentle man, but there was something sad in him it seemed. And his music is some of my favorite. I like to draw Art Blakey a lot too, he has a lot going on in his face. As for greatest jazz musician, I don't know how you can really say that, it's kind of subject to the guidelines you give it. I think Coltrane's body of work is pretty amazing. The fact that he just keep pushing himself and his music and showed so many sides of himself is quite remarkable.

Who do you think buys most of those beautiful decks, collectors or people that actually skate on them?
I think it's more skaters, but recently a lot more collectors have been buying them. It depends on the series or the graphics.

Lastly, can you tell us about your book?
It's called Beauty Is A Rare Thing and put out by Paper Museum Press. It was kind of timed around a show I had at Park Life a year ago but not specifically for that. It's just a collection of things I made over the last ten years.

Apart from designing skateboards, Ian's work has been published in Wax Poetic and Straight No Chaser. If you're interested in getting his book you better hurry up, as there are only 500 copies available!

Published on August 21, 2009

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