A few months back I had reached out to Sean Cliver to see if he would take the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions that you guys have asked and being the nice guy that Sean is, he agreed. For more about Sean Cliver, please check out paisleyskates.com and check out what he’s been up to.
What would you consider as “your big break,” or do you still like to work with that chip on your shoulder?
I really couldn’t have asked for a bigger break than winning that contest for a position in the art department at Powell-Peralta in 1989 and everything since then has been a pretty natural, if not ridiculous, progression through various careers, e.g. becoming a writer/editor for Big Brother skateboard magazine in the ‘90s and then doing producer-ish type stuff for jackass throughout the next decade. So any shoulder chips went fast the fuck out the window when I was 19-years-old.
Was there ever a stagnant period in your career when you began to question yourself, and if so, how did you overcome it?
Yeah, probably around the mid-2000s… for a few years there it felt like I was just going through the motions making catalog filler. But that’s kind of what skateboard graphics had become with every pro getting like four new graphics every four months. Hell, it seemed like Bam Margera had 52 different Element graphics in one year alone. So I kind of burned out and phoned a lot of shit in at Birdhouse up until I got an offer from Supreme in 2007 to do a couple a graphics in my “early ‘90s” style. So between that and seeing a lot of the rad shit that Todd Bratrud was doing it reignited the fire under my ass.
Is there a particular board graphic that you have done that you hold higher than the rest, maybe a personal favorite? If so, why?
I guess it will always be the very first board I did for Ray Barbee in 1989. You know, aside from the “you never forget your first” and all that, I really couldn’t have lucked into my first pro graphic being for a better guy. Twenty-seven years later, Ray and I are still working together, the most recent being for his Element board and apparel collection.
What was the reason for creating the Halloween-themed collection for Supreme and why you decided to dress up characters as Adolf Hitler, Bin Laden, Klan Member, etc.?
It was a loose continuation of a theme that started with a 101 Adam McNatt graphic from 1993 or ’94 featuring a line up of babies doing bad things. Not to get too conceptual, but I’ve always been fascinated by the blank, innocent slate that humans start from and then the horrible creatures they can eventually grow into.
Did you have creative freedom during the Supreme collab, or did they already have the ideas set? Also, was there any tee or deck design that didn’t make the release?
On the first couple releases, I was just given the basic direction to do what I do, which is always a bit daunting because I never know what I’m going to do until I’m backed up against a wall. It’s not like I have a Lego-like style that can be knocked out for any old occasion. So there’s the expectation of concept, which is about 65-percent of the stress, and then the remaining 35-percent is just figuring out how to actually illustrate and realize the concept. A couple other times, though, they came to me with a pretty direct idea of what they wanted, like the “Griffin” and “Goat” designs. There are a couple still waiting in the wings, but I have no idea when or if they will be released.
If the opportunity were presented to you, would a Paisley Skates? Supreme collaboration be one that would interest you?
Given my previous history with Supreme, I’m certain my Magic 8-Ball of a brain would say “signs point to yes,” because anything they produce is always of top-notch quality. Paisley is still so small that we really don’t have the ability to do anything really special beyond decks and basic t-shirts.
When you see things you’ve fully created or had a hand in going for double or triple the retail cost on the after market, is that something you particularly have an opinion on?
On one hand I’m surprised and honored, but on the other it’s weird when people start speculating on your work… especially if they’re just in the game of flipping and tossing and not actually caring. Once upon a time companies didn’t make and market skateboards with any idea of collecting in mind, so to me those were the true collectibles—the boards from the ‘80s and ‘90s—not so much the contrived products of today. Years from now it’s not like there’s going to be a shortage of any of these “limited edition” boards, because it all went right to a box or a wall and not into the streets. I suppose this sounds funny, considering the basis for my second Disposable book was all about skateboard collecting, but I stand by the caveat: Buy what you appreciate, not what you think will appreciate, because if it’s the latter then you’re in it for the entirely wrong reason.
What would you consider the coolest thing to happen to you during your career? Where you were like, “I can’t believe that actually happened.”
I came from the sticks of Wisconsin, so I’ve never shaken the “outsider” perspective. I’ll always be a fan, no matter how much of an “insider” I may be now, so it’s hard to pinpoint just one moment… they all just kind of bleed together? Looking back now, though, one of the coolest things ever was being at the first Powell-Peralta “Am Jam” in March of 1989. Stacy had just put three unknown kids from Los Angeles on the team—Guy Mariano, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Paulo Diaz—and after watching them skate that weekend it was clear that the next great evolutionary shift was about to take place. That was a really exciting time in skateboarding and I’m stoked to have witnessed so much of it firsthand.
Is there a person who inspired your style? If so, then who. If not, who is an artist that has always been an inspiration of yours?
In the beginning there was VCJ, the legendary artist for Powell-Peralta. He probably had the most significant impact on my pen and ink style, along with traces of Pushead and Jim Phillips, but then Marc McKee came along and he provided another layer of influence. Maybe not necessarily in the art style, but more in the conceptual aspect, like how to take an idea or suggestion and then push it into something better and funnier. Todd Francis is another good one like that.
And for the last question, someone was wondering, “What’s your favorite pasta dish?“
I don’t get out to eat much, but this one time in New York City I had a pasta dish that was basically just linguini, mushrooms, broccoli, garlic, and olive oil, but it was fucking amazing. My fiancee and I have tried to replicate it on a near weekly basis, but have yet to even come close. We still have no clue where all that flavor came from.
Hopefully you guys enjoyed this first installment in what I hope to be a series of interviews with Supreme collaborators. Once again, thanks to Sean for doing this and make sure to check out paisleyskates.com!