Interview with Ed Templeton

Juxtapoz // Monday, 09 Nov 2009

Erin Dyer: How do you feel about group shows? What’s required for you to participate in one?

Ed Templeton: Damn all these group shows! No, I have no vendetta against group shows. If the curator of a group show has an interesting point to make in his or her selection of artists, then a group show is usually very interesting. As far as being in them, I'm just a phone call or email away. But if I have to pack and ship artwork at my own expense, then you will have to be a pretty close friend or be calling out a serious favor.

Did you know right away when I asked you to participate what piece you wanted to donate?

Not at all. I have so much work piled around me since I usually have so many pieces in my shows. I just got all the Beautiful Losers work back that has been traveling around for so many years, so my living room is stacked with stuff. When the time came to ante up for the show, I chose from my pile.

Bam Under the Light. Black and white photograph with text, 14.5” x 20”, 1998-1999/2006.

How do you personally best describe your art?

That is a charged question with no way to answer without sounding like a total asshole, and yet, I take photographs, make paintings, silk-screens, watercolors—sometimes all of these mix. As far as what the photos and paintings look like, with painting, I’m still learning how to paint as I go. I never went to school for art, so each year things are a bit different. I make portraits of people that I know, but not only portraits, some are flat and colorful with lots of profiles and word bubbles. That’s a very base description. The photographs I take all day every day, whatever’s in front of me. My friends, wife, the people in the streets—pretty much anything. I’m a vacuum of image taking—soul stealing if you will. I prefer to shoot people. I use film only, and print traditionally (the old way) on fiber-based paper. Color and digital photography has taken over and is the mainstream, now black and white is the new anti-trend.

What sort of topics and/or news items are you paying attention to lately? What do you see as pressing topics people should be abreast of?

I’m a news junky now. I woke up one morning and was old in that I like to read the paper and keep up on politics. When I was young I couldn’t care less! I don’t know why I care about this stuff. It does help me make a more informed vote when voting time comes. It makes me want to vote. Politics is the ultimate reality show with way crazier people. I like watching Bill Maher; he pretty much has the only show on TV with balls. I’m not some mega-do-gooder but I do make choices based on morals. I try to buy decent products, eat vegan, etc, the stuff that everyone should do normally and not feel proud of it. Like that Chris Rock joke about the guy who’s proud that he takes care of his baby. You’re supposed to take care of your baby! How is our environment or your own body any different?

Both yourself and Deanna are reoccurring important features in your work. How much of your personal life in general, not just you and your wife, informs your art? Why, and/or what do you seek to work out by painting people and things relevant in your daily life?

As far as painting someone’s portrait, I like the act of drawing someone onto a canvas in real life. As inept as I am at drawing, that act is the key to the whole process. The fact that something really happened, a person sat down and stared at me and me at them for a half-hour or so. Ideally I capture that time—long observing time, not the fraction of a second that a photograph represents—and it manifests itself in the finished canvas. I do the people closer to me because I want to know them, and I want that knowing to say something about them for the viewer. For photographs I shoot everything, and when I sort through the images they serve as memory jogs. I’ve had over six bad concussions skateboarding and I feel like my memory fails me. When I see a photo it brings back the surrounding time, the smells, the people; I can remember again. I choose photos for shows that I think lend explanation to the general story I’m trying tell, the viewpoint of my life, for whatever that’s worth. Some may think it isn’t worth a nickel.


You’re last exhibition was in Belgium, and you’re preparing for another show there next year. What’s the appeal in exhibiting internationally?

I feel like I’ve had more invitations to show in Europe than in the United States. I can’t explain it. My gallerist in Belgium, Tim Van Laere, told me that Paul McCarthy was huge in Europe and in many big museum collections way before he was embraced by the US institutions. Maybe my work is more interesting to someone who hasn’t experienced living in America. Perhaps it’s passé for an American audience? The appeal is that Europeans, and especially Belgians, are very enthusiastic about art, much more than the casual laid-back Southern Californian scene. Plus, I love to travel, and when I have a show in Belgium it gives Deanna and me a reason to cruise around Europe taking photos and soaking up culture. Culture vultures.

How, if at all, does your international audience differ from your American fan base?

It’s hard to say. Both places bring out skateboarders, a thing I love and appreciate. It is nice to see a bunch of scrappy kids with skateboards among the be-suited art world regulars and art hipsters. It makes for a good mix. I think what I do can appeal to two separate audiences. For instance, a photograph of a known professional skater signing a girl’s cleavage; the person who knows nothing about skating will see the photo and recognize the story of small-time fame in a microcosm, of male-female interactions, etc. But the skater kid may see it and know instantly who that person is, it becomes an inside look into the world they follow, something totally different than the first person. There’s not much difference, however, that I see in the audience. The world is so small these days, and an art lover is an art lover, be it here in LA or in Helsinki.


How do you balance the responsibilities of being a top-level pro, company owner, and full-time artist? Any one of those jobs is sometimes too much for a single individual. Especially when the demands of filming a new video part are upon you.

Well, sadly, the “top-level pro” title isn’t true anymore! I’m still a pro skater, but I’m not delivering the goods like the pros out there busting their ass. I’m 37 now but I still go on tour every summer and do demos throughout the year. As the art stuff takes off, it’s much harder to juggle everything. “A man with many talents is a master of none.” I think that’s a Chinese proverb or something. I think about that all the time. I think to myself, “I am sucking at everything I’m doing!” I’m not claiming that I’m super-human or anything, I do juggle a lot of things, being one of the editors of ANP Quarterly magazine to pro skating, making art, running a company, being married. I get taxed from the stress sometimes. I guess I’m willing to run all of it to the ground and crash if that’s what happens. Perhaps that’s why it’s still interesting to people … to me? When you’re juggling you’ll inevitably drop the ball.

Under what circumstances or mood are you in when you decide, this is time to skate versus this is time for art making?

Oh, that’s all practical. I don’t really decide, it just happens organically out of necessity. If I have a tour or demo, I’m skating. If my bros call me up and say we’re off to skate some spot or skatepark, then I go or not depending on what deadlines are in front of me. I may have to stay home and do graphics for Toy Machine or finish painting for a show instead of going skating. When I have a show planned, I work towards the show. It makes me work; I may procrastinate until death if there was no deadline.

What’s your decision-making process in assessing which of your artwork goes to be used for skate graphics and Toy Machine business and what goes to galleries?

That’s easy. I have a slew of characters I use for Toy Machine that don’t really show up in my artwork. The Toy Machine artwork is very graphic, based on brush and ink line drawings mostly that I color on the computer. I do nothing like that for my personal artwork. All that is done by hand, no computers. The characters have developed over time from comics and doodles. Our Turtle Boy character came from a drawing of Andrew Reynolds I did, he looked like a turtle at the time. Then I started making graphics with that character called Turtle Boy Reynolds. I later dropped the “Reynolds.” Sometimes it works the other way around, though, and I will use artwork I made for myself as a graphic.

Aaron Rose said in an interview that your “first paintings sucked, but gradually, bit by bit by working his ass off he’s gotten to be amazing.” Do you confirm or deny this assessment? What’s driven you to paint, shoot photographs, and create art all these years?

Like I said earlier I never was taught, so if we’re looking at my paintings from 1994 they will certainly suck in comparison to what I’m doing now. And what I’m doing now will suck in comparison to someone who knows what they’re doing. I like not knowing. I like making the mistakes and learning for myself. Maybe when I’m 80 or 90 I’ll be a master. So Aaron is right, we have laughed about this together. I think I’m driven in part by the love of making, taking, and seeing what that looks like after you have changed it, but also from the taste of communication with an audience you get when you do a gallery or museum show. I love the interaction and the conversation that’s ongoing with the people that are looking at art. Just like I have ongoing thoughts with all the artists I see in galleries. That’s fun.

If someone had told you 20 years ago you’d have a major contemporary art market following, would you have believed them?

No. And it still isn’t true.

Words of wisdom?


More on Ed Templeton can be found at

Bid on Ed Templeton’s auction piece, Bam Under the Light [Black and white photograph with text, 14.5” x 20”, 1998-1999/2006] online HERE.



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