David Cook

The Legend of Bonethrower

Interview by Mark Brickley // Portrait by Matthew Reamer 

David Cook, AKA Bonethrower, granted himself permission to be an artist. Nobody hired him to do it, he didn’t win a scholarship, he doesn’t come from a privileged family, or hell, even a hip art scene. David just decided one day that he would simply make his daydream into his day job. And even though it wasn’t easy, he never looked back, he never gave up and never stopped dreaming and drawing. He just simply did it. He did it over and over again until he got good, until people started to notice, and until he finally got hired to do it.  It’s a classic tale of showing the world who you want to be, and then becoming that person. That’s how my punk rock childhood friend from Louisville, Kentucky became Bonethrower, a successful illustrator and visual artist living in Los Angeles, California. 

Mark Brickey: I'm confused on whether skateboarding led you to punk rock or punk rock led you to skateboarding?
David Cook: I would have to say I found them both at the same time. I got my very first skateboard and punk mixed tape from a guy that I met in my neighborhood when I was in the eighth grade, and I have never looked back. It changed everything for me. I know it's been said a million times before, but punk rock and skateboarding really saved my life.

Refresh my memory, which one of these childhood obsessions got you on the path of being part of the subculture?
Again, I would really have to say both. They both changed the way I looked at everything and made me feel like I could try anything. Seeing Mark Gonzales and Natas drawing all over their griptape and shoes really helped me see that you can do whatever you want, and that you should try anything and everything. Same with music, I think, seeing how these people in these bands not only wrote this insane, amazing music but also created their own record covers and T-shirt art, often printing everything themselves. That was all just so exciting to me and made me want to try all of it for myself.

David Cook and the Legend of Bonethrower

Do you remember what you were drawing on your high school notebooks?
All kinds of stuff, really. A lot of skulls and elaborate battle scenes. Batman was a big one for me for a while.

Do you have any memory of the first time you started to develop a style?
Maybe two or three years before I moved to NYC, so maybe around 2001 or 2002. I went through a shitty break up and just decided to really focus and draw every day and see what would happen. I have never been much into sketchbooks, but I decided to try and fill as many up as I could, and through that, I started to see a style develop. I could just see myself improving all the time and I was having a blast while I was doing it. It took me to a whole new world that I just wanted to keep developing and see where it would take me, for no other reason really than to see what I might be capable of. 

David Cook and the Legend of Bonethrower

I remember that there was a point where you hardcore illustrated birds all of the time. 
That was most definitely during this time period. It’s also during this time that I started messing around with wood cut-outs and painting—the very beginning of finding what worked for me and what felt right. A lot of the things I came up with in this time are what I still do today in one way or another. I mean, I knew I wanted to try my hand at painting, but due to my colorblindness, I knew that mixing paints was going to be impossible for me. So I just figured out what worked best for me, and in that, I kind of came up with a way to approach things in a totally new way. A style of my very own, I guess. 

Some would say that you were studying the bird, but looking back on it, it feels like you were more trying to master the art of being you, rather than trying to illustrate the best avian possible.
I would say that is true, for sure. Draw, repeat, and then do it again—trying to find new patterns and ways to do things, trying to find a way to draw super clean lines. Just fucking up and learning from my mistakes, which is how I still work today. It makes me crazy sometimes, but it works for me, to the point where I know I have fucked something up, but I will make myself finish the drawing and then immediately throw it in the trash. It helps me to remember to not make that mistake again or find a way to fix it.

David Cook and the Legend of Bonethrower

If Kentucky Dave Cook was all about the birds, would it be safe to say that Brooklyn Bonethrower was the true invention of your modern style? 
For sure. I think it's when I found who I was. That is what the move to NYC does for a lot of folks, I think. Living there and going through all the experiences I was able to have for sure helped me develop a visual vocabulary of my own. It also just gave me so many opportunities to try so many new ways of doing things.  A lack of space will really push you to work in new ways, and lord knows I had some weird living situations.

When I was hanging out in Brooklyn, I was having a successful run at being a gig poster artist, and you were just going wild with zines and stickers. Just making art for making it and passing it out to anyone that would take it. I would show your zines to my poster friends and everyone that saw your work knew that you were onto something very special that had the chance of being something really big. Many artists take a hundred baby steps into becoming a full-time illustrator or creative. I always admired that you were either crazy brave or just crazy-crazy, the way you just dove in and decided to do it. The whole flight or fight theory was out the window, you we are all fight, all of the time. Just grinding out the work without any assignments or purpose, it always seemed really punk to me.  
Man, that means the world for me to hear you say that. I was still working nine-to-five jobs and making art in any free time I could find. I was just making everything for fun and for myself. Every now and again, I would get a gig drawing something for a band, but for the most part, it was all just for the pure joy of doing it. I just tried to make the effort to get it seen as much as possible, whether through zines, stickers, the internet, or the coffee shop down the street. I honestly didn't know any other way to do it. I just figured I would push it the same way a punk band would and see what happened.

I also was not scared to reach out to an artist that I liked and admired, ask questions and try and get their opinions on what I was doing. That was a pretty big one for me, and I'm super happy to say that some of these folks have gone on to do amazing things, and that I can still call them my friends.

I think I just took that from the ideas of punk as well. I mean, there was no internet when we were growing up, so if you found some band you liked and you wanted to know more about them, you had to take to pen and paper and write them and hope that they would right back. Also, writing to artists I was a fan of, I was never scared to not hear back from them. I know what I do is not for everyone, but I felt like it was worth it to try.

How did you get the courage to make this leap that many people dream about but know they just don’t have the nerve to do?
Again, I think it goes back to reaching out to people and asking questions about what is the best way forward—just picking people’s brains about how they were getting to do all of these awesome things that I wanted to try my hand at. To be honest, having some great friends in amazing bands from my hometown was a big one too. Getting to do that second Young Widows record cover, and the success that record went on to have, was a big one for me. Also, I might have just been out of my mind. 

David Cook and the Legend of Bonethrower

How bad did it get in the early days? Your hall-of-fame broke moment is...
Jesus [laughs]. I feel like I'm always on the verge of having that moment. I'm not sure that is necessarily a bad thing, to be honest. I think it keeps a fire lit under my ass to keep trying my hardest and to keep improving what I do; to show folks that I am capable of more than just drawing, that there are so many other things I can do and want to try to do.

What signs was the universe giving you that this gamble was going to pay off?
To be honest, I feel like it was the first time the band Mastadon got in touch with me about doing a T-shirt for them. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how they even knew about me. I mean, a band I was totally a fan of contacting me out of the blue really blew my mind. I had a good feeling about things after that—maybe this was all finally going the direction that I had been dreaming of.

If you went to Brooklyn kinda lost, you showed up in LA totally realized as Bonethrower. You had the style, subject matter and the fan following was happening pretty quickly. If you had already found your style, what were you looking to find in the city of Lost Angels?
I had been in NYC for 11 years, and my girlfriend Tanya had been there for even longer, and we just needed a change. I also had been following the art scene out here for a long time and thought it could be a great fit for me. I just wanted to get out here and see how much farther I could push myself and push what I am doing. Also... no more winter. 

If Brooklyn was about discovering your look, it seems LA has been about it evolving. With the added space of your Silver Lake studio, you have been able to grow your work into projects from the size of a dollar bill to life-size, giant warriors. 
Getting to finally have a studio space has been incredible. It's just something that was not going to be possible when I was in NYC. I mean, I could have rented a tiny windowless space for a ridiculous amount of money there, but nothing like the space I share with folks here. To be able to make things as big as I want to and have the help and support of the Bill’s Bar family—we named the place in honor of our amazing landlord, Bill Buckingham, who passed away last year—has been incredible.

What keeps you so restless, and where do you get all of the energy to keep creating and finding new subject matters and applications?
To be honest, I think I just get real bored real fast. I like to be able to switch things up as often as I can and to try new things. I love learning something new and applying that new knowledge to what I am doing. I feel like if I'm not learning and pushing things as far as I can go, then I'm just not having fun, and to be honest, a huge part of what I do is about having fun. I always hope that is one of the things that comes through when folks see my work, that people see the humor and fun, and the technique, in what I am pushing out into the world.

How big of a challenge was it do design a shoe for adidas that had the perfect balance of your design style and wearability? If you made it too much about the artwork, you could have made a really ugly shoe. For an illustrator and painter, you pretty much nailed your first-ever commercial consumer product!
You are totally correct in saying that it would be easily possible to make a crazy looking, ugly shoe. I just wanted to make something that was understated but still had some really cool little details that even an aging dude like myself might want to wear. You know, not too flashy but with some really cool bells and whistles that make you feel like you having something a little special on your feet. I could not be more stoked on the shoe and the whole collection. 

David Cook and the Legend of Bonethrower

Growing up skateboarding and having that be such a huge part of your history, how rad is it to design a product like these shoes for that world?
I never thought in a million years that, one, I would get to design anything for adidas and that it would be a shoe that has my name on it. I mean, come on, that is every skateboarder’s dream. It is, by far, my favorite thing I have ever had the opportunity to do. I can't wait until it's out there in the world and I get to see people actually wearing it. Total dream come true for me. 

David Cook and the Legend of Bonethrower

Hey man, when we were teenagers and you snuck me out of my house to go three states away to a punk show, did you ever think that we would both live in California, be professional artists, and be in a interview together? 
Lord, no. The thought hadn’t even occurred that leaving that city was even a possibility. I mean, yeah, I was lucky that I got to travel around the country with friends’ bands, but the idea of moving somewhere else seemed so far away and impossible. I have to say, though, that as much as I know we both love where we came from, I am super proud that both of us moved on to arrive where we are now. 

Please never stop drawing Mickey Mouse!
Well, at this point, I don't think that’s even possible. It's entirely too much fun.

Juxtapoz and adidas Skateboarding are hosting a special release party for the Bonethrower collaboration on August 5, 2017 in Los Angeles.