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Kevin “Spanky” Long Interview

Slightly surreal

Posted in: Interviews

Introduction & childhood drawings scans by Spanky’s dad.

What do you call what you are doing on Instagram? Is it art, is it comedy, is it design?

Ah, I don’t know, I’ve never had to define it. I just think of it all as artwork.

How did your interest in art start?

I was interested in art even before I started skateboarding, more just drawing and stuff, but then because of some of the influence I had growing up through skateboarding, I am pretty much into DIY culture and people making their own graphics and taking photos. I was surrounded by people like Ed Templeton and Jerry Hsu when I was younger. I had access to that, so I’ve started doing board graphics and then designs for my different sponsors. The photo stuff, the edits that came about by being on tour, shooting photos of my friends and messing around with it, and having access to weird technology that gives me a way to manipulate things whenever I’m bored in the van or whatever. That sort of started as a joke and became a lens to show my life through, I guess. Oftentimes, these things aren’t fully thought out.

So it all started in the tour van?

Yeah, a lot of things for me happened in the tour van, because you are simultaneously surrounded by interesting things and you have a lot of down time. You can either consume or you can create. Luckily, there are all these ways now where you can be creating.

Steve olson ORIGINAL c Ivory Serra Collage

Photo by Ivory Serra, edited by Spanky

How do you make your artworks?

The stuff I use to edit photos are all just on my phone. There are applications that essentially are lighter versions of Photoshop. I do some video stuff and a lot of that with the same applications. I use a bunch of different ones, but they’re all cheap kinds of toys. I like to mix a bunch of things together. I’m cutting things out with my finger on the phone, you know, just two different layers of photos, and then painstakingly cutting them out and erasing things, multiplying and doing all these things – and with the videos, it’s stop-motion animation.

So you are doing it frame by frame?

Yeah. For one, it’s a mixture, really painstaking stuff that happens quite quickly cause I do it so often now. I don’t actually have to spend tons of time, but I have to admit they’re kind of intricate little things. It’s not like a program where you select things and it does all the work for you.

"I’m trying to draw a line between reality and something that’s slightly surreal"

Friends who were on tour with you told me that you put a lot of effort into it.

I mean, that’s just my thing. I find things like that very therapeutic. I’d be doing something like that all the time if I could. It works with my personality to be able to channel concentration or energy into one thing. I have one of those attention spans that needs to be stimulated. It helps to have a lot of different things, especially when I’m not skating.

Talking about new stimulus, your artworks changed over time as well.

I don’t really know. I see it all as kind of the same thing, maybe evolving a little bit. It’s tough for me to say. I like the limitations with the medium. You have one program and then you see how far you can push that. The Etch A Sketch is a very limiting medium too, so it’s taking something that you have a lot of limitations with and seeing how far you can take that. I don’t know if that’s changed aesthetically too much. To me, it seems like kinda the same thing, images that look really familiar and then having something slightly off about them.

What catches your attention in order to make something out of it?

I like to just let it be dictated by my surroundings, so that’s what is nice about it being in my pocket all the time. It’s just what’s going on around me, and then when you are doing something like that, so often you start to look at the things around you through that lens – you see it worked before you even do it. I like that it changes a little bit my perception of the world. I’m talking about it in serious terms, but I don’t take it very seriously – it’s just a fun outlet!

And you have a lot of output.

Yeah, that’s true. I think part of our requirement in skateboarding is the social media aspect of it. Maybe it’s not a requirement but certainly a big part of the job. There are parts of it where I want to make sure it’s something personal to me without having personal information about myself. I feel if I can lend an artistic perspective to it, I don’t have to make it very personal about the information I’m giving.

Are you in contact with your insta-followers?

I try to be a little bit, but I do also value my privacy, so I can’t fully open it up. I can say that a lot of the feedback I get is, “What app is this?” Definitely, I’m not private about that, but as I said, there are a lot of painstaking steps which I would have to spend all of life to explain them. Additionally, skateboarders are very serious about their pants. So another one I get often is, “What kind of pants are these?”

I feel sometimes if you watch the ‘making of’ a movie, you’ll ruin it to a certain extent. It’s the same with your artworks.

I appreciate that, I also appreciate the curiosity to a certain extent. I like things that look like they were made by hand. That’s another element of it. Like, you can see from an animation that it’s rather stop motion than something that looks like special effects. I like them to look a little rougher on the edges because that’s part of making it looking a bit off. I’m trying to draw a line between reality and something that’s slightly surreal.

Let’s get back to the Etch A Sketch again cause I was always wondering, what is the advantage? Wouldn’t it be way easier with a pen?

The limitations make it fun when you’re drawing someone skateboarding. It has to be one line. You can only go in one direction and you have to go back over every line. When you increase the stakes, you slow down. You’re using both hands at the same time, so that changes the way it goes from your brain to your hands. It’s not permanent anyway, so it’s more about the process than the outcome. That is very therapeutic.

"Social media has changed what it means to have any sort of career or title"

You’re doing animations now as well.

I have a digital version of the Etch A Sketch and you do frame-by-frame animations. It’s really time-consuming.

How long did this kickflip animation take you?

I can’t remember, but that was my first attempt at using it. I put it away after that because it took so long.

Did you do it as a child or was your first time using it as an adult?

I played with it as a child a little bit, but I started using it properly as an adult in a van on a Baker tour.

You do a lot of different stuff. Do you also work on sculptures?

Sculpture is something that I have been thinking a lot about lately. I would love to work in that medium at some point. I have done some things in clay and with papier-mâché. It is fun to think about things in 3D for sure.

Do you talk to Ed and Jerry about your ideas?

Yes, I talk to Ed a bit these days. I saw him recently and we always discuss art. He was such a great example to have when I was young and impressionable. Me and Jerry talk about art all the time too. He does his brand Sci-Fi Fantasy now and I do art direction for Baker, so we run ideas by each other all the time. I do a lot of the graphics for Baker, and all of the graphics that come from other artists I have a hand in – whether it’s with laying them out or communicating with the artists. Andrew also does creative direction and we have a lot of help from some great graphic designers.

How is it doing the art direction for a skateboard brand?

I love it, it’s an education. It’s nice to have the structure of seasons and to be constantly thinking about ideas. There’s a lot of space to get my creative energy out.

How does your week look in terms of office appointments and meetings?

Most of it can be done on my phone, especially because we have an art department. Baker is close to where I live, so it’s nice to go in and check out samples. I could go in there every day and have enough to do, but I’m lucky enough to have the time to go out skating, too. It varies, I might be on tour for three weeks or in the office for five days straight.

You also did a RVCA collection and directed a music video for Animal Collective.

Animal Collective approached me because I’ve known those guys for some time. I did a shirt for them and then we did a Baker board in collaboration. These are all projects that I could never say no to, so it’s been super busy, but I feel lucky to be involved.

Would you say you are at the height of your career now?

It absolutely feels like that. It’s the most fun I’ve had and the most inspired I’ve ever been.

Are you planning on doing an exhibition at some point?

I did a private exhibition in L.A. and I’m planning to do an exhibition for RVCA in San Francisco. That will coincide with a Baker/RVCA collaboration.

Do you exhibit the things you post on IG? Or drawings or paintings?

I have exhibited both before and I like when it all sits in one world – the drawings and paintings, and then the photos and Etch A Sketches and maybe a video component. That’s the ideal, but we’ll have to work with the space and see what looks best in there. The L.A. exhibition was a private event for just one day. I did it for Porsche.

Your brother’s a driver for them right?

Yes, it came through him because he’s super involved with Porsche. They wanted to do an event with both of us. It was strange though because we were entertaining a group of 30-40 influencers at a private event, but it was fun. It was the first thing we’ve worked on together and it was nice. I don’t know a lot about cars, but I like the aesthetics, so it didn’t feel like doing a Burger King commercial or some shit.

With all the stuff going on, in which direction do you want to go next?

I am happy to be in a place right now where I can combine art direction and skateboarding. Instead of thinking what’s next, I just want to keep going in directions that make sense. Social media has changed what it means to have any sort of career or title. I’m just going to say yes to everything that is presented to me. I like the grey area right now, following the direction that’s inspiring. The key is to hold space for exploration, but I’d also be happy to just work at Baker, it makes me so happy.

Do you have a favorite Dustin Dollin story for the end of this interview?

I’ve known that fool for so long. I have thousands of Dustin stories. One of the reasons I got on Baker was because I hopped on a tour right after I quit riding for City Stars. I didn’t know what I was going to do and I was skating a lot with Andrew [Reynolds] and [Bryan] Herman because I was on Emerica. They asked if I wanted to come along on a Baker trip to Australia to stay at Dustin’s place. That was the catalyst for me getting on Baker. He lived up to the persona of being the loudmouthed asshole, it was hilarious. He gave me a lot of shit, “You’re gonna ride for us or not?” I was definitely down to be on already, but I let him sound off. It was an honor to let him think he was strong-arming me.