Steve Olson Has Come a Long Way From Appearing In Devo Videos
To be sure, Steve Olson is the modern equivalent of a renaissance man with a street edge: he is a man of action, not bulky proclamations, weak dribbling philosophy or crimped visions. He steadfastly helped revolutionize skateboarding in the late 1970s, brainstormed the clothing line SOS, was cast in movies (Thrashin') and music videos (Devo's "Freedom of Choice"), showed up in adverts from Chevy to Reebok, has made penetrating art with the likes of Yaniv Evan (Powerplant Choppers) and music with bands like the Joneses, written a screenplay and contributed to Juicemagazine, and much more.
Photos courtesy of Steve Olson "Smoking Americans," by Steve Olson
Since Olson is in Houston briefly making art and showing his work, Rocks Off caught up with the restless soul before he is inducted into the International Skateboarding Hall of Fame on May 15.
Rocks Off: Although many people derided skateboards as toys, do you think they were one of the most profound tools of the late 20th-century -- a way for a whole generation to rethink space and the human body?
Steve Olson: First off, the skateboard was a toy. Through the years, it developed into a sport. Now, it's a way of life for a lot of people around the world. It's really an amazing feeling. Whatever level you're at in your skill set of skateboarding, it kinda rules. Profound tool of the 20th century...YES.
It helped launch so many different types of attitudes. It opened my eyes to music, that then lead me into everything else I would eventually discover and become involved in. For an example, when I came to Houston this trip, I forgot my skateboard in my studio as I was leaving super-early in the morning. When I reached the airport, I realized I didn't have it.
Whether or not I would get to skate on this trip, it really felt like I had left a piece of me behind, and that was so not cool and really fucked with my head -- strange, but true. I'm 52, [and] that was a funny realization. Luckily, someone shipped it to me, and now I'm complete. Hah!
"I...continue to break the boundaries...Always," you've said. Does that come from the skater in you, the punk, the artist, or all those sides of you?
As long as my peers and I continue to skateboard, we will always be breaking boundaries. See, we're all in our fifties and some in their sixties, like Cliff Coleman, and we still skate, some more than others, but nonetheless.
Not too many people understand that it's quite alright to keep doing things you love until you die. It just hurts a liltle more, no big thing. You might fall but get back up to do it all again. Simple. Painful. But so worth it. That's just the way I feel about it, and that comes from living how one chooses to. It's all in the attitude you develop as a person, throughout life. Live it, or get out of the way.
You've described your art as a "self-made style" that "gleefully trashes conventions of beauty." Is your subversion another way to explore art-as-commodity as well?
If you choose to do something for yourself, like I make art and make a living doing what I dig, then you need to get paid somehow to pay bills, get supplies, just basic needs. As a commodity, yes, it is. Why wouldn't you hustle what you love doing, so you can keep doing it. It's not the most important part of it, at all, but something has to pay your bills, that's just life in the modern world. I just love making art, just like skateboarding, or whatever else gets me excited about life.
You've also said you harbor no secrets -- are you living according to some kind of Walt Whitman legacy, making life transparent and open, or some other code?
If you're living and not doing lame things, and have nothing to really hide why would you not want to share life with others that might get something out of your experiences and figure something out that they're struggling with, or vice versa. It's called sharing and not [being] in the egotistic side of fear. Pretty easy way to deal with it. Would Walt agree? I'm not talking about Disney...
I know you are here in Houston making public art -- a sculpture for a skate park and an art car. How do these mediums, spaces, and audiences speak differently to you than, say, a gallery show?
I'm not so sure if the mediums are so different. The Art Car is different only that it's a moving vehicle driving in a parade, which is really exciting to me because of the history of the parade itself, as well as I've never been in a parade. Dopeness. To be collaborating with my good friend and Wolfbat General, as well as Dennis McNett, and Dylan Goldberger, life is rather crazy sometimes...but superb.
The Public Sculpture is going to be Amazing. "High Noon" is the title, and the opportunity to be able to produce the piece is mind-blowing just the same, but making stuff is just that -- making stuff, really cool and beautiful stuff/Art.
I know Texas skate-punk legend Tim Kerr appeared in the "Generationless: Skateboarders Are Artists, Too!" show with you just a few months back. Did the Big Boys have a big impact on you?
I just really liked what they were doing a lot. They had their own take on everything, which is really important to me as a person. Just the fact that they'd do a version of "Hollywood Swinging" spoke volumes to me.
Since then, I've just kept up on what Tim Kerr has been doing, from Poison 13 and Bad Mutha Goose to Monkeywrench. Not to leave out that he's just a really good person, which is why he's so awesome, and I rarely use that word. His art is also outstanding just like him...But he's got a great support system, his amazing wife. Enough said.
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