We’ve been wanting to interview Russ Pope for a long time. He’s one of the artists that best exemplifies the loose but intrinsic connection between art, skateboarding, music and the creative culture that surrounds, informs and is spawned by it.

Over almost three decades Pope has been a sponsored skater, started companies like Creature and Scarecrow skateboards, and worked for core brands from SMA to Vans, all the while developing his artistic style. HIs bold brushstrokes, thick fluid lines and bold use of colour are a signature, while characters and references to skating, music and modern culture are ongoing themes.

Russ has exhibited his paintings all over the US, in Europe and Japan, and continues to work on a range of commissions and projects for core and mainstream clients, while also continuing a longstanding relationship with Vans as a featured artist and curator of their art shows and projects.

We were stoked to get the chance to speak to him about his roots as an artist, and to find out his plans for the future. Check it out.

 ”The people I work with understand I’m not a short order cook and I arrange for complete creative control. I’m pretty fortunate that people are willing to work this way with me.”

How’d you get into art and what inspired you at an early age?

I started drawing as a little guy and was told that I was good at it. Every kid is told that, but I believed it and took it to heart. My uncle was a painter and I saw his work around my grandparents house. Like most kids I think, I was also inspired by comic book art and Doctor Seuss.

What came first skateboarding or art and what influence if any did they have on each other?

Both started when I was 5. My dad made me my first board and built me a set up and it began. They have both always been a freedom thing, a way to escape and way to express myself. They both are creative and change/influence the way you see life.

We see musical references in some of your work. How has and does music influence your work?

I usually always listen to music when I’m painting or drawing.  The lyrics as well as rhythms sometimes appear in my work.  The music can set the tone or pace of a painting at times.

Escalator of Life

You work in different fields and with different collaborators. Do you approach them differently and what are some of your favourite or enjoyable aspects of each?

I’m careful to not do too much commercial stuff.  I really try and only get involved with projects and people that I have long term involvement and relations with. I make small production runs of skateboard stuff for a little brand called Transportation Unit that I do. What I really enjoy most and spend the bulk of my time on though are paintings, drawings, & studies for paintings. I really have set up the rules of engagement or way I deal with production work to not be all that different from the way I develop and work on fine art/gallery projects. The people I work with understand I’m not a short order cook and I arrange for complete creative control. I’m pretty fortunate that people are willing to work this way with me.

You currently work at Vans, and are a featured artist for them. Tell us a little about your role there?

I’m Head of Marketing for the Mens Apparel division. I’m also a Vans supported artist and help curate and participate in art shows and projects backed by Vans. Pretty neat actually, Vans is super supportive of the arts.

Vans seem to have always really supported art and artists alongside skating (and other board / action sports) and music – they feature art models and lines, artist collaborations, support art shows, have an art channel on OffTheWall.tv and a dedicated art blog. Tell us a little about the role and importance of art and artists at Vans?

Vans is aware that their end user or customer is a creative person.  They really work hard to support the creative things these people dig, whether art, music, surfing or skateboarding. As for the arts, they do everything from awarding $50,000. grants to High School arts programs, sponsoring artists and their individual projects, to creating large arts projects and building products that feature artists work.

What artists or designers are currently inspiring you?

I dig Nathaniel Russell’s stuff. Jason Jagel, Blender, Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Jules De Balincourt, Dr. Seuss, Picasso, Miro.  I could go on and on here.  Some favuorite board graphics? All Blender boards. The early Swank stuff (Moon and Star, Justin Lovely), Lots of The Gonz’s Krooked stuff and Polar/Pontus Alv boards.

Do you own or collect work by any artists?

For sure – lots of trades! Fortunately, lots of the dudes work I appreciate most I am friends with and own pieces by. I have pieces from Neil (Blender), Nat Russell, Rich Jacobs, Thomas Campbell, The Gonz, Chris Johanson, Jay Howell, Zio Ziegler, Gregg Kaplan, Tim Kerr, Jahmal Williams… I’m forgetting some I’m sure. I’m pretty lucky to have art from all these guys.  I have lots of great work from my kids too, which is most definitely some of my favorite art.

What projects, shows, commissions are you working on at the moment that you’re excited about? Where can we see your work in 2013 and beyond?

In 2014 now, holy crap there is a lot coming. I have a 200 page book of illustrations coming in February as well as a solo show  at Needles and Pens in SF. I have a two man show with Neil Blender in Laguna in April. I’ll be at SXSW in March with Vans and Nat Russell, Rich Jacobs and Jay Howell. I’m going to show in Tokyo with Yusuke Hanai and Gregg Kaplan in June. I have a second half of the year list that isn’t confirmed and anchored to dates yet but need to decide what I’m capable of participating in and I’m not going to be able to get to.