Like many of the artists we feature here at Looking Sideways, boardsports and art have been part of Timothy Karpinski’s life since he was a young kid stoked on skateboarding back in New England, customising board graphics for his friends. As it happens, one of those friends was soon-to-be snowboarding rock star Danny Kass, and when Danny’s career took off, he asked his friend Karpinski to design his first board graphics. Soon after, the pair started Grenade Gloves with Tim as creative director. As he says, ‘”I learned a lot about the design industry, and have been in the game ever since”.
Today, Tim is art director at Gnu Snowboards, runs the Together Gallery in Portland, and is an acclaimed artist in his own right, with exhibitions in Vancouver, Miami, San Francisco, London and our own Wangl Tangl show in Austria under his belt.
“From a young age I’ve always been making things,” says Tim himself. “Building forts turned into building skate ramps which lead to building art installations. I love the art making process, from the initial spark of the ‘idea’, the creation to the finished product. Art for me is very personal and everything I make is a direct reflection on my feelings about this world and my struggle and fascination with trying to understand it and find my purpose within it.”
We spoke to Karpinski about his life as an artist and creative in the snowboarding industry.
Hi Tim, can you tell us a little about how you got into art? Our assumption is that it was through snowboarding?
Since I can remember I’ve been a weird kid. I grew up in the woods with not much to do but mess around in the woods, so I spent days building forts and was into all the weird cartoons like Fraggle Rock, while my Dad would play me Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa records. I never took to sports like baseball and such. One day, this new kid moved to town when I was around twelve or so. His name was Danny Kass and he had long dyed-black hair and a skateboard. We instantly became friends, both being the weird kids, and he let me try his skateboard: that really changed everything. Then his older brother Matt turned us onto punk rock bands like Operation Ivy and Fugazi. I dug that punk-DIY ethos and started obsessing about record cover art, skateboard videos and graphics. I started painting my decks over and doing my own graphics and crazy grip-tape jobs and drawing on my own t-shirts. Friends would ask me to do drawings on their decks and bang – the graphic career was born. I lived in the mountains in New England and Danny and I started snowboarding in the winters and both got good really fast from years of skateboarding. Danny obviously went on to be a snowboard rockstar, I opted to go to art-school and when he got his first pro model, I did his graphic. Then we went on to start Grenade and I learned a lot about the design industry, and have been in the game ever since.
What’s your set up at Gnu? Looks like there have been a lot of collaborations recently. Are you curating these? Can you tell us a little bit more about how the process works?
I wear the hat of art director at Gnu, have been running all the art-marketing for almost ten years now and have lost track of how many graphics I’ve made. But anything that has Gnu on it comes across my desk. It’s my dream job for sure – my boss Pete Saari gives me tons of creative freedom. I like that you used the word ‘curate’ because when people ask me about what I do I describe it as curating snowboards. I treat every graphic as a painter treats a painting and the new line as a big art show. And being an artist myself and running a gallery and doing shows all over, I’ve met so many talented people outside the normal snowboard world and have really made an effort to work with artists pushing themselves and the art world. Every graphic collaboration is unique. Sometimes I give a lot of direction and have an example of work or commission an original painting. Some artists have no computer training so I have to guide them through the process and handle all the typography and branding. The 13/14 Gnu line is a case in point. We collaborated with some amazing artists, including Mike Judge of Beavis and Butthead fame!
For your own art, can you describe the process of making something. Do you start with a commission, or a spark of an idea, or just nervous energy that needs to be released?
Ha! Nervous energy plays a factor. I always have an art show coming up on the horizon as well. But I’ve always had a need for time alone in my studio playing with paint, with the music loud. I couldn’t imagine not having that outlet. I’ve always been the kid in the corner with his head buried in a sketchbook. After years of doing it, I’ve almost trained my brain into always thinking about that stuff, which now I make a good living doing. Kids out there: turn off your TV, quit facebooking, and get a sketchbook!
Where do you get your ideas from? We love the cut-out style. Is it influenced by any particular artist or movement?
Ideas come from my life for sure. I’m not an abstract artists. I treat my paintings like a visual diary of sorts. Love plays a big factor, and environment. Cats, flowers, the sun, the moon, skateboarding, gardening, children’s books; everything I’m obsessed with makes its way into my paintings. I’m a firm believer in manifesting through creating. That sounds hippy I know, but I’m a hippy.
The cut out style I’ve been working on for the past few years kinda came from making stencils for graffitti reasons. Then I started messing with cutting more and more and got better tools and paper and really enjoyed the process of layering. But I found out later its in my blood. I’m Polish and paper-cutting originated in the mountains of Poland, during cold, bleak winters, when farm-houses had glass windows. To keep out the elements, farmers hung sheep skins over the window openings. Then, to let in some light and air, they took their sheep shears and snipped small openings in the skins, and these were soon recognized as decorative and developed into a craft. It’s traditionally called ‘Wycinanki’. I thought that was soo neat, and I was recently approached by a Polish indie band to do their album art. I’m planning on visiting them this summer in Warsaw and make my way up to the mountains.
And lastly, who are your favourite artists – either working today or long gone – and do you own any art by other people?
For me an artist is anyone who makes something, not just painting. Most of my favourites are musicians. I listen to music nonstop when working and sometimes even when I go to bed. Today on the player: M83, Crystal Castles, Electralane, Bright Eyes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But I love classical music, and jazz is hands down my favourite, Miles and Dizzy.
As for painters, goners like Hundertwasser, Rauschenberg, Basquiat, Frank Stella, Paul Klee, Egon Schiele and Margaret Kilgallen. Contemporaries I feel are doing some great shit are Jim Houser, Richard Colman, Barry McGee, Tauba Auerbach, Andy Goldsworthy and all my friends here in Portland making things in dusty warehouses.
And yes, my pants are falling apart, but my art collection is sparkling and always growing. Owning a gallery and having so many creative buds, my walls are covered, I need a much bigger house. Artists need to be supported!