Sean Cliver - Good Girls Gone Bad - Extended Interview
For Volume 2 Issue 1 of The Kayo Magazine we did a full interview with Sean Cliver to write the article on the DGK X Sean Cliver Good Girls Gone Bad collaboration. Since Cliver is a legendary artist with an amazing history in skateboarding, we decided to share the entire interview on our site, check it out below.
What were the circumstances that lead up to you being let go from Powell?
I was the youngest person working at Powell then and, as such, fancied myself much more in tune with what was happening with skateboarding and on the streets—and what was happening was World Industries and Blind. I was very much dedicated to Powell and trying to make it work there, but it was hard at times because it was clear they were having fun over at World and, well, that wasn’t the case at Powell. After losing Guy Mariano and Rudy Johnson—both of whom I knew were defecting to Blind long before anyone else at Powell—and then the Blind series of graphics spoofing a few Powell classics, things had gotten rather grim at the company with poor sales, fading popularity, and a behemoth of a building to support. Consequently, I’d kinda become a loose cannon with a very opinionated mouth, and the mass lay-off in November ’91 was a convenient way for George Powell to let me go, I think. We just didn’t have the healthiest of working relationships any longer.
Was the Claudia Schiffer board the first board that you did for Rocco? Was his motivation to get that board out before Powell a part of the infamous World / Powell feud that was going in the early 90's?
When I was laid off at Powell, I was in the middle of doing Adam McNatt’s first pro board graphic. I’d come up with the idea, so I figured, fuck, if they’re fine with letting me go then I’m taking my idea with me. I was young and clueless to the concept of intellectual property rights while working under salary, so I packed up the art I was working on to take and finish at home. Just a few days later though, I received a friendly phone call from Craig Stecyk saying that certain people were trying to find the artwork at Powell and were having a hard time doing so and it might be in my best interest if they did find it. I handed the art over, thinking that was that, but then received a call from Steve Rocco asking me if I wanted to come down and work in the World Industries art department—which really only consisted of Marc McKee. In the course of our conversation I told Rocco what happened with the McNatt graphic and he told me to re-draw the artwork immediately and it would be an entire series for the Blind team, which would also include Mariano’s first pro model. Rocco and I both knew that because of Powell’s production and marketing schedules there was no way they would be able to get the board out as fast as Blind could—which was basically inside two weeks—and it was his idea to include the top graphic quote from George and dedicate the board to all the employees who lost their jobs in the “war”. Powell was forced to release a different McNatt Schiffer graphic in early ‘92, but not long after that Adam jumped ship to ride for Natas’s company 101.
You've mentioned the Schiffer board in several interviews as being one of your more controversial graphics because of the industry beef that it created. Given its significance, what was it like revisiting that concept for the Good Girls Gone bad series?
It’s been, fuck, over 20 years since I did the Schiffer board? So I’ve really lost any connection to the significance, but the design format itself holds up well, I think, and lends itself to a board graphic. I’d employed a similar look with Jeremy Klein when he did a series with the Vivid porn stars they’d used in The End, circa 1998, and a few other companies have copped it, too … I know Real Skateboards did a board featuring Taylor Swift; another used Audrey Hepburn.
The use of Disney child stars is an interesting twist on the original. It seems like girls are being sexualized in mainstream media at a younger age now as opposed to when the original graphic was released. Were you intentionally exploring that theme and making a form of social commentary with the DGK series?
Well, the idea actually came via flipping emails back and forth with Nick Lockman. He was interested in doing something similar to the look of the Schiffer board and then came back with the concept of employing four child stars—and consequent role models—that all blew out big-time with hyper-sexualized images and actions. Pretty funny for a company that prides itself on “princesses”.
How important is pushing the envelope and making a statement to you? That has definitely been a consistent theme in many of the graphics that you've done.
I don’t know if I ever consciously think I’m pushing an envelope. I just like to do stuff that’s funny to draw and that others may or may not find funny.
In an age where young adults have literally grown up on Jackass and you can search YouTube for virtually anything imaginable, do you think that it's even possible to truly shock people with art anymore?
There’s a difference in how it can be done. The stuff that’s genuinely shocking now usually has something just a bit more smart going on behind it … otherwise, yeah, you get grandmother’s being filmed for their reaction to two chicks and a cup. You have to hand it to the Internet though. It truly is the greatest agent of chaos in all respects.
Do you feel like modern skateboard graphics are too tame now compared to what you and McKee were doing at World in the 90's?
I just think many more companies are playing it safe now and not running as roughshod as they once did. I mean, in-house legal counsel? I don’t know … skateboarding is much more on the radar than it was in the early ‘90s. Hate to say “back in the day,” but yeah, that really was a special time and place for skateboarding. But there’s still a lot of cool shit being put out there and produced. Todd Bratrud and Todd Francis consistently have a lot of great graphic concepts, and McKee’s got some stuff going for Cliché that’s very reminiscent of his early work.
The Fresh Freddy Danny Way story and the Sean Sheffey face palm story have been mentioned in several of your interviews. What's the worst / scariest situation that you've been in as a result of a graphic that you made or something that was published in Big Brother magazine?
Aside from Danny Way threatening me in the hallway at World over a sarcastic graphic idea and Sean Sheffey palming my face onto a screening station table in the production warehouse for something I wasn’t even responsible for writing in Big Brother, shit, I don’t know what else can even compare.
Speaking of Big Brother, given the nostalgia that most skaters have for it and the success that the original crew has enjoyed with Dickhouse; one has to wonder why you guys never just purchased the magazine and relaunched it yourselves. Is this something that has ever been discussed, and does Flynt publications still own the trademark on the name?
When we did the short-lived and possibly ahead of its time jackassworld.com site, we briefly entertained the notion of recreating a Big Brother-like aspect and even bought the magazine title back from Flynt, but things didn’t pan out as we hoped. A Big Brother memoir/documentary was briefly in the works—mainly as an avenue to get some of the old Big Brother video footage out on a DVD format—but that kinda fell by the wayside with no real backing or financial support behind it to produce and finish.
Often imitated but never duplicated is a cliche that comes to mind when I think about your body of work. Aside from nostalgia for the past, in your opinion what is it about your graphics that resonates with so many people?
I don’t know … if anything I’m the one who has done the imitating throughout the years, first working in the huge fucking shadow of VCJ at Powell-Peralta and then side-by-side with McKee at World Industries. Both were huge influences on my approach to skate graphics. Shit, poor Marc, I’m often mistakenly given credit for graphics that he had done back then! But again, I just enjoy doing fucked-up or stupid shit that, hopefully, makes people laugh. Or get bummed out. Those are always the best reactions to be able to provoke with a drawing.