For most of my working life I've had this unfortunate habit of taking on more than I can logistically handle; or, I don't know, maybe it's just a thing where I have a really hard time saying "no" to people? Hmm. Reading that now it's clear I'm a prime candidate for a manager, but then again I'm also nowhere near those big, dick-swinging, there-goes-10-percent-of-your-income leagues, so it's not exactly a viable option in my small fry shoes. All of that is neither here nor there, though, aside from the fact I dug one hell of a deep hole for myself last summer* when I agreed to participate in the Subliminal Project's 30th anniversary art show for The New Deal—a skateboard company started by Andy Howell, Steve Douglas, and Paul Schmitt way back in 1990**.
Honestly, I assumed I could easily pull it off at the time—or at least that's what I initially thought when Andy jumped me into the artist lineup. However, that was also right when everything went upside-down with my dog Meko, who'd been having health issues stemming from an undetected cancerous tumor in the cradle of his pelvis. You have to understand, Meko and I were inseparable, and for as much as he was my emotional support animal, I was his emotional support human, so his physical breakdown basically became my mental breakdown a la that symbiotic scene in E.T. between Elliott and everyone's favorite alien potato. Long, sad story short, I tried to make the rest of his life that summer as comfortable as I possibly could, which left little time for anything else beyond just barely keeping on top of my StrangeLove duties***.
And then there was the "surprise" complication of a joint art show with Todd Bratrud at the House of Vans in London. We'd talked about the possibility of doing an event there for a good two years, I think, but all of a sudden it became a harsh reality in late July leaving only a month to get my work framed and shipped to the UK for a show slated to open the first week of September. Compound this by the fact we had no real conception of how to get our framed art and the accompanying boards across the pond in an affordable manner, making August a nonstop comedy of time-consuming errors until Steve Van Doren finally stepped in to save the day at the very last minute. What does all this have to do with the price of tea in Southbank, you may ask? Well, let's just say it didn't help me find the time to think on anything New Deal at all until after my return to the states, thereby putting my back up against the wall and my amygdala into fight or flight mode.
I suppose there's no shame in letting it be known that I did actually choose to pursue the "flight" option first, proposing every sorry excuse in my playbook to Andy, but I'll be damned if he wouldn't let me off the hook. Again, how could I say no—well, duh, because I can't, as explained previously—but I did insist on one overriding stipulation: whatever I was able to pull out of my ass for the show would eventually become a StrangeLove graphic. Otherwise there was just no feasible way I could have participated due a slew of other impending events**** that were going to seriously compromise my drawing time for the company and a certain upcoming Valentine's Day shoe brouhaha. In the end, Andy agreed, so naturally I took the "easy" way out by spoofing "Howell's Happy Hippies," one of his more complex New Deal graphics from 1991… but how???
Photos left to right: A working shot of me silently stressing out in my overly-anal manner; and the man who refused to let me wuss out, Andy Howell (along with our respective wives Donna and Ginger Che).
Well, to my perverse favor, the New Deal 30th anniversary just happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Tate–LaBianca murders, a gruesome event that took place in August of 1969 and effectively put a nail in the "Summer of Love" coffin. With that direction in mind, I went down the rabbit hole and began substituting all of the elements from Andy's graphic with Helter Skelter-oriented references… and I have to say I was rather surprised how everything fell into place, especially the "Lennon Locust," so yes: something witchy indeed. I ended up cramping my hand something fierce over the course of a feverish week-and-a-half, working in my usual ass-backwards manner*****, but I somehow managed to finalize the inked piece, find a more or less workable, ready-made frame from Ikea, and drop it off at Subliminal Projects the day before the opening. And what a bonkers night that was!
Photos left to right (top row): A coincidental framing with Steve Caballero, Steve Saiz, and "Howell's Happy Hippies" (note: the board directly below is actually a clever "reverse view" for a corresponding "Disco Gangsters" model); My "Charlie's Manson Family" piece got locational top billing right above Shepard Fairey's New Deal joint; Posing with Professor Schmitt, who manufactures all our wood for StrangeLove. Photos left to right (bottom row): Marc McKee was thrilled to be the Lucky Pierre in this photo with me and Todd Francis; Waiting for my photo moment with longtime favorite skater… Ed Templeton!
Anyway, some may wonder, "What's your preoccupation with Charles Manson, anyway?" and that's a perfectly fair question to ask considering this is the third deck design I've done where he's prominently featured. The easiest answer, I guess, is that I've been obsessed with the macabre ever since I was a little kid, and I don't mean that in a punk kinda "This is rad!" way. In fact, all that shit—serial killers, death cults, horrific human atrocities, etc.—has long since terrified me to the core, irrationally and paralyzingly so at times, and I guess the only way I've learned to deal with my overabundance of fears over the years is to treat them in the same manner as those who dread public speaking: Imagine everyone in their underpants. And I don't mean that literally, of course. I mean it's not like I've ever once envisioned Manson in a pair of soiled tighty-whiteys******, but I think you get the dark-humored gist of my jest and how it eventually manifests. —Sean Cliver
* Around the same time Andy hit me up for the New Deal show, I was also enlisted to take part in the RVCA celebration of Christian Hosoi… needless to say, I never managed to get my shit together and flaked harder than the Great Blizzard of 1888. Sorry, Holmes!
** There's a whole lot more backstory here, like how they all escaped going down with the Vision Sports ship by abandoning Schmitt Stix just in the nick of time, but you can easily Google all that shit. Being the nice person I am, though, here's a link for you to click and get the whole New Deal history in their own words, because the last thing I'm sure they'd want is a glib rehash in my slapdash-words-for-the-sake-of-shits-and-giggles fashion.
*** The "Captain Spaulding," "Us & Them," and "Brains" graphics were all drawn on an air mattress in the middle of my living room floor right beside Meko since he could no longer make it upstairs to the "studio" area.
**** When it rains it pours. I had nothing eventy going on for years and then I randomly have four art events in the space of two months: House of Vans in London, New Deal 30th in LA, the Full Court Classics board release and art show in Tampa, and then back to LA for the Girl "Skull of Fame 2" release event. All great fun and honored to have the opportunities, but fucking hell! Baby was tired.
***** A convoluted "process" story for another time.
****** Until now, I guess, because it's hard to type something like that without simultaneously envisioning it as well. Hmm… a graphic for another day, perhaps.