[March 21 2017]
Mike Hill co-founded skateboard brand Alien Workshop in 1990 in Dayton, Ohio. As the company’s art director, Hill pioneered a defining aesthetic that challenged the established visual standards in the skate industry at the time. Unique for their photographic and three dimensional nature, Hill’s graphics combined papier-mâché, everyday objects, and manual image manipulation to create haunting tableaus. We interviewed Hill on his new collaboration with Supreme, where he created four distinct original dioramas to be featured on t-shirts and skateboard decks. The collection is now available in-store NY, LA, London, Paris and online March 23rd.
Clovis Bataille — What have you been up to so far this year?
Mike Hill — Working on Alien Workshop is where my focus is; we just turned two of our team riders, Yaje Popson and Joey Guevara pro and released the first pro models for them. Reestablishing AWS from Ohio again started mid last year and with just a few of us running things it’s a lot to handle, but we are all passionate about what we do and the direction as it unfolds.
Clovis Bataille — For those unfamiliar could you describe your work in your own words?
Mike Hill — I guess it would have to be broken into two forms. There is the more graphic design side, which comes from the love of pictograms and icons used to identify things in a simple form. A way to communicate AWS’s visual identity and to inject subtle messages with room for people to interpret in their own way, with Alien Workshop as the creator vs. personal artwork.
The other form, which the Supreme project features is the work which “puppets” or figures are made with paper maché and a diorama scene is built to be photographed as a single shot image for a graphic. This way of making graphics allow for the mixing of real objects with made pieces to create bridge between real and imaginary. These graphics first came out during the early days of AWS, and the idea of making 3D, physical forms into graphics was a way to add another layer to the Workshop’s experimentation with how you can approach skateboard graphics.
Clovis Bataille — Alien Workshop has always been known for its unique graphics, when did you discover a penchant for art? Is it something you were doing prior to starting Alien Workshop?
Mike Hill — Growing up in Ohio, skateboarding was my obsession from a young age. I followed all the brand’s graphics and the ads in the skate magazines and was into how the different skate companies had their own look and feel stylistically. When early punk and 80’s hardcore music emerged with its individualism and DIY approach, it had an influence on taking things into your own hands and not just observing but participating in making things. My friends and I produced and traded skate-zines , learned about screen printing, halftones and layout paste-up and how to put things together. I enrolled in a local 2yr community college after high school for commercial art/design. This was before desktop publishing, and most of what was taught was old school t-square & triangle, rubber cement layout techniques. After finishing school I moved to California and worked at Gordon & Smith screen printing decks and eventually the graphic department. After a couple years I moved back to Ohio to help start AWS. I was 24yrs old and excited to have something to channel the desire to create things into.
Clovis Bataille — What made you want to take part in this project for Supreme?
Mike Hill — It was unexpected to be approached by Supreme. I’ve not produced these types of graphics outside of Alien Workshop, and it sounded like an interesting collab to take on. The project started at a time when I was trying to think through bringing AWS operations back to Ohio after it was moved to California, so there was a heaviness to that timeframe and I was pretty locked up mentally. The Supreme project was an opportunity to get away from stewing about the unknown and shift to work on something positive in physical form that would be a completely different focus. These type graphics take a lot of time to make, but are almost therapeutic with the pace and planning. I sort of dropped everything and just committed to working on them for the next 2 months. The guys at Supreme were really supportive in the freedom aspect, which was enticing as well.
Clovis Bataille — Nature seems to have had an influence on your skate designs (animals, plants, fruits). What was the inspiration behind the graphics you did for this Supreme collaboration? What do the graphics represent to you?
Mike Hill — This series of graphics are a bit more of a dark head trip overall. The unknown twists, over processing thoughts and losing trust in those thoughts, your basic mind battles with the irony that can bring. I worked on them in the underground bunker space we occupy for AWS, but at the time it was just myself going there. It was winter; solitary, surreal election happenings daily and inward stress fueling the themes, yet reconnecting with the process of making the 3D dioramas and enjoying the spark of building them over ruled it all. It was a way to stamp down anxiety by poking at it with the graphics. After the puppets themselves start to form then it moves to making the technical aspects work, how the size scale will work for skateboard decks, how the puppets will be self supported in the diorama and new idea tweaks popup to add. This middle portion is the best part to me. Where you can see the path they are on and ideas come easily to further develop them. The way they are built in sections they only become fully assembled and finished when they are ready to be setup for final photographing. The goal was to have them have as little Photoshop work needed as possible to keep them true to the original mache graphics done before computer manipulation was possible. To keep the single photograph shot as the finished graphic.
Clovis Bataille — What is the message you want to convey (if any) with these boards?
Mike Hill — I’m not so sure about an outward definite message per say but an arch personally would be to purge anxiety and flip that energy into creating something which then brings the joyful rediscovering of reason you were drawn to what you do initially.
Clovis Bataille — What is coming up at Alien Workshop and what else can we expect from you this year?
Mike Hill — Continuing the focus on the Workshop’s team and projects with them while carving out the time to make use of the Bunker space into a hub for creative work with young local artists. The goal of the space aside from AWS HQ is to utilize it for studio work, art shows and teaching sessions to pass on the ideas of individualism and process for like-minded skaters and artists.
Clovis Bataille — Anything else you would like to add?
Mike Hill — Thanks to everyone at Supreme and specifically West, Jon, Todd, Jason and Bill for the opportunity to be part of what has been an inspiring project for myself and with hope, others too.
Interview Clovis Bataille
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