Jason “The Kid” Adams Interview

Jason “The Kid” Adams has been skating for over 25 years now, most of the time professionally. Though still a kid at heart, he’s well respected as a skate legend these days. He still shreds (a little less now) but he’s also working his way through the ranks of the art community and continues to show work on a regular basis. If you thought his skating career was serious, then heads up, ‘cause he’s just as serious about his art, and he’s only just getting started. Although he remains humble about his past achievements, and isn’t willing to call himself an artist just yet, I bet you’ll be seeing more and more of his artwork outside his native California. Even if it’s another 20 years from now, he’s shown that he’s willing to put in the work.

For the readers that don’t know, how did you get the nickname ‘the kid?’
I’m from San Jose, CA. I grew up skating here. Came of age, which at the time was 19, 20-ish. I moved downtown and started to meet all the old dudes I had totally idolized over the years in the local scene, including Corey O’Brien. He was a pro from Santa Cruz in the 80s. I met him, and a good friend of his who we all called Reeps. They took me under their wing, or their party wing, basically. (Laughter) In San Jose, that was as much a part of the skate scene as skateboarding; it was like raging…like f*cking raging. As a kid I always heard about the crazy stories and was like, I want to rage like them; they got cool punk chicks. So basically, one night they were making plans and Corey just said, “We’ve got to bring the kid.” And it just stuck, just like that. They called me, “the kid,” throughout the whole trip, and then it never went away to this day. I’m going to turn 40 soon and I’m still, “the kid.”

That’s awesome. You grew up in a very blue-collar family, and I’m assuming with not a ton of resources. Would you say your upbringing is what inspired you to get into skateboarding?
I lived in a pretty blue-collar mentality. My mom was very religious. There was a little part of my life where we probably did a little better, because my dad ended up starting a sheet metal/heating and air-conditioning business. I was just always attracted to skateboarding. Even as a young kid, I think it largely had to do with that I was really introverted. Growing up in school, I kind of felt a little lost. I had friends and stuff but something wasn’t clicking. I just didn’t get what was going on, I didn’t jive with it. Although I always rode skateboards as a kid, when it came to that age, you know 12 or 13, I got a real one, and something just clicked. I don’t really know how to describe it, but the thing I’d been searching for, I had just found it. You know what I mean?

There’s something about skateboarding that scratches that itch for us skateboarders. It was rebellious at the time, but there’s also a creative/cerebral side to it as well that I didn’t realize until I started making and being interested in art. I think it’s a kind of unique combination that skateboarding would… it just scratched an itch that I had. As a kid, I was kind of into art but I really wasn’t that good at it. I always wanted to be the good kid in the art class. I always wanted to take art classes but to me I wasn’t naturally good at it.

In your own words, can you describe your art, and is there a message?
The thing about art is, it’s always changing. I’m taking images and I’m putting them through my filter. What I like to call, polishing turds. I create stuff when I feel inspired. I also compare everything to skateboarding because that’s who I am. I’m not an artist, I’m a skateboarder who makes this stuff. I want to feel inspired. There’s nothing better than that feeling. I wanted to make this stuff because I felt like I needed something else besides a skateboard. I think there is a common message in it because I think the message is the same, almost like celebrating the same things I love about skateboarding, like punk rock music. I got into punk rock about the same time I got into skateboarding. I think it was wanting to be youthful, wanting to not grow up, wanting to be a bit rebellious, know what I mean? It’s almost like visual images of what it means to be a skateboarder, or means to me. Like I said, however, things are always evolving. Now that I don’t feel like it’s about getting a handle on the aesthetic of what I do, I’m starting to think about it differently. Now I want to be a little more, I wouldn’t say vocal, but I want to tell more of a story about what I’m doing, rather than just recreating what inspires me. It’s weird, because I’m starting to think differently even though I’m just starting to put it down. It’s almost like this little game I’m trying to figure out. Now I have different needs and different itches I’m trying to scratch, more than the visual arts.

Take me through the process of making a piece. How long does it typically take?
People ask me that all the time, and it’s a hard one. To start, I just come up with an idea of what I want to do. I find my image, whether I’m stealing it, or actually using a photo I’ve created. Then, I size the image, print it out, put it on my material that I like to use for the stencil, and I just start cutting. The image dictates what the stencil is going to turn out like. Sometimes it’s a basic one, with not many layers. Sometimes, it’s like oh, this is going to be nine layers. Or, I might be trying to do the least amount of layers, and get more detailed within the layers themselves. It really depends on what I want to get out of it, and how much time I want to put into it. It’s hard to say time-wise, because part of my attention deficit is always working on five or who knows how many things at once. I’ll start painting one thing, and while that’s drying I’ll start another painting. Then, while that’s drying, I’ll start cutting something. I’ll go back to working on another stencil and then I’ll be like, okay go back. Some stencils take 15-20 hours total. On average, I put in at least eight, ten hours. That’s just the stencil. There’s also the whole painting process. I’m willing to do the work, I think that is where a big part of my ability lies, just willing to put in the time!

You make all of your art in a tent, which might sound unusual to people. Can you tell us more about that space?
When you use a lot of aerosol, it’s a dirty space. I can’t have some cool little art studio. It’s filthy, and needs to be ventilated very well. Right now I live in a typical suburban house. I have my garage, and I converted half of it to my indoor workspace. That’s where I cut my stencils and mainly, where I store all my books, all the crap that my wife doesn’t want in the house. It’s like my office, but it sucks in the winter! So ya, I paint in the tent because I don’t really have any other space. I got one of those car tents, I have it in the backyard. I ran some electricity to it, it’s like a portable garage.

Your skate deck collage stencil pieces, are they actually some of your used decks?
Yes. They usually are. I actually like it when they’re worn. It adds depth and texture to them. A lot of the times I like the existing stickers and graphics. I definitely like used ones better than using new ones. It’s cool that once you start skating, it then becomes this process of turning it into art. It’s kind of cool, almost like the piece started while I was skating it.

That’s cool. It gives it that much more depth. Your recent show, featured a lot of Western and Americana folk art type work. Are you sticking with the same theme for your work in these shows, and what’s your future schedule like?
The latest show I’m working on is definitely not going to be the same theme. Guns and Arrows came out of my friendship with Sid Enck Jr., he’s Native American and an artist/skateboarder. I also have always been into country music. My family comes from Oklahoma/Texas and the Midwest, so I have that whole background. It was a no-brainer, we had to collaborate with the whole cowboy and Indian thing. It’s interesting, fun and inspiring. I’m definitely inspired by folk art, even though I use stencils, I don’t really go to street art to find my inspiration, which people usually think is the case. That’s not how I got into cutting stencils, it’s not really my thing.

For this Friendly Fire show, some of the collaborations are with photographers, so I just kind of took their work and then put them through my filter. I was trying to make it interesting, you know? Now I’m trying to put different things out there. Coming off this show in San Francisco with Sid, I wanted to come up with something that is totally different . I just always try to make it fun, or whatever I think is going to be fun. As much of a hard worker as I am, when it comes to art and skateboarding, if you can’t keep it fun and inspiring, it’s like dredging through the mud.

Do you listen to country music when you create art, typically?
It depends on my mood. The last show I did, I listened to Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears a whole lot. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that record. He made a whole record about the American Indian, how they got f*cked over. But yes, I do, and it helps. I’ll go through a phase where I listen to all punk rock. Usually, when I start burning out, I drink coffee and listen to Bad Religion. There’s something about that driving beat that’s in every record, and it gets me in this production mode, and I just go, go, go, go, go, go.

Hell yes. If you had to guess, how many board graphics would you say you’ve done?
That I’ve done the art for? Maybe 40? That’s just the number that popped into my head. I really don’t have any idea.

What does Lost Highway and Nowheresville USA mean, and what’s the plan for it?
Good question. When you’re a kid, you’re always coming up with stuff, like I want to have my own company or I want to make a zine. You’re always coming up with these concepts. For some reason I was like, I want to brand my art. Maybe someday I’ll start, like I am now, making my little products, and I don’t want it just to say Jason Adams on it. I would rather have it say something. Also, when I went to do the website, Jason Adams was taken anyway.

The whole Nowheresville line, I was actually making one of the logos that I still use. I wanted to make an Americana version of a Sex Pistols graphic. It said the Sex Pistols, and then on the sign on the front of the bus it said ‘no’, and the other sign said ‘where’. I basically ripped that off, but had two old Cadillacs, and it said Lost Highway, Nowheresville USA. It was kind of like once again, ripping something off but putting it through my filter. It was like a name where the images created, and my attitude, and my position as an American were represented. Like, Lost Highway, Nowheresville USA, is how I feel as an American.

How often do you skate?
Over the last three years it hasn’t been close to enough. The economy hit, skateboarding as a job for me took a huge shit, my wife got a job. Everything dried up for me. My wife went to work and I was home with the kids. I was a little burned, I’ll be honest, I worked hard for a lot of years. Now, I’m recharged and I feel like there’s an opportunity again. Most importantly, I feel inspired to do it again, a lot more. I’d go out once a week, on a good week. I’d just skate to the store or cruise around here and there. Not very often though, I really feel out of shape, and it sucks, I need to get healthy. After this next project, I’ve got a lot of things on my list that I’ll do skateboard-wise. It will be like a mini old man comeback, that’s how I’m looking at it.

That would be awesome. Would you say the art world is more true to its roots than the skate world these days, or vice versa?
I have no idea about the art world, I’ll be honest. I don’t even feel like I’ve breached it. Skateboarding wins!

What would you like to say to all the kids in middle America?
F*ck the crowd, f*ck the hype, Follow yer guts. Go Sharks!

Interviewed By: AB
Photos: Jai Tanju

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