Skate and Curate

Alex blasts a kickflip at a classic NYC spot. Mike O'Meally courtesy of Quiksilver

Alex Olson, the young ripper who has made a name for himself with style-heavy skating that balances timelessness and progression, has taken the first step towards a foray into fine art. In late August, Olson co-curated a gallery show at 201 Mulberry, the Quiksilver and Autumn pop-up shop/art gallery in the Nolita neighborhood of New York City (they put a miniramp in there, too!). I caught up with Olson before the show opened to hear about his trip, his future as an artist and his thoughts on skating in general. —Noah Johnson

How's your trip to NYC been?
Well, I was out here originally for a funeral, but besides that, it's been pretty good. I was just sick too, so I was getting over that, but otherwise it's been good.

Have you been to New York?
Yeah, I come out here all the time.

Do you remember your first trip out here?
I remember the first time I came out here Method Man had just came out with "Tical 2000," so whenever that was, I think it was '97 or '96. I just remember it was winter and I tried to get my dad to take me sight seeing to the Twin Towers and the Chrysler building and a bunch of other places.

No skating on that trip?
I had just started skating, so no.

Do you remember your first skate trip out here?
Every time I come out I bring my board. I think the first time I was out here I skated from downtown to see the ball drop in Times Square.

How does NYC compare to Los Angeles for skating and for nightlife?
Oh, it's completely different. I like skating more because you have to skate to the skate spots and I like that better. Nightlife is better, girls are better, food is better, everything is kind of better—besides the beach and the weather, but I like the different weather here.

Do you surf?
A little, but not so much that I can't be away from the beach.

Could you ever see yourself transplanting here?
I would like to, but right now it's just that I'm never in one place. I travel a lot and the rent is cheaper in Cali. I'm just always swapping with people.

Your skating seems to have an influence from some of the east coast skaters of the mid-'90s like Ricky Oyola, Bobby Puleo, Donny Barley and Reese Forbes. Were those skaters an influence on you growing up?
Puleo, definitely. For sure. When I was young. I mean, I didn't know anything about him, I just kind of looked him up on the Internet and found photos. I always thought he dressed really cool. He always had the cool photos.

How did the concept for this art show with Quik come about?
Me and my friend Jack Greer are curating the show. I'm showing work but I wasn't supposed to originally. Quiksilver came to me and asked me if I wanted to do anything in this pop-up shop, and I knew Jack, and him and all of his friends had just graduated from art school. I knew it would probably be hard for them to get into a gallery space in New York, so I just thought of them and I knew they would be stoked, so that's kind of how it began.

So it was a way to get some exposure for young kids just out of art school who would otherwise have a hard time getting a show in New York?
Yeah, exactly, it can be really tough to get a show here.

Tell me a little about the pieces you have in the show?
They're not really photos, but they are. They're stills taken from movies—I'd pause the movie and shoot photos of the screen.

What was your inspiration for that?
It was last minute. Kind of just had to come up with something.

Do you take photos or make art otherwise in your spare time?
Yeah, but I would never call what I do art. If someone asked me "Are you an artist?" I would never claim that I am.

Does your artwork in any way relate to skateboarding?
No. Not really.

Seems like there have been many skaters that parlay into a second career as an artist, like Gonz or Ed Templeton. Could you ever see yourself going that route?
An art career, for sure. I think that would be pretty fun. It would be cool.

Is that something you would pursue?
No, I would like to, but you know, I also have to keep up with my other job. Skating will always be a priority for now. But, yeah, I think it's a good segue.

The past year or so must have been crazy for you with going pro, shoe sponsor changes and constant travel and touring. What have been some highlights?
Seeing new places, going to Australia. I haven't actually been doing too much traveling lately—since the recession things have slowed down. Travel budgets have definitely gotten smaller.

Seems like over the last couple years every team has been traveling so much—like everyone goes to China to film now. Might be good for skating if that slows down.
For sure. People will start finding spots in their own backyard. In LA, it's more so because you have to drive so far to get from spot to spot.

Are you currently filming for a Vans project or for the Chocolate video?
There is a Chocolate video in the works, but I don't know exactly when it's going to come out. Am I going to have a part in it? Well, as of right now I don't have that much footage because they're filming all in HD, and that makes it hard because not everyone has converted all the way over, and not everyone has HD cameras, out here especially. But, I'm supposed to film a part, so we'll see.

You've said before that filming for "Fully Flared" was stressful and you weren't totally happy with your part—are you going about things differently now?
No, I'm kind of burnt on filming. It's just not how I like to skate.

Is it hard for you to find motivation to film?
That would be a good way to say it.

So, if not filming, what's got you hyped in skateboarding right now?
Surfing gets me hyped to go skating. Just to watch it and stuff. It's got a flow to it. Recently skating doesn't have a flow to it when you watch it. It's just trick, trick, trick. Surfing just looks better—that fluid motion. It's sounds stupid, but…

Do you think about trying to replicate that when you skate?
Yeah, I try to make my skating more fluid like that.

What are you looking forward to next in skating?
I really want to go to Israel. But I don't know what's happening with that—there's been a lot of talk about going there with Quiksilver. I've heard it's amazing. So that might be the next move. Or Sweden.

For the girls?
Yeah. Exactly.