To accompany the upload of Blinky’s extended RAW part from Welcome Skate Store’s incredible video ‘WELCOME 2: HELL‘, we’ve published his Issue 26 interview online! Blinky also recently bagged the cover photo for Issue 28, get hold of a copy here! Enjoy what Blinky had to say to Jono Coote then get energised by his RAW part below!
Introduction & Interview by: Jono Coote
Photography by: Reece Leung
Videography by: Josh Hallett
Leeds has changed a lot as a city since I first moved here, and so has its skate scene, but one thing which has stayed a constant throughout is the city’s creative milieu; some undercurrent of DIY productivity humming away somewhere deep within the red brick and grey cobblestone expanses of its sprawling suburbs. Sometimes, when the serotonin begins to bottom out in the depths of winter purgatory and putting urethane to concrete seems like an impossibly distant memory, a faded sepia photograph of a time when fun could be had, things can be righted by a meander through the streets which takes in those creative hubs, independent businesses and community focal points where zines are being discussed, bands are playing and notes are being jotted down while the booze flows like water.
The epitome of this is Sam Hutchinson, whose frankly frenetic multimedia output is inspiring, intimidating and – when you count the actual number of hours in the day – baffling. Somehow, between working the counter at Village Books, helping to run arts space SCREW Gallery and sourcing images for his burgeoning zine pantheon (the most recent being ‘Watching a Supermodel Sleep on a Plane’ published through Bronze Age Editions) with a wry eye for the quirks of Western culture in an age of digital societal meltdown, he has managed to shoot way more photos with Reece than you see on these pages, film a part for the upcoming Welcome video, and turn pro for Death Skateboards. Is it down to a rigorous work ethic? An embracing of myriad facets of ‘popular culture’, whatever that may entail? A lust for life? A dab of speed in his morning Lambo-shandy? I caught up with Sam to attempt to find out what fuels such intense levels of productivity.
Let’s start with the gallery space you help to run. How long has SCREW Gallery been around now, and what was the impetus to start it?
So when Allan Gardner hit me up a couple of years ago to join this warehouse space, I’d been working from a desk for a bit. I quite liked the idea of having a shared studio where I had a physical space and could make more physical work, as opposed to just working from a laptop. It was a really decrepit old warehouse in Headingley, it turned out to have asbestos in just as I moved in. We got another space through the same people who provided the original one, because of the asbestos before they gave us a cheap deal. The space was cool, but after six months the rent went up and it wasn’t really viable. Then we were offered this one as a project space and gallery after initially having drafted up a proposal for something similar, completely by chance.
There are seven of us who have a studio here; myself, Allan, Jack Kennedy, Fern O’Carolan, Ed Carr, Harley Roberts and Michael Sangster. Four of us are the directors, but as a group we all built and created it. Everything has actually happened really organically, it’s been really refreshing. We love all the art that happens in Leeds, but feel like there’s a lack of street level galleries having frequent openings that show art we like. We want to do something in Leeds which doesn’t happen elsewhere in the city. We’re currently on our fifth or sixth show and it’s been really successful, we’ve had really good feedback from people.
We’re all into DIY culture and, since opening SCREW, we’ve received so much positive feedback from people who are really refreshed by what’s happening here. That isn’t to say there aren’t things in the city already doing that for people, but we have our own take on it. Obviously we want to have our standard, curated programme which fits in with our aesthetic and ethos, then with SCREW U we want to make sure there are more opportunities available for young artists. Several of us have graduated from Leeds art schools and universities, some people from elsewhere, but I think it is really hard to find your crowd when you’re leaving. Hopefully we can provide another channel for people who share our ideals and have similar themes, aesthetics and a drive to make art in this city.
“Across all arts disciplines, Leeds churns out thousands of graduates a year and universities barely offer any preparation for what life as a working artist is actually like.” I thought I’d use this quote from SCREW Gallery’s website to talk about what you think has gone wrong with the current university situation in the UK?
It’s a weird one to see how sustainable current education is – I was in an alternative arts school from 2016-17 called School of the Damned which was great because it fit in with my life perfectly, we operated without money and ran entirely on labour exchanges. I was on the dole at the time and thought it was quite funny that the government was paying me to develop my education rather than paying 10k plus for an accredited Masters. It definitely improved a lot of things that I struggled with that university didn’t help me with. I studied my BA during the last year of the lower fees. It’s impossible to imagine, without even your living fees, paying 30-odd grand for your education – how are you meant to pay that back? A lot of universities are run as institutions that are out to make money, and their staff aren’t even fucking paid well. It’s hard because it means that, during term, staff can’t even engage with arts communities. No diss to the tutors because they work hard, and there are a lot of really good tutors in higher education, but you see it here especially that a lot of arts institutions have a massive disconnect with the actual arts community.
How can something that should be working like a well oiled machine go so wrong, and have such a disconnect when it should be introducing students to organisations and communities that they can benefit from? I didn’t really understand the term ‘networking’ until I left uni and realised you can ‘network’, or you can genuinely make friends with other people whose work and ideas you’re really into. It’s less about getting in with the right crowd and more about finding people who you can talk to and enjoy these experiences with – which will benefit you not only as an artist, but being a part of a social community in the city you live in. I think people forget about that, right? That you can just engage with your local community.
You’re 100% right, it’s just nice to talk to like minded people, being able to say, “I enjoyed this artist’s work, or this book or this film,” which I guess is technically networking.
Completely, it’s something a lot of us are doing without thinking of financial gain. I think sometimes, in any kind of creative medium including skating, people can lose track of that. Some people are just in it because they give a fuck rather than to make something of themselves. But I think it shows, and we all know who the sportsmen are.
Definitely in skating, and you can see it in art and stuff as well, people who are in it for… I guess not the ‘wrong’ reasons, because there are no wrong reasons, but for a different reason than the rest of us are.
It kind of sucks as well when people are critical of someone trying to make a career out of something they love, rather than being stuck in awful, soul destroying jobs. There’s that phrase, sometimes you’ve got to sell out to keep it real. Things like certain brands in skateboarding, people might be hostile towards them because they’re outsiders or they’re in it to make a profit, but at the same time you’ve got the other side where these bigger brands can offer someone the opportunity to make art, skate and not work some shitty job. I think it’s really good that we have a growing industry in things like skateboarding where people can actually have a career. What the fuck does selling out even mean if you can skate as a job?
True, but at the same time… I mean energy drinks are a good example of a really divisive one, you don’t want them pushed on a youth market through skateboarders. But I can understand why people do it, there’s a lot of money there and it’s tough. Most shoes are made in sweatshops in fucking Export Processing Zones, but if you’re going to make a living out of skateboarding you’ll need a shoe sponsor… how the fuck do you make that decision?
It’s that phrase, “No ethical consumption under capitalism,” right? I used to be massively against sportswear companies, but I think everything now is context dependent. You can definitely pick your battles with a lot of things, different diets, different ethical choices. You could be vegan but also love Wetherspoons. Some people hate that, but they do a great cheap vegan breakfast, even if the dude who owns it is a total cunt. We’re living in a world where you need to pick your battles. I think as long as you’re not purposefully ignoring the fact that things you do have a knock on effect… Energy drinks are a really good example. I don’t drink that shit, and I don’t think it should be pushed on kids, but would you rather have a shit job and not skate for a living? I totally get why people make these decisions, I just think that line has blurred so many times and that if people are making certain ethical choices they shouldn’t be criticised for maybe falling down on other things. We’d all love to shop locally but we all have certain needs and some people live in areas where they don’t have the option to shop anywhere but Tesco. As long as everyone is making some kind of conscious decision and people are interested in the ethics of what they do, where things come from… I think awareness is key. Knowing that not everything you do is sustainable. I think doing your best and looking after each other is a pretty good way to move forward.
You also work in the incredible zine/photo book repository Village Books.
Village started just after I started uni in 2011 and having a bookshop providing contemporary photography and arts based zines and publications was an absolute blessing. I wouldn’t be the artist I am now if it wasn’t for Village, and also the support Joe Torr (founder and owner) has given me. There’s actually only three of us over two shops, plus people who help on the side. We’re really trying to bring different arts based publications to this country and areas where they wouldn’t otherwise be accessible. As someone who works in contemporary photography and has benefited so much from that, I really love working for Village. I’m at work being constantly given incredible publications and getting to see work that inspires me. Photography is such a fast moving medium compared to other art forms, and people are constantly pushing what it can mean to be an artist and photographer. Books and publications just suit the format so well, and provide a cheap and tangible way to interact with art.
Following on from that, you’re one of the most prolific zine makers I’ve ever met, what inspires your work?
I think a lot of my practice comes from the fact that nearly everyone uses photographs in some form – whether that be advertising, family snapshots or taking pictures of weird shit you see in the street. I really like using photography as a tool to explore what it means to look at the truth within images; how larger corporations use persuasive images to advertise, how we ourselves use images to build up an idea of self on the Internet. For example how people use Instagram to put out this image of themself, where it might not be who they actually are but in turn that can give them the confidence to actually live as this character. There’s a lot of hostility towards social media as something where people are obsessed with this idea of self, but I think it kind of helps people who might not otherwise be able to project themselves on what is still a free platform.
It is kind of sick that we live in this hypersocial world, with so much accessible free media – I want to see what my friends are doing, where they’re skating, what tricks they’ve learnt, what art they’re making. There are so many evils that come with that, but – kind of like what we were saying before about making money from the things we enjoy – I think if we’re aware that not everything we see is reality then we can take a lot from this extremely visual and fast moving culture we live in. A lot of my photography and artwork is an investigation of these issues. I like being an observer, walking around on my own and being very aware of how people interact with each other and how people interact with a city, how objects interact with different spaces. I try to highlight certain aspects of a cityscape that are kind of bizarrely futuristic or surreal, things that might otherwise bypass us, surrealisms that we’ve become so used to in a short space of time, sped up by this accessibility to media and technology.
And the idea you mentioned before about people constructing an image of the self on social media – that’s not something unique to social media, you get chatting to some old dude in the pub and he’s indulging in the same image building with stories and tall tales.
Yeah, 100%. It’s not a new thing, social media and visual communication has just made people more aware of these things. Even though we have all these ideas about fake news and misinformation, we’re being given so much information it’s quite overwhelming for people. Within my work I like to highlight aspects of these overwhelming, quite absurd visual tropes, and the ways in which we might overlook them. I think it’s cool if people can gain a lot of confidence from being able to shape and show their lives to people. There are so many sides to this argument, we have to stop looking at these things as black and white issues. It’s a great example, the old dude at the pub with loads of crazy stories, no one knows if they’re true or not. You could call him a liar, you could believe everything he says, or you could kind of just enjoy his own personal fiction – indulge and enjoy the madness of him, the city, modern society, the way we live amongst each other, stepping on each other’s toes and fighting for attention in this big, very fast moving world.
You recently turned pro for Death Skateboards, performing an admirable French Exit in the middle of the celebration. How much was that day a surprise? Did you get any inkling when Hallett kept trying to force you into evening Wernside missions?
I thought it was really sweet, even though I’d had the worst day at work ever. I did think it was weird that people kept trying to get me to go to Wernside on an evening; everyone knows I like skating street on an evening. “Let’s go film this DIY spot edit at night, in the middle of winter,” it sounded like hell. I can barely see straight without my glasses on, I don’t want to be skating ramps we’ve built all sketchy, at night, trying to get actual clips after work. So I had the worst day at work, my boss Joe said I needed to take the bins out and I was like, “You’re a prick. I’ve had the worst day, I just want to go home.” My girlfriend Toni, we’d just started seeing each other and I was going to make her food for the first time at my house and I was really looking forward to it. I couldn’t wait to finish work, talk to no one for a bit, then go see this girl and have a really nice night. Martyn was pecking my head, taking me into fucking Poundland as I’m taking the bins out, buying me a Poundland edition Monopoly. I was like, “What the fuck is going on? Everyone has lost their mind today.” Honestly, I was fucking fuming. I walked upstairs because he was trying to show me a shoe, everyone jumped out at me – and if you know me, you know I’m quite a social person, but in that video of me getting surprised you can see that I’m lost for words. It’s probably the biggest surprise I’ve had in my life. I had to ring Toni and tell her there was a surprise party for me and I would be late, she had already seen it on Instagram and thought it was funny. I turned up at her house a few hours later off my nut, pissing against the wall, I fell asleep on her ordering Chinese food, it was a great night to be fair… I don’t really like surprises (laughs) but I appreciated the sentiment from all my friends. Especially Nick Zorlac, he’s the best. I’ve skated for Death for over ten years now I think, which is crazy.
When Nick originally asked me to go pro I turned it down, then he hit me up again and basically said, “Well it’s my company and I think you should be pro.” I didn’t think I deserved it, but he thought it was something I should do. I started thinking, why do I skate? I’ve never tried to make a career out of either my skating or my art, and I’ve never really been trying to get a lot of clout for myself or push myself in that way. So anyway, I thought fuck it. I’m getting a pro board and my Nana can have one and stuff. I’m really humbled by how many people, both friends and people I don’t know, hit me up to say they bought my board. It’s crazy to see kids skating my boards. We were skating this spot recently and all these emo kids who looked about 15 were doing coke on a school night and were in the way of a spot we wanted to skate. As I was fuming in the midst of trying to skate this spot, I realised that one of the emos in the way had my pro board, which was fucking hilarious. Shout out to the emo revival, them fringes have made a powerful comeback.
Nick described Death as the Spinal Tap of skate companies – which I love, because skateboarding is ridiculous sometimes. One thing I like about Death Skateboards is that they don’t take anything too seriously. Who are we to say that it’s any different from circus tricks? We have all these amazing tastes, choice of tricks, we could talk for hours about what style means on a skateboard, aggression, authenticity as a skateboarder. But I like to think a lot of us ride a skateboard purely because we get that visceral kick from it. I think it’s great when people have really interesting artistic visions and a really serious motive behind skate companies. I’m not dissing that at all, I think that’s fucking rad and there’s so many skate companies out there doing really interesting things. People like the Atlantic Drift guys have such a brilliantly original and refreshing take on skating, and they’re also putting out some beautifully professional standard stuff. I like that about skating, all of those ideas can blur into the same thing.
You can have what Jake Harris is doing, but you can also have Dan Cates drinking a bottle of prosecco and shouting along to the Sex Pistols.
Which leads on to an idea I had – we do a UK version of the Australian scene video Seccy Presh, but it’s just us drinking prosecco and trying to get tricks while hammered. Shout out to one of my favourite drinks of last summer, ‘Lambo-shandies’. It’s a bag of cans turned into shandy with a bottle of Lambrini. I think all skateboarders should try that on a nice summer’s day and go and hit some curbs.
You’ve also been filming a part for the upcoming Welcome video, which I imagine will see a number of the moving equivalents of the photos in this interview. With so many videos being filmed in Leeds over the past couple of years and everyone going in pretty hard, I’m interested in your process for finding as yet untouched spots and lines.
I don’t know… I get bored so easily with everything, I have to find new shit to skate. I’m not dissing skateparks, but I skated so many skateparks growing up that I just don’t really touch them anymore. I know what I’m about to find, and I don’t get that satisfaction anymore from skating something that’s meant to be skated. When it comes to spots, I quite like trying to skate shit that you could maybe only get a couple of tricks on, rather than something you need to get the hardest trick on.
There are so many things that will never lose their feeling – doing a frontside grind on pool coping will always feel amazing, because some things are such a physical reaction to the thing that you’re skating… but even then, you go to a skatepark with a perfect pool and really lacquered pool coping and it doesn’t feel as good because you know it’s been handed to you on a plate. When there is that crack in the pool coping, and you smith grind over the crack and feel your body lunge, that feels so sick because you’ve got to think about it in a different way than just doing the trick. Skating something weird as fuck is so rewarding.
Reece pointed out it would be wrong to conclude this interview without a D3 related question. With that in mind, can you share your top three D3 fetish videos with the world?
Man, the fetish world is amazing. People give so much of a fuck about objects, they place so much value in how these objects feel, it’s a very sensory thing. I think that’s very interesting in itself, but even more interesting when it’s something like an Osiris D3. It has so many cultural signifiers, and the fact that it appears with its almighty stomping power in the fetish world is incredible. Three of my favourite D3 videos:
– The standard food crushing videos, I guess it’s a sub or dom thing where people are stamping on various foods with D3s on. They’ll tantalisingly lift the heel up in a teasing way, then mush a pizza or banana and really enjoy how these foods are crushed or dominated by this weird, cultural shoe.
– There’s a certain fetish – and what I like about these videos is that they’re on YouTube because they’re not sexual – where people go in the bath wearing D3s, and cut the shoes up with knives and saws. I’m not sure why they do it underwater, but to me it’s fascinating.
– The most boring of the lot is probably people spunking on D3s. It’s probably the most straightforward to get your head around, but also the least straightforward to understand why that object has such a sexual gratification significance.
I was interviewing Marc Churchill recently, and we ended up in a fantasy world in which John Cardiel skated for Osiris during the D3 era. If you could see any pro skater in the world skating in D3s who would it be? And, on that note, who was the most stylish person to actually wear D3s?
Man if you told me there was a video of Cardiel skating in D3s I wouldn’t think twice about it, I’d probably manifest that clip you’re on about. We can laugh at D3s, but skate shoes around that time weren’t too dissimilar. I think Craig Smedley pulled it off the best. I don’t actually know if he ever skated in D3s, but I’m putting it out there as a trumour.
Who would I want to see skating in D3s? I hope that, in some sort of future world, Austyn Gillette and those Team Handsome dudes skating D3s and kids are rocking them in homage. That’s another great cultural anomaly – if the right pro did that, the kids wouldn’t think twice.
To close this out, would you rather create an art installation out of Cariuma Shoes or Grizzly Grip?
Hahaha fuck… can I think about that one for a second? I’d quite like to see a world in which not me, but an artist of significance, didnt realise the ironic cultural absurdity of those items which don’t translate outside of the skate world and did it in a really serious way. It’s like when skate stuff appears in the mainstream, being misunderstood by high fashion or the art world and people get all angry about it, I love it. Maybe we can get Grizzly or Cariuma to send a box to some really serious artist who doesn’t quite understand and makes a really serious piece about it, we could get a kick out of that. This is a really funny way to end this conversation, all of these funny things we’ve talked about, all of our little obsessions and misunderstandings that can combine into this weird cultural homage. Some people might find it really unoriginal, some people might find it the most original thing they’ve ever seen. Getting that satisfaction or passion from that, who are we to say that isn’t real?
Can I give a shout to everyone that supports me? Big thanks to Nick at Death, Sam and Tom and all the Welcome Skate Store staff, French for the Dungeon gear, Amanda and Josh at Vans, Jeremie at Film and all my mates who get me buzzed.
Blinky – WELCOME 2: HELL – Extended RAW Part