Riding High | Interview: Steve Olson

fotoboy62 | Citizen LA

A scruffy dude resembling Jack Nicholson in his mid-forties grinds up on a skateboard, backwards, curbside pop-flips it under one arm and opens the glass door with the other. A half dozen jaws drop in the Jiffy a Lube waiting room. Including mine and I KNOW this dude once held title as “the best vert bowl skateboarder in the world”… twenty-five or so years ago. Whatever I expected Steve Olson to be now it doesn’t compare to the real-life, shocking sight of this grown, graying man tricking an ali Ollie.

Steve Olson: “I’ve been hearing the same fucking thing since I was sixteen skating in competitions. ‘Aren’t you too old to be on that toy?'”

Heidi: “What do you say to that?”

Steve: “Bite me! I’m doing what I enjoy. ‘What’s your TOY?’ I say, continue to break the boundaries… Always.”

Olson’s art studio is hidden away in Graffiti-sprayed back alley off Melrose. He invited, got permission for the CBS Kids to display there.

Steve: “I love the way Graffiti artists present their work. For all eyes.”

Heidi: “Why are you hesitant to show at Galleries, yourself?”

Steve: “I never wanted to be part of the system much. John Pochna, he’s an exception with Zero One. I respect that Pochna was one of the first to recognize Graffiti as an art form… which it is. I’m not one but I’ve tagged.”

Steve’s solo show at Pochna’s O1 Gallery Downtown opened on May 24 through July 1 to an eclectic crowd including celebrity musicians, skateboarders and art collectors, Tom and Trish Gilmore.

Lilli Muller curates with Pochna’s partners Brandon Coburn and Jim and Natasha Ulrich.

Heidi: “What’s the purest form of art?”

Steve: “Sex…You know it’s true.”

Heidi: “Would you say you’re a conceptual artist?”

Steve: “Definitely. All my shit’s conceptual. But what isn’t? It all has meaning.”


Heidi: “This evil thing is going so if there’s anything you don’t want recorded just feel free to reach over and smash it on the floor.”

Steve: “I have no secrets.”

Heidi: “No secrets? What’s your biggest secret?”

Steve: “What’s a secret? Something you don’t want to tell someone? Why would you be afraid to be honest?”

Heidi: “If you were a Jew in Nazi Germany?”

Steve: “OK, there is a reason sometimes.”

Heidi: “What’s your favorite drug?”

Steve: “Sleep…Coffee…Cigarettes. What’s yours?”

Heidi: (Inaudible.) “You smoke a lot.”

Steve: “It’s something that keeps you clear, like, a medium..they say I’m gonna die from smoking…yeah right. Like nothing else could kill me before then?”

Heidi: “How do you want to die?”

Steve: “I don’t KNOW! I was told that immortality is coming soon…by a mathematician.”

Heidi: “You want to stick around for it? I think it’d be kind of a drag to be around here forever.”

Steve: “It’d be whacked. How can you hang around in this bullshit scene? It’d be cool if everything was dope…hey, might be worth it. Maybe they’re gonna let all the secrets out.”

Heidi: “Interesting. You believe him?”

Steve: “This dude’s a genius, PhD in Math from UCLA. He’s a great singer too. He played in the Blasters…Phil Alvin. He’s cool.”

Heidi: “Who are some of your favorite music groups?”

Steve: “Anything from DEVO to the New York Dolls…love the glam stuff. My (artwork) fabrics are kind of glammy…if you look at it that way.”

Heidi: “Have you ever worn fishnets?”

Steve: “Puh-lease…I’m wearing them now.”

Heidi: “Cue the camera, Marianne.”

Steve: “This isn’t fair. I ate a Rice Krippie treat. I’ve been stoned for three days.”

Heidi: “I haven’t had a good Rice Krispie treat since I was a kid.”

Steve: “This one was laced. It was excellent. It’s still excellent.”

Heidi: “Which came first the art or the skateboarding?”

Steve: “I think they came at the same time. My brother’s an artist so since I was a kid I’ve been assisting him. He was a cool bro.”

Heidi: “I read about where they used to give you a bag of weed with your Skateboard in competitions, promo events…”

Steve: “Yeah, that was crazy. They’d send out a box when we were on on tour. There’d always be great weed in the middle of nowhere.”

Heidi: “I’ve seen video of you pro skateboarding and you’re so relaxed.”

Steve: “That’s ’cause I’m stoned.”

Heidi: “In one video, I think it was Kerry Getz is saying, ‘Steve Olson will skate anything, anything in front of him and he never gets hurt.’ Did you ever get hurt?”

Steve: “Yeah…I don’t know if Getz was talking about me.”

Heidi: “Maybe it was Duane Peters?”

Steve: “Coulda been Duane. We’ve been tight since we were 15 yrs old.”

Heidi: “You leapt over him skating once?”

Steve: “Yeah. We were in a competition. I got hung-up.”

Heidi: “What’s hung-up?”

Steve: “…It’s when you’re not going to make it but you do. Back of Board lags and you lose it for a second but the momentum carries you and you slam back down on whatever you’re skating.”

Heidi: “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever skated?”

Steve: “I like full pipes. There’s a gazillion gallons of water running above you and a little, scary feeling. What if they were to just open it? It’d be gnarly if they just opened it up and you’re in there. And all the water started rushing down!”

Heidi: “You think about this while you’re in the pipe?”

Steve: “You just like trip for a second. And then you’re fucking OUT.”

Heidi: “You like to be frightened? Well, everybody must. Look at all the amusement parks and scary rides…”

Steve: “It’s the adrenaline rush… could get hectic. I smashed my head skating.”

Heidi: “Some of your earlier art is broken skateboards. Anything to do with that experience?”

Steve: “It has to do with the actual skateboard industry. It’s broke. And it’s kind of a metaphor for a lot of things going on in the world. It seems like it’s fucking broke. Getting more broke all the time. And no one wants to fix it.”

Heidi: “I love your bomb, btw. Everyone loves it. At the 01 anti-war show everyone was trying to ride it.”

Steve: “The first one I made right after 911, it didn’t have ‘Ride this Bitch’ and when I dropped it off to the curator chick she freaked. She said, “That’s in bad taste.” I mean how is it in bad taste? They just blew up the fucking Twin Towers!”

Heidi: “Talk about bad taste.”

Steve: “Told her to go fuck herself. What does she think is in my bomb? My bomb’s full of fucking happiness. You can drop this bomb and see what happens.”

Heidi: “How do you feel about Iraq and the war there?”

Steve: “You have a bunch of ego mongers power trippin’. It sucks. All over the world it’s not just us.”

Heidi: “Do you feel empathy for the people we’re bombing?”

Steve: “Every one.”

Heidi: “I see a lot of empathy in your work.”

Steve: “That’s what it’s about. I don’t use real leather, btw. I do wear leather shoes. I suppose that’s fucked.”

On the Environment:

Steve: “It’s just another marketing tool. I was at this (celebrity) eco-event and this tree branch was in the way, so they just chop the branch off…for the fucking camera shot! When they chopped it I said, ‘I’m out. Don’t use my name, my image.’ Yeah, it’s great they’re getting their ‘message across.’ Now, somebody fucking DO something.

On his skateboarding accident that left him nearly comatose:

Heidi: “Is that the closest you’ve come to death?”

Steve: “I can’t answer that. I wasn’t there. I was inside my head! But it was fucked up. It doesn’t feel good to eat shit.”

Heidi: “How long did it take you to get back on a board after that?”

Steve: “When my stitches came out…a couple of weeks later. But skateboarding died. Parks were all closing because of insurance, people suing. It was looked down upon. It wasn’t accepted socially. It wasn’t media driven like it is now. But we had a fucking blast when they closed shit down. No people there….It was all cops and robbers except we weren’t robbing anything.”

Heidi: “What turned it around? Commercialism?”

Steve: “I don’t know. Tony Hawk turned it around.”

Heidi: “What’s more dangerous, boarding or art?”

Steve: “Skateboarding is definitely more dangerous. Well, I suppose I could chop my hand off…I use a jigsaw, work with routers, all that bullshit.”

Heidi: “Do you plan out your art? Have a concept going in or does it emerge?”

Steve: “It’s definitely thought out. I have to think out how to produce it.”

Heidi: “Ever change directions with it along the way?”

Steve: “I will allow accidents to happen.”


Heidi: “I saw a performance art video of you smashing up boards.”

Steve: “Show I did in New York. I broke 21 boards. Most people didn’t get it which is typical. Some of my older friends got it.”

Heidi: “What was the concept there?”

Steve: “I was making fun of the skateboard industry, some lame dudes producing boards to be broken so kids will have to go out and spend another $55 every few weeks to buy a new board. In a Capitalistic world that’s perfect.”

Heidi: “‘Where everything’s made to be broken.'” …Song lyric.”

Steve: “I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. In the 70’s we were experimenting with new materials. Now that’s stopped…everyone’s going to China to produce boards now. Obviously, the margin is better. We could do it here. How ’bout melt something down and make a board out of recyclables?”

Heidi: “Have you expanded on that concept in your artwork?”

Steve: “Did you see my rusted spray paint cans?”

Along his studio walls Steve has dozens of rusted out spray paint cans carefully framed, some under glass.
Steve: “They’re supposed to be dead. Disposable. But I say they’ve just gone to the next step.”

Heidi: “Not disposable?”

Steve: “What’s disposable? Nothing’s really disposable…it’s all going somewhere. This whole idea of “disposable” is just bullshit. Disposable Income? Like, I have so much money I can afford to throw it away? That’s weak. Fuck, go help someone.”


Heidi: “Who are some of your art icons?”

Steve: “Barbara Kruger. Marcel Duchamp.”

Heidi: “Have you ever been in love?”

Steve: “I’m always in love. “

Heidi: “When you were a kid did you go through those bomb drills in school under the desk?”

Steve: “Oh yeah! That was great. I was under Hope Tillman’s desk. “Mr. Olson, what are you doing under Ms. Tillman’s desk?” Nothing. Just making sure she’s O.K.”

Heidi: “What would you most want to be remembered for?”

Steve: “Sex. It’s all about sex. It’s all expression. Creation…Making up your own tricks.”

Steve’s also been a commodities broker.

Steve: “Commodities. It’s a scam.”

Heidi: “What else is a scam?”

Steve: “Michael Moore is a scam. He’s a fucking pig. He invests in everything he’s talking shit about. Yeah, it’s cool to talk shit but give me a solution.”

Heidi: “What’s your solution?”

Steve: “The solution is simple. Everyone needs to realize that we’re here to have fun.”