STEVE ‘TEAGUES’ TIERNEY
Interview by Cuzza
Steve Tierney is solid. Always has been, always will be. As one of the pioneers of the Sydney street-skating scene of the mid-90’s, Teagues was always known for dissecting the most technical of tricks with the utmost casual of styles. In life, as on the board, Steve is that dude who seems to deal with all situations with an air of grace and finesse.
As an artist, Teagues confronts some of the not-so-pleasantries of life with a casual smirk that reminds you it’s all gonna be ok.
With the release of another pro-model from one of my favourite skateboarders/humans/artists, and on the eve of his solo exhibition, HABITUAL, at the Tate Gallery in Sydney on the 18th of December, I caught up with Steve Tierney with a few quick fire Q & A’s.
Teagues scoops a shifty in Mexico. Photo by Fernando Gonzalez
What was the very first skateboard graphic you ever produced?
The very first actual design I did for a real skateboard company was the Omni logo. I was still in high school, so I hadn't really studied graphic design and didn't really know what it was. The logo was just something I drew by hand. I did that 20 years ago and they still use it. The first skateboard graphic I did was around the same time and was my first pro model for Omni. That would have been 1994, before I'd even used a design program. Actually I didn't even own a computer, so for the graphic my name was hand written in a script font and the image, which was the Taurus symbol, was just something I drew by hand as well. At the time, I was heavily influenced by anything Girl Skateboards was doing. All the graphics Girl was releasing then were really simple, flat colour boards with a rip-off of some famous logo with the name changed to the skaters. Pretty much every company was doing it really.
What was your history in graphic art prior to that?
I didn't really have any experience in graphic art prior to designing my first board. I studied art in high school, but I didn't know what graphic design was until about year 11 or 12 when it was a basic elective class or something. I did work experience in a design studio at some point too. The craziest thing about that is, the studio I did my work experience in didn't have any computers, everything was done by hand. That's pretty old school. But sometime in '94 or '95 I discovered a magazine called Raygun. It was like the punk rock version of graphic design. The designer at the time actually used to do Transworld Skateboarding magazine back in the day. Anyway, I immediately wanted to design magazines, and that's pretty much what I've been doing as a profession for the most part of the last 17 years. Obviously, as well as that, I've been making art and designing graphics for skate companies in Australia for around the same amount of time or longer really. I was psyched to be doing all the Time graphics back then. Actually if you think about it, you're actually my longest running client. Seriously I don't think I've ever thought about that before, but it's true. I used to have meetings with Christian West and Al Boglio for Time Skateboards, and with you for Draft Wheels in Kinkos in like '97 and '98. I'd use the computers in there to make your graphics cause I still didn't actually have a computer.
Do you have an all-time favourite board graphic you've done?
I think each time I do a new graphic it becomes my favourite. Something that really stands out from the past though was that Time Skateboards series which were like these Art Deco style graphics. Yours was the red wine being poured into a glass. It was the first time I designed an entire team series, so that was pretty cool for me. That was around 1997. I actually ripped those graphics off from some postcards or something and changed the design to fit your names. They were perfect board graphics though. Dion's was the raddest with the cigarette smoke.
I really like the last series I did for Amnesia, purely because they are in the style of collage that I've been developing over the last few years. More often than not, when I'm designing something for a company I'm just creating a graphic or image to a brief for a pre-existing identity, which is fine, but for the last two series of Amnesia boards, I had free reign to create them.
The same for your new graphic for Hoon. I actually really like that graphic. It's a totally random image too, even though you gave me a pretty detailed brief, it's my image. I've been wanting to use that soldier saluting for a while too. I have a huge collection of old magazines scanned in ready to make collages like that.
Of your own Pro-models, which is your favourite?
I think my favourite pro model is the Dangermouse one. Just cause that was probably my favourite time of skateboarding in Australia. It was when the Sds comp was around and the Nexus comp in Queensland was happening. It seemed like the scene was really going off. I'd just finished high school and we were all skating a lot. The Big City vids were being made. Time Skateboards, Grace and Criminal were all up and running. Amnesia and Omni obviously as well. There were a bunch of other companies too like Juice and Censored and Boom. Fuck, remember Loopy? That was awesome. And everyone was using Omni wood. Carey (Pogsun) must have been killing it then. I don't think Xen had quite started by then. Anyway, it just seemed like shit was happening and I guess I was skating about as good as I was ever gonna get.
(L to R) Omni Tierney - 1995, Time - '97, Time - '98, Hoon - 2010, '12, New - '13
Tell us a bit about some of the crazy travels you've been getting into the last couple of years? And the kind of work you've been doing?
Right now I'm living in México, in a city called Oaxaca. It's an amazing city and the last 8 months has been a pretty wild ride. But I actually left Australia a couple of years ago to go to Cambodia, and almost every job I've had or project I've been involved in since then has been a completely random and crazy experience. Not all of it's been fun though. I got dengue fever in the first week of arriving in Cambodia. That was fucking horrible. You really never want to get that. I'm pretty sure it's still with me.
Of all the projects I've been involved in lately though, volunteering with Skateistan has been by far the best. In fact, it's probably one of the best experiences of my life. It was insane and I miss it a lot. In the early days we'd show up at this school in the morning and it was already like 35 degrees or more, way too hot to be skating. A bunch of kids would come in, literally off the street, to take a skate workshop on a piece of shitty concrete about 5m square that was still wet from the rain the night before. Usually kids wouldn't have shoes, or even much clothing at all. There was one kid who came a couple of times wearing huge pink platforms, a short skirt and a handbag, and he would try and skate in that. We had to tell him to put on some skate shoes and pads, which we supplied, but he wasn't into it. Stuff like that just became normal after a while. Cambodian fashion is on another level, that's for sure. But that's a pretty extreme example.
The one thing that I always found really funny about my experience there was that while my girlfriend was at work in a UN office dealing with serious bureaucratic processes, I was out riding a motorbike, most days through knee deep water in the rain, to the ghetto's of Phnom Penh just to roll around in a waterlogged and dirty skatepark with a bunch of 11 year old kids who couldn't speak English. But I never felt like my work was any less important.
You always seem to take life in its stride mate - what's your secret to a seemingly ever-present casual vibe?
Yeah, I keep waiting for reality to catch up and slap me in the face actually. Probably when I have kids yeah? But it's hard to answer that question without sounding like a dick. I'm aware that to a lot of people who know me it seems like I'm always pretty chilled out and having fun, and mostly I am, but I'm sure my girlfriend could tell you about a whole other guy that's not so fun. I can be a moody old bastard when I want.
But I don't know, I just don't take myself seriously and I never have. I take my work seriously and I'm very professional when it comes to my client work, but basically I thrive off positive energy and positive people, you know? I just try to have fun with everything I do, and make life fun for the people around me, and I guess I try not to get hung up on the mistakes I make in life. I'd like to give you some kind of insightful Buddhist philosophy here, but really I just think 'shit happens, deal with it'. Life is too short to be too be held back by negative energy and negative people.
What's next for you Teagues?
Well I'll be in Sydney over Christmas. I'm having an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in Glebe on the 18th of December with a whole bunch of new work I made here in México, which I'm really psyched on. Davo (Michael Davidson) and I are gonna do another Flatarama event on the 21st of December. That'll be awesome - another mega 90's skate reunion. I'm hoping to see some old heads there.
But I'll be coming back to live in México again in January. I've just started running a kind of cultural art walk in the city with two other friends here. We'll be taking people around to all the independent art spaces in the city and introducing their projects. Oaxaca is a huge hub of really diverse creativity, but the big museums and galleries tend to receive most of the attention. There's some really cool underground stuff going on here that I want to get involved in. I'll also hopefully be exhibiting my own work more at home and internationally. Maybe design some more Hoon graphics for 2014? Who knows?
Actually just this week I had a meeting with this dude who does workshops teaching people to make wooden toys in small communities outside of Oaxaca and he needs some help with it. It sounds like fun, and actually it's a great project, so maybe I'll be a toy maker next year.
For more Teagues awesomeness, visit: www.teaguesart.com