Deviancy, dark humor and stark criticism of our corrupted society, Sean Cliver is, along with Mc Kee and Todd Francis (whom we interviewed in our 12th issue), one of the most influential artists in skateboarding and is known for his insane cartoon graphics. Having grown up seeing skate decks go from mere pieces of wood to works of art, Sean spends his time rubbing our nose in what we’d rather ignore. He’s also responsible for most of the graphics that you’ve drooled over in many of the issues of 411 Video Magazine. He’s never pulled any punches : Naked babes, gun slinging babies, drugs and countless subversions of religious imagery that we enjoy indulging in ourselves. You probably grew up admiring his illustrations without even knowing it. He’s responsible for most World Industries graphics, he also made the Toy Machine logo... Fuck it, if we were to list the entirety of his work it would take ages.
Jacker / Can you tell us where you come from ? City of origin, what social class you come from, what were your early aspirations ? Your hobbies ? Your passions ? School career ? What you studied ? Small jobs ?
Sean / I come from a small town in central Wisconsin, which probably doesn’t mean anything to anyone in France, but it’s a land far, far away from the progressive coasts of the USA. But I’m of middle class origin, worked as a newspaper delivery boy until I graduated from a public school in 1987, went to a low-rent tech college for commercial art, and then dropped out in 1989 once I won a contest for a job as an artist for Powell- Peralta, a leading skateboard manufacturer in the ’80s. As far as any passions go, they mostly revolved around comic books, art, skateboarding, and never growing up or old.
J / Contractor, illustrator, producer, a very rich career ! What part of the art world did you originally get involved in ? What kind of artists who have influenced you ?
S / I’m strictly a pen-and-ink guy at a desk. My earliest art endeavors growing up were emulating comic book artists and producing small comics of my own, but I never fully grasped that skill. I was much more suited to one-off illustrations, the likes of which I found when I first walked into a skateboard shop in 1986. The artists I gravitated toward then were VCJ, Pushead, and Jim Phillips. Once I discovered such an occupation could exist, to do skate graphics full time, it became my dream and eventual reality. Still not sure how all that worked out for me, but I’ve been doing them ever since 1989.
J / Why did you want to diversify yourself in the job ? Was it for money ? To explore different faces of art ? New opportunities or simply needed to change ?
S / I’m not the most social person, but I don’t necessarily enjoy sitting at a drawing table every minute of every day either. So when the opportunity came along to work as a writer and half-ass photographer on Big Brother magazine in 1992, I was more than happy to diversify. This eventually branched into working as a producer on the various Jackass projects in 2000, and I’ve been bouncing between illustration, writing, photography, and production ever since. The only common thread through it all was to just have fun with my friends and continue doing what I love to do.
J / In which discipline have you felt more free in terms of expression ?
S / I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had freedom of expression in all of my occupational pursuits. So much so that I get easily frustrated and shitty when confronted with any limitations or corporate restrictions.
J / You worked as a producer at Jackass, can you tell us a bit more about that ? What message did you want to convey and which kind of actors and fans did Jackass have, I mean culturally ?
S / Jackass grew out of Big Brother magazine, where Jeff Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville first met and began working together in 1997. We’d cultivated an oddball assortment of personalities while doing the magazine, many of whom later joined the cast when we shot the pilot in early 2000, like Chris Pontius, Steve-O, Dave England, and Wee-Man. I don’t think anyone had any real message to convey with Jackass... we were all just in it for the absurdity and fun, and to continue doing all the dumb stuff we ever wanted to do — but now with an actual budget to support the ideas. There was a genuine sense of family and camaraderie with Jackass, though, and I believe that’s why it resonated with the fan base and endured as such throughout the years.
J / Tell us more about your collaboration with DC and Big Brother. What did you do for them ? Any good/funny anecdotes about the release party ?
S / When DC Shoes first approached me in early 2014 with the opportunity to do a solo shoe and apparel project, we briefly threw around the idea of doing something that would tie into my history with Big Brother magazine. This fell by the wayside — aside from a few trivial details I included in the final illustrations — but later that year they circled back and contacted Tremaine about doing a more specific collaboration with the magazine. In addition to a standard shoe and apparel release, DC offered to not only fund a big book collecting the best and worst of Big Brother but produce the Dave Carnie pro model shoe based on the “fantasy” shoe that Tremaine had cobbled together in Photoshop for a Big Brother pro model skate shoe article in 1997. We couldn’t be happier with the final outcome of the collaboration, and DC went all out for the launch event. Unfortunately there weren’t any stray scissorlifts left about or I’m sure someone would’ve done something resulting in thousands of dollars in damages. This actually happened at our first Big Brother video premiere in 1995 and I think the final bill was around 15 grand.
J / We heard that your fascination for the poo is something that inspires you ? Can you tell us more about that.
S / I’ve always found humor in the disgusting, but that’s as far as it goes. I don’t fingerpaint with poo or anything.
J / In regards to your work “The Disposable Skateboard Bible”, how long did it take you to make this kind of book ? I guess it is the job of a lifetime ? What is the thing that made you want to list all the works related to skateboarding ?
S / The two Disposable books were passion projects for sure. Each book took two years to assemble and edit, but corny as it sounds they’re my “love letters” to skateboarding. Skateboard graphics changed my life. This was my way of giving back and preserving the images and history behind them.
J / Do you perceive your work as the fulfillment of your professional career or do you have any upcoming projects ?
S / I certainly hope I have some upcoming projects, because I don’t know what else I would do for a career in life. Most recently I have a hand in a small board company called Paisley Skates, which focuses on the graphics and hand-screened application versus the toy store look of heat transfer sheets. The production costs are significantly higher, but the boards look, feel, and smell exactly how they once did prior to the commodification of skateboarding.