Brian Lotti is a revolutionary skateboarder, painter and filmmaker who invented a series of pivotal tricks in the 90s and went pro but as quickly as he shot into the fame in the industry he suddenly departed from skateboarding.
In these years Brian developed his painting which alongside his skating is what he is as well known for now.
Although Brian left skateboarding during the transition of the golden era to the modern one, his style and creative influence are still an inspiration.
With storied experience as a pro skater, professional painter and filmmaker he’s got plenty of interesting tales to tell and unique points of view and perspectives.
So we hit him up to chat just as he was about to make a major life transition by moving from New York to Los Angeles to ask him if he wanted to join The No Comply Network and he was down.
We had a great long conversation about how he got into skateboarding, art and film, growing up with Kenny Anderson in Las Vegas, getting sponsored by H-Street, Mike Ternasky, inventing the Bigspin and the Lotti Spin, innovating a series of sick tricks, moving over to Planet Earth, filming for Now N’ Later, untold stories about Daniel Harold Sturt, finding a new path on Blind, doing creative work for Big Brother Magazine, getting into hijinks with Spike Jonze, Jeff Tremaine, Marc McKee, Sean Cliver and Rick Kosick, shooting Jeremy Wray, departing from skating, Zen Buddhism, becoming a professional painter, developing and refining his style, his painting process and subjects, getting back into the skate industry, his films 1st and Hope, Free Pegasus and Descending Bilbao, his most recent projects, his thoughts on the future of skateboarding media, and his favourite skaters, artists, photos, videos, tricks and tips of all-time and more.
Read the Brian Lotti Interview to find it all out for yourself.
Did you grow up in California Brian?
Well, I grew up in the west, my dad was in the US military and so we moved around. I got into skateboarding when I lived in Salt Lake City Utah.
It was in a crazy place in the middle of nowhere. So when I was in Utah, street skating wasn’t really a thing yet. It was all about the Bones Brigade, vert ramps and pools and shit. Then I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. I went to High School there.
What was it like living in Vegas?
Vegas was great because there were so many ditches there.
I was like wow, I definitely knew by that point I wasn’t a ramp skater and street skating was a thing finally and I was like, thank God, I can do this! I can skate parking blocks or anything now.
So this was in the Mid to Late 80s?
Utah and Vegas are different. One is religious and the other is all about glitz, glamour and gambling. What age did you live in both?
I got a board when I was 11 but I was probably 13 when I properly got into skating.
So I was in 7th grade, I skated for two years in Salt Lake City and I was just learning to Ollie and Powerslide you know, do little tricks like Ollie up curbs. Then my dad got transferred and we moved to Vegas.
Yeah, the two are very different. Vegas is a lot dirtier and a lot sketchier, I remember I’d never been bullied before and I remember this kid in Vegas was always trying to bully me and steal my shit. It was kind of like the innocence was lost.
It was more of a brutal and harsh world there. Condoms out in the parking lot in 7-11. Guy’s jerking off in the parking lot, right outside of 7-11, I was like woah!
@brianlotti ,Backside Air, Munster, 1991: Shot by Sin
Yeah, as a kid, that must have been next level, especially as you’ve lived in this totally different place.
Totally. I wasn’t a Mormon. Utah was a sheltered safe place. Vegas is nuts and it only got more nuts with time. The cool thing was that there were a lot of kids skating there who were street skating there, it really saved my life. I met a lot of amazing kids skating there.
Vegas is kind of like West Side story. The town was kind of divided into the east, the west, the north and the south and there were different skate gangs and rivalries but then every so often when there would be a contest everyone would get together and be so stoked. But then there would still be rivalries. It was a cool scene, it was funky. That’s when I was like skateboarding’s for me, I love this.
Were contests important at the time?
Contests were a big deal because it was kind of like the time when there was a safe spot, it was usually because the skate shop Thrills on Wheels, got permission to section off a parking lot and they had killer quarterpipes, slider bars and jump ramps.
All these different little skate gangs got to skate the same shit for an afternoon, so it was like most of the rest of the time the only stuff we could skate together was the ditches but you’d never have that many of all the skaters in Vegas skating the same thing at once.
People didn’t really come out to ‘compete’. It was more like ah there’s this cool shit to skate, it was more like a feeding frenzy like,’ oh my god, I get to skate this new thing!’.
But yeah people would be jacked up with loads of energy to skate in front of their friends.
What were those Vegas skate contests like in the late 80s?
The contests in Vegas were madness. People would throw bottles and break shit, the cops would come, skaters would be on the phone calling 911 and pranking them, like ‘Oh my god there’s a riot, you’ve got to come right away’ and then take off to go hit the quarterpipe and come back and prank the cops again.
Sounds like everyone was hyped
I’d say to people, ‘do you want to skate? Or cause a riot?’ and people would be like ‘fuck it, I want to do both!’.
What was the name of your crew?
We were the Bonanza skaters really. That was the name of the high school I was closest to.
It was called Bonanza High School?
That’s a funny name. Who else was in your crew?
My little crew on the West side was like me Larry Jones, Jamie, Donny, there were about 4-5 of us. Then later on Kenny Anderson, Dave Abair and Josh Cuzel, we used to skate with too.
Kenny and I grew up together. He was a couple years younger but yeah we used to skate together all the time. We had a little unit for a while.
So Kenny Anderson was in the Bonanza skate crew too?
Yeah but then some guys stopped skating as much, some guys started skating more, then some of us got driving licenses and we were able to drive places and skate more, then when that happened the east and the west thing didn’t matter quite as much and everything was more fluid.
Early on a lot of the street skating we’d do, because some of us our schools were in our neighbourhood but for some of us our schools were more in the middle of the town, like for me, to go to Bonanza, a lot of times we’d skate home from school.
How long was that?
So it was a 4-5 mile skate home, kind of all downhill and there would be spots.
So I had other friends who went to other schools close by, so we’d skate home together and skate spots along the way.
How long did that take?
It would take several hours to get home. You get to find little spots. We learned how to do Wallrides because we found this wall that had a slight little bank going up to it. We were like ah you can cheat because it’s easier to get up on the wall.
For the first few weeks, I could get up on to the wall but I could not turn off of it and my buddy Brad was like you’ve got to turn hard and I figured it out and I was like woah.
Did you skate home every day?
I didn’t skate home every day it was more like a couple times a week then other times I’d take the bus home.
How did Kenny join the Bonanza skate crew?
He became a part of the Bonanza skate crew because later on, I had a couple quarterpipes and some blocks at my house.
So people would come to my house a couple days a week and people would skate at my place, then we’d take off and go somewhere, go skate a ditch or curbs somewhere.
What was it like skating with Kenny at the time?
Kenny Anderson was like the little kid who was really good on mini ramps. There were a lot of people back then who just skated ramps. Vert ramps guys, pool skating guys but then the rest of us would skate street and skate mini ramps if we could find them.
Kenny was the mini ramp kid.
He probably started skating when he was 7-8 so by the time he was 10-11 he was really good on mini ramps. I remember he was like the tiniest kid at the time.
Then I remember my friend Dave started dating his sister Kay. So Dave and Kay were hanging out and so when Dave went to go out and skate he would grab Kenny and we would all meet up and then we would just skate wherever.
Then when I was a junior in high school, I had a car; I was driving every day, just going wherever I could. We skated together me, Dave, Kenny, Josh and this guy Chris skated every day. You know what it’s like you get your crew and it’s just on.
Did you realise Kenny was talented even at that age?
Exactly yeah. You knew he had his own thing going too. He couldn’t Ollie as high as us but he was like a late bloomer, he was a real small guy till he was a sophomore in high school then he kind of grew. He was just a mini dude. Like Guy Mariano – he was ripping like that when he was a kid. That’s how Kenny was.
Mini ramps really help you to learn how to skate ledges
Mike Carroll was really good on mini ramps, he was better at skating them than anything else in the beginning.
Then he could take Frontside Smith Grinds and Back Smiths and Lipslides on the ledges super easy because of that.
Brian Lotti, Slappy Smith, Las Vegas 1988 photo by Jared Eberhardt
Yeah, it’s like he learned how to lock in better on a Mini by rolling in rather than Ollieing on to it. So at what point did you start to just skate street and what inspired you to do just that?
I had kind of seen street skating in some videos. Vision Streetwear had put some ads out.
Most of the videos were dudes at ramps and were at contests. Occasionally there were street contests guys like Steve Rocco, Natas and Mark Gonzales would be at those contests and you’d get a taste for it.
But in one of those Vision Streetwear ads, there was an ad with Gonz where he did this Kickflip over this gap in this ditch in Texas and I remember just tripping on that.
Then I think a month or two later Transworld put out this issue and on the cover it said, ‘Street Skating’ or ‘The Street Issue’ and the cover was this guy doing a Boneless of this ledge. The whole issue was street skating.
It was Todd Swank, Natas, Gonz, Vallely, a lot of the shots were shot in this schoolyard in San Diego and they were skating this little flat rail, skating this bank to wall and these other little banks and I was like boom! Anything where people were skating a bank I was like that looks like fun.
So after that Transworld issue I realised you could just be a street skater, you don’t have to do any of this other shit you know?
Cool, so it was this issue of Transworld that made it clear for you what street skating was
Every issue you’d see pictures of these guys I just mentioned, just a couple at first but gradually more and more pictures of those guys skating would come out.
Do you remember the first time that you saw the Gonz skate?
I remember the first time I saw Gonz skate. He did a demo in Vegas. Everybody there was like woah!
There were not a lot of videos back then. From pictures of tricks of them you couldn’t understand what they were doing or how they were doing it.
So the first time I saw Gonz skate he was doing like Half Cabs to Backside 50-50s to Backside 180 out on a slider bar or Backside 180 to Fakie 50-50 Half Cab out on this little thing you were stoked to be doing a little Boardslide on.
You’d see that and think that’s magic man and you wanted to be able to do that. His board control was insane.
For sure. What was the first skate video that opened your eyes to doing those tricks?
I remember reading about Ollies and I couldn’t really imagine it.
I remember reading about Tommy Guerrero doing an Ollie over a bush at the beginning of his part in Future Primitive. Then I saw that part and I just remember thinking Ollies were like letting your back wheels hit a crack and that boosted your board up.
I remember thinking how did Tommy do that from a crack…but then when I saw him hit his tail I was like Woah! I understood it.
That’s dope. So who got the Ollie first in the Bonanza crew?
Good question. I think everyone was working on them at the same time.
When I was learning Ollies, I was in a garage in Salt Lake City Utah, in my garage, there was snow on the ground. There were other people street skating in Salt City and they were pretty good.
There are a lot of things that people are working on at the same time and were figuring it out together in different places.
The Gonz and Natas Kaupas were the ones who cemented Ollies as the foundational trick of street skating.
What other skaters were you looking up to at the time?
Steve Rocco was a really good street skater for a little while too. People don’t really remember that.
He was a freestyler who gave up freestyle and started to be a street skater too. He was cool. I was also into Mike Vallely, Natas, Gonz and Guerrero.
I’ve never heard that about Rocco’s street skating
There was a really cool video of him and The Gonz, skating downhill in SF.
Kind of like Tommy in Future Primitive. It was a Thrasher video. The band The Drunk Engines was playing over clips of them skating in SF, they were both super good it’s crazy.
That’s cool, they changed skating in different ways
Those guys were buds back then
So as you progressed in skating, how did you get sponsored?
It was pretty random. I knew Ron Allen. I went to skate camp one summer and I had met him there and knew him from that.
He was in town for a skate contest, a vert contest; he was in town for a day or two. It was right when Ron was signing with H-Street and I’m at this vert contest just checking it out and somehow he remembered me and we chatted and we decided to skate some curbs in the parking lot.
As we were skating the curbs The H-Street Guys – Tony Magnusson and Mike Ternasky – called him to go to a Denny’s – they were just about sign his pro contract.
And he was like, ‘Hey Brian just come with us!’
I was like okay and I went to this dinner they had, where they turned Ron pro and then somehow it turned into were going to sponsor you too now.
I was like uh okay!
So they started flowing me boards and I went to San Diego a couple times and filmed for some of those videos and things opened up and went from there.
Brian Lotti, Half Cab to Frontside Noseslide to Fakie: Shot by J Grant Brittain
What did you do on those curbs?
We were skating single sided curbs and were doing all these tricks that people were doing on the ramps on the curbs. Like Lipslide to Smith grinds, Lipslide to 5-0 to Tailslide, Backside Lipslide and come off before the end, Backside Tailslide.
Sick you were doing all these variations
That day it was a really tall single sided curb, we were having fun doing Lipslides coming off before the end.
So I skated for H-Street for a couple years, then it was just another random thing, I was just about to graduate high school in a couple of months.
But then I got a call from Mike Ternasky from H-Street and he said we’re signing Chris Miller and he’s starting a new company and we want to turn you pro for the new company – what do you think? Want to do it? I was like what!?
I was like this is crazy! Chris Miller is signing for H-Street to a new company? I was like hell yeah!
Everybody loved Chris Miller he was the best you know. So that was another random one, were I was like uh okay!
Brian Lotti, Backside Smith,Planet Earth Ad: Shot by J Grant Brittain
How did H-Street turn you pro?
I remember I turned pro with Sal Barbier, he and I went to this contest in Lake Tahoe and we turned pro there. I was like no way am I ready to turn pro but at the same time I was like this means I’ll be able to skate more so fuck it.
Yeah, you can’t turn it down
I remember the contest in Lake Tahoe, where I turned pro there were guys like Wade Speyer and John Cardiel, who were just flying around the course and doing these huge Frontside Airs and Melon Grabs over these hips.
I was skating these blocks and quarterpipes, just doing the tricks I was stoked on doing at the time. I was never a contest skater.
I remember just thinking oh my god who was I trying to fool being a street skater. But later on though you realise is not about any of that stuff. But in the beginning I was like, I’m a fraud here, it does not make sense.
What was it like coming up with Sal Barbier?
I mean skating with Sal was awesome. He was super fun as a person. Super funny guy, always joking around. Inspiring to skate with too as he’s always pushing thing. He had a good bit of gnar in him.
Sal, Sean Sheffey, John Reeves, Kien Lieu aka Donger, those guys went for it. They had big Ollies and would throw themselves down things. It was kind of intimidating sometimes those guys would really go for it.
Sal was always on his game. He was really good on mini ramps too, it pushed me to get better on transition. I wouldn’t have learned Noseblunts on ramps without him. He’d do them everywhere.
What’s the key to doing Backside Nosebluntslides?
Sal and Chris Pastras – Dune, and I, we were all trying to learn BS Nosebluntslides on curbs where you get in and get off on the same sides. So curbs without an end, doing it right in the middle. I remember I was trying to learn that with those guys, it was like a competition to see who could learn them first.
Noseblunts are hard until you can do it. I don’t know the exact trick to it but anything Backside you’ve got to turn your hips and keep your shoulders straight. Stick it in there, lean on it and hold it.
You’ve got to Ollie extra high, and turn and get up and over the curb and so when you get into the Noseblunt your board is perpendicular so your landing and sliding but when you’re trying to approach the curb and pop in and pop out on the same side, you have to keep your weight out away from the curb almost so when your done sliding, your leg’s suck right back up under your upper body weight which is already away from the curb.
Brian Lotti, Backside Nosebluntslide, San Diego, Shot by J. Grant Brittain
Right so you’re constantly pushing away from the curb.
I still think it’s really sick when people do Noseblunts and pop in and pop out on the same side of ledge. I love seeing that. It’s really cool.
It’s interesting you were all trying them, had that trick been done?
It took me a long time to learn Frontside Noseblunts and Backside Noseblunts. Around when we were trying to get them a sequence came out in Transworld and Matt Hensley did a super long Backside Noseblunt and came out to revert on a curb. So Hensley had them before anybody did.
So Hensley did them first?
I mean anything Backside that guy was a wizard, He figured out Backside Lipslides on ledges early on and I think for him BS Noseblunts were not too different.
Yeah because he already had that technique on lock
He also had one of the first boards, where the nose was like the tail but a little bit bigger.
You might not remember that. He basically had a glorified popsicle stick. He was ahead of everybody for a good couple years. He was amazing.
So, how long were you skating before you got on H-Street?
I was skating for two and a half years before I got on H-Street.
What did H-Street want from you, clips or was it about contests?
Filming was something you did when you went and visited the main guys, filming wasn’t something people did on their own too much. It’s like we’re filming for a video, Mike’s coming to your area for this weekend be ready to film with him!
Skating with a filmer, skating to film, constantly, the way things are now, that didn’t happen til the early mid -90s before that there were skateboard video makers and they’d schedule a time to film and you’d just skate and you would try to unload extra heavy for the camera.
For the most part the TM’s would chat with you and it was crazy and they’d be like what are you working on? What’s your new trick? People were keeping tabs but it was totally different.
Yeah, nobody was expecting you to stack footage
Yeah, for all of us that didn’t live in California. For people in California they would get a photo in a magazine, or in a session with other people or a contest, it was a bit different. H-Street guys would send out newsletters every month. They would go through the team and give a breakdown:
This guy’s doing this and this guy’s doing this. Out in Vegas, Brian Lotti’s doing this. It’s kind of funny to think about now but that’s kind of how it went down in monthly newsletters.
Kind of like an email thread in a way
Pre-social media, it was a radically different world.
During this time, where you making much art?
Totally. For whatever reason my parents sent me to a private school when we moved to Vegas. I don’t think they trusted the schooling system but the kids in that school, they had known each other since elementary school.
Long story short, the kids were dicks at the school I went to and I spent a lot of my time in the art classroom.
I’d skip lunch and hang there. Also the coolest teacher in the school was the art teacher, Mr Defranchesco, as he would make fun of a lot of the jock kids. I was really into art. it was like an escape. It was therapy for me at the time.
What art were you making then?
I got really into ceramics. I started out painting, then I got into hand built ceramics and creating little sculpture things. I wasn’t the best at drawing and painting so it’s kind of funny that I ended up doing that.
How did you invent The Bigspin?
Yeah, I’m pretty sure I was the first one to do it and to really do it a lot. Somebody might have done it some place but I did it a lot. It was in the late 80s I was living in Vegas most of what I had to skate was flatground or curb.
I think I had been to a contest and I had seen Jason Lee and Ed Templeton skate. They were best buds for a while, maybe a year; those guys skated together every day. Jason Lee just had Tre Flips dialled; he could do them every time, super high, super good. Ed Templeton had Impossibles. They both had their own little thing and I think seeing those guys skate and seeing the way that they owned their shit, I think probably that sunk in, I don’t know think it was like a conscious thing.
We were always trying to play around with curb tricks, oh you could do this, you could do that!
There weren’t very many videos and it was just like everyone was trying to take stuff guys were doing on vert ramps and figure out a way to do it on blocks or curbs. Oh it’s sick the way he does that Hurricane or that Sugarcane can we do a Slappy into that? And it was like boom!
You know I think it was that kind of inventiveness from skating flatground, so we’d be skating flat and be like oh you can do a Half Cab Shuvit? Can you do a Half Cab Shuvit Backside? Like Backside Half Cab Varial Shuvit. Oh but what if you do that in reverse, so instead of going Backside Half Cab Shuvit you’re going forward and you try the same thing.
So a Bigspin is kind of like a Backside Half Cab Shuvit but going forward you know? I think that’s how it came about. Then I think having seen the way Templeton did Impossibles and Jason did Tre Flips, it was like oh, if you really drill the shit out of something, you can really command it. So yeah seeing those guys skate and having nothing but flatground to fuck around on I think that’s probably how the Bigspin came about.
Brian, FS Blunt, 1992, shot by @gbradmcdonald
How about Frontside Blunts on Curbs, did you invent those too?
But the thing about curb tricks was that everyone was trying every trick under the sun all the time. I’m sure twelve people did Frontside Bluntslides before I did.
There’s a lot of things I got credit for.
I did Frontside Bluntslide Kickflip out and nobody else had done that before.
Were you doing them off the end of a curb or the middle of a curb?
Yeah, I was doing it off the end of the curb. I think a lot of shit I was doing, a lot of people were doing but I got lucky to get credit for some of it.
A lot of people were doing Frontside Bluntslides. But I don’t think I’d seen anybody do it on a curb and come off straight.
Everyone was doing Bluntslides to Fakie coming off the same sides of curbs and that was a really fun trick and then I was like ah what if you go Frontside and Front Rock out of it. I’m sure other people were doing it too…giving credit for tricks is weird.
I heard Alphonzo Rawls named the Bigspin, how did that go down?
Yeah. So this guy Dan Sturt was shooting. There was a contest in San Diego, then after the contest Sturt was like let’s shoot a sequence of that trick. Alf was there. It was right by the Linda Vista Skate Park. That’s the park were Peter Hewitt, Jason Rodgers, Alphonzo Rawls, were all skating at the time.
So Alf was like I want to check it out, you’re doing like a Bigspin! This was because at the time there was something called The California Lotto.
So it would be like every Saturday, people would buy tickets and there would be this big wheel and they’d spin it on this half hour show and they’d spin the wheel and they’d win 10 or 20 hundred thousand dollars. So it was the California Lotto and it had its own Bigspin.
So Alf was just watching me to do this trick and he was like ‘oh Lotto’, Lottery, Lotti, California, Bigspin, it’s the Bigspin.
So the word association he was playing with was with all that stuff.
That’s sick. So did you invent the Backside Tailslide flip out too?
Yeah, that was just like a Frontside Bluntslide Kickflip out but just on a different plane I guess. I never did it as good as people do it now.
A lot of shit I did, I did it once or twice but never really fucked around with it. I was one of the first on film with that trick but probably one of the worst on film with that trick with that one too.
So is there anyone out there doing Frontside Blunt Kickflip you look up to right now?
Dude, there’s so many , so many people have that one and can do it so well. I don’t know if there’s anyone in particular. Frontside Blunt Kickflip Out and Backside Tailslide Flip. People do good Frontside Blunt Kickflip, straight out, that’s fucking hard.
Were there any other tricks you did you thought were different?
Oh man, not that I can think of its funny, taking credit for tricks, it’s a relatively new thing in skateboarding. Because it was always just like no-one really cared. Everyone had their own freaky set of tricks. Some people were really good at crazy Ollie to Sal Flip type Finger Flips down stuff.
I feel like when I was really playing around with trying new stuff like switch stance Backside Nosebluntslides and Switch Flip Tailslides that was a year or two after Now N’ Later came out. But even then, there were a lot of people kind of trying and doing the same stuff at the same time.
So I don’t know, I can’t really claim, yeah I invented this or I did this because three people were working on it at the same time and one of us happened to get lucky to get it first!
People were really chill back in the day, It would be like you’d try a trick and maybe wouldn’t get it but keep trying and people would be like do you mind if I try a trick can I get some of that and it would be like no worries, just go for it. There was this cool respect about stuff whilst at the same time not really caring, it’s like whatever you get it.
It’s like Guy Mariano did really great Ollie to Frontside Crooked grinds on mini ramps and quarterpipes to Fakie, like way before, like just when people were just learning Frontside Crooked Grinds on blocks. To do that on a steep quarterpipe was like what!
You never see that one go down on transition
Yeah so difficult
So in your Now N’ Later section, you do a lot of variations, at that point you were connecting tricks, what pushed you to that?
You get the regular thing dialled and then you want to switch it up a little bit. Matt Hensley was great, he was super inspiring. You do a Backside Lipslide on a bench dialled and then you throw a Shuvit in.
You get a Backside Lipslide dialled on a bench but then you just go to Fakie, really subtly wait to the last minute. Just push things a bit further and see what you can get away with. Mike Carroll was doing Impossibles to Lipslide on blocks.
People were starting to do a lot of combos to things. I think Sal was doing Frontside 50-50 Shuvit Heelflip out. I guess just spice it up a little bit maybe.
The Front Board pop overs to 5-0s you did in Now N’ Later were sick
Oh yeah, those benches were sick. Super perfect.
At what point were you stacking footage for Now N’ Later?
I got on Planet Earth and I skated in the contests and I did a tour over the summer and then I think after the summer, I started filming. Mike who started H -Street and Planet Earth, he was like, let’s start working on a video.
A lot of the stuff was one on one. Like let’s go skate these curbs meet me here. Then some of it was sessions. Let’s go to Seventh Street, Trent’s going to be there, Javontae’s going to be there, so there would be a couple of us filming.
Then I took a trip to Vegas with that guy Dan Sturt and we just filmed one on one. The filming was probably for like a half a year and some change. It was just trying to go out with these filmers and with Mike and Sturt and going to a spot and doing what you could do you know.
Brian, Kickflip Backside Tailslide, Shot by Daniel Harold Sturt
Now N’ Later felt really organic and spontaneous. There’s some dope manuals in your part too. How did the manny’s come into the mix?
Those manuals would not have happened if I didn’t go on that trip to Vegas with Sturt. I think the way that he filmed it, with this really small weird camera, with this weird fisheye, he had the camera almost under the board during the manuals.
I think it was because Sturt was such a good filmer; he was so earnest and kind of intense, almost intimidating in his own weird way. Even though he’s a super cool, super creative guy, I’ve got a lot of crazy stories about him, a lot of people do.
That manual session was probably like I’m with this guy, he’s like let’s get some footage and we were just drilling down wherever we were at. Filming wasn’t really a commonplace thing, so when you are with the filmer, you want to make the most of it. That manual curb was just like shit; let’s just go to town on this.
Some of the trick’s I’d done before and some of it was impromptu. I was like I’m out here on this trip, I’ve got to just bust and get as much stuff as I can get. I didn’t skate manual curbs quite that heavily but with Dan, it was like fuck what can we do.
He’s got a reputation for shooting gnarly photos but what struck you about Dan Sturt being this intense type personality?
A couple things. So he’s a really big dude. He’s buff. He had a flat top, like a shaved head. He’s kind of aggro. Desert Storm, the war in Iraq, was happening at the time, so he had us watching CNN all the time. We went to a survival store; he had us like looking at all this gear and camo. Just really intense.
He went on to become a born again Christian. He’s like a lovely dude but just intense. Ha has strong opinion about things and the state of the world. He’s older, like a full on man and I was like a kid that was still new to the World. He’s like dude there’s a war, they’re coming at us, we’ve got to blow the shit out of them.
He’d come out with random stuff like ‘did you know Richard Gere had a hamster in his ass and couldn’t get it out and had to go to the emergency room oh-my-god!’.
Just like unloading all of this grown man locker room type talk at me and I was like oh my god, I just want to go to El Pollo Loco and get a bean burrito bro, this is nuts!
Oh man, definitely understand where you’re getting that vibe
At that time, looking back now, he’s exactly the kind of guy who would be storming the US capitol building last January 6th for Trump.
But having said that, for the record, the guy is amazing, he’s ultra-creative, one of the best skate photographers of all-time. There could be the most incredible Netflix documentary about him.
The guy has just had the most epic life but he’s so tight with his shit, he doesn’t like people who talk about him and he shuts anything down. But it’s insane the lengths he’s gone to get the most epic photos.
It’s almost like he has to do something as courageous, daring and risky as the trick that someone is trying to do in order for his photograph to rise to that level.
Do you have a Sturt story that you’ve never told before?
I’ve got two of them actually. First one is Danny Way. So DC built this special ramp for Danny Way on this military base in Mexico. It was like this extra big ramp. He had a bigger board and wheels he was trying to do the highest air ever at the time. J. Grant Brittain and Dave Swift were there to photograph it, they were the only photographers. They wanted to shoot it for a Transworld cover.
The security was crazy. So Dan Sturt dressed up as a Mexican military commandant and snuck onto the base and fucking posted up in a field, far away from the ramp with a telephoto lens. He got a picture of the highest air and Fedexed it to Thrasher who printed it as a cover, scooping Transworld.
That’s next level
Here’s another story, so Mark Appleyard was trying this Nollie Heel Noseslide down this big Hubba in front of this post office in Huntington Beach.
So he goes there with Dan Sturt, twice they get shut down, people come out before Mark can make it and Dan has to pack up.
So as Dan is packing up all of his shit he says to Mark, OK, here’s the deal, I want you to come here on Tuesday at 4 o’clock and I want you to be ready for the trick. Just be warm, be ready and be here and we’re going to shoot this, don’t fuck up, be here and we’ll get this.
The day comes. Mark’s ready, he’s there, he’s looking around and he’s like what the fuck!? And he sees like a white phone maintenance truck and on top of the truck, there’s a guy with a uniform and a hard hat on there and he sticks his thumb out and he’s got a camera with a tripod on top of this truck; like go ahead Mark I’m ready.
So Mark does the trick, they get the shot and he was across the street in fucking disguise basically.
I’ve never seen a photo of Sturt.
I think if enough people got together, there would be a string of 30-40 stories like that about him.
Yeah, he needs a doc. So how did you start to do Backside 360’s?
Shoot. Good question. That was probably one of the tricks I was really into early on that I figured out, I think it’s’ just like you’ve got turn your body before you turn you board.
Turn 360 and your board follows at the last second. I learnt if off little loading docks and three steppers.
Then after time it’s like a Bigspin, if you really scoop it hard enough, dig in and scoop and turn a lot it’s easy, you can’t be lazy on it but once you just give it your all and scoop and turn it, it just comes.
So what about The Lotti Spin, that’s like a BS 360 with a Late 180. What led you to inventing that variation?
That’s a funny one. It was like a fuck around trick. It was like the anti Bigspin. We called it like a spin out. When you do a Bigspin, the board spins a 360 and when you do a Biggerspin, the board spins an extra 180.
So when you do the spin out, your body spins out over your board. It came from just fucking around on flat, it was hard going fast, like Bigspins, because if you don’t do it right , your kind of fucked. Bigspins you can get away with a lot under rotating a lot of times but not the spin out.
What about the one out of the bump at the end of your section?
I was fucking around with it out on that bump and I caught one and I was like that’s cool. I just got lucky on that thing.
You have to have the motion down on flat. Then when you use a bump or a hip, it is way easier because you have way more time.
So after releasing that part in 1991, what was the reaction like?
People were hyped on it. I was really surprised. I didn’t think it was that great. But people were excited. Even people I didn’t expect. I didn’t really thing it was that a big of a deal. But in time I was like wow people like this? That’s cool.
What were you thinking about your career?
I wanted to film another part. I was skating. Again it was like, back then we didn’t self-organise and film ourselves like people do now. You had to wait for your team or company to get a project going and that was kind of what it took – the momentum of a video.
Then you would do sessions and trips. I ended up just kind of skating for a few years and I was getting ready to work in a full video part with Blind and three months after I got on Blind I started to film with Socrates and Tim Dowling up in Santa Monica and LA.
I got hurt and I broke my thumb really bad, then I dislocated my shoulder really bad and then I was kind of dealing with life stuff and then I was basically getting ready to film, I wanted to have another proper part, then I got derailed when life came into play.
Brian, Kickflip Melon, 1991. Shot by Sherman
Were you skating more gnarly stuff?
The stuff I got hurt on, it was more curbs and blocks, it’s funny, it was not even that gnarly, I just go hung up the wrong way.
How did you move from Planet Earth to Blind?
Blind was great, San Diego was cool. That’s where the Planet Earth guys were but after Now N’ Later came out I started skating with guys in LA, like Chris Pastras, Rudy, Guy Mariano, Matt Schnurr and Tim and Jed Walters, Gabriel Rodriguez.
Los Angeles was where real street skating was going down. San Diego was like this vert land, street skating was all parking lots there.
But in LA I was skating with those guys and Henry Sanchez was down too and at a certain point they were like Lotti you’ve got to skate for Blind, they were like dude it just doesn’t make sense that you skate for Planet Earth.
It was tough because I loved Chris Miller and I loved Planet Earth and had such a good thing going with them. But I was skating with these guys every weekend and more and also, I loved the World boards.
Yeah World back then was funny and inventive, their ads were jokes
Big Brother too. I was going to college on and off while I was skating and doing in the pro thing. I was into photography and drawing.
Big Brother Magazine was in-house at World Industries in this big room. So Rocco had his office in one corner, Rodney Mullen had his office in another corner, and like Jeff Tremaine, Sean Cliver, Marc Mckee, Rick Kosick, Earl Parker, the whole magazine was all in this office space.
So it was so fun to be around that and soaking that in and being able to skate with everyone, I was like fuck yeah I’ll skate for Blind this is awesome.
Yeah sounds like it was hitting the mark for you at the time, all of those people were legends who went on to do so many other things
Jeff Tremaine, Cliver and Kosick, they went on to make Jackass with Spike.
So getting to see the inner workings of Big Brother, what was it like?
It was super fun. It was amazing, every issue they were trying to do something different, the format was different, the theme, was different. I had always been interested in all the stuff related to skateboarding.
Even when I was on H-Street they would let me do little ad layouts, and do art and graphic design, and weighing in on all of that stuff and soak it all in .
At World they wanted to do a cover with someone and have it be where the skate spot and the person were all painted the same colour. I think it was the one they did with Rick Howard in the end. He did a lot of the stuff nobody was ready to do. They were always coming up with goofy shit like that.
Did you ever get involved in much of it?
Yeah so a typical story. So I’m there one day, it’s 10 in the morning. Kosick comes in with a coffee. Rocco comes down and says Rick you’ve got to go to the prop house and get some shit. I’ve got these new gold bearings. I want to shoot an ad with these gold bearings next to shit. Go up to Hollywood and see what kind of shit you can rent and let’s do a shoot.
Rick’s like come on Brian let’s drive up Hollywood and go rent some shit. So I drive up to Hollywood with him and we get a couple fake shits from the prop houses and we go back and Rick did the shoot. I went out to skate at this point.
Then the next day I come back and Rocco’s like ‘I think you’ve got to get real shit, I don’t like any of these, we need real dog shit to put these bearings on’, Rick’s like OK…
Brian, Frontside Ollie, Shot by Spike Jonze
Ha, any more stories about Big Brother like that?
There was another time when Keanu Reeves was in a band called Dogstar and I remember Tremaine and Cliver had this idea where they wanted to send me and Earl Parker to get spy shots of Keanu Reeves. We had this little dark room in the office and they knew we could both shoot photos.
So they were like ok we know where he lives, were going to send you up there and so Sean Cliver drives us up into the Hollywood Hills and we pull up outside of Keanu Reeves house. He turns around to us and says ok, just go into the backyard and just hide out for a couple hours and when he comes out see if you can get some pictures.
So we’re total dumbasses and we sneak down and we’re in these bushes and after twenty minutes, we hear all of these helicopters right above us and we’re like fuck!
We have to sneak through all these backyards and somehow we pop out on the road, like half a mile down, our hearts are like pumping coming out of our chests you know.
A day in the life of being paparazzi
Every day was new hijinks. One day they hired Orb from The Search for Animal Chin video. He was a chef. Rocco hired him to cook lunch every day.
So at World and Big Brother headquarters you had a great lunch made by Orb.
What do you think made Big Brother great at the time?
Big Brother wanted to show great skateboarding but they wanted to bring the way skateboarding was related to culture and counter culture at large. Earl interviewed Timothy Leary and got him on the phone. Their curiosity became something really interesting
What kinds of art were you making then?
I was trying a bunch of stuff out. I had a camera. I was shooting a lot of black and white. I was getting film. I was able to develop colour film with Big Brother if I gave them shots for the mag. Then also at the same time I fell in love with oil painting. It’s funny when I got hurt, I got into painting and drawing. It was my substitute when I couldn’t skate, I could draw and paint.
Then the cool thing was Sean Cliver and Marc Mckee could paint but also Jeff Tremaine was an incredible painter. He studied painting. So it was probably the best thing being around all of these artists Tremaine would talk to me about painting all the times.
Jeff Tremaine is a painter?
Yeah a couple times I would go and stay over at his house. That guy is prolific at everything in life. At the end of a long day he would pull acrylic paints out of a Tupperware container in his fridge and would work on a painting at home. He was painting at night. I would watch him paint and he would talk about layering. He would make sand in paint and do layers so the colour would peak through. He’d always paint in layers.
One of the board graphics I had on Blind was this crucified Frog and that was a Jeff Tremaine painting.
So it’s funny because Rocco and Rodney were there and they were asking me about skating but then guys like Jeff Tremaine are there and he’s asking how is your painting going you know?
So there was all this good encouragement from loads of different directions. I was just playing around with different things I guess and understanding that it’s all fair games.
Do you remember the first thing that you painted at that time?
Totally. The first real painting I did was of the Queen of England based on some currency I had from England. I basically turned that into a painting. The colours were arbitrary. I just blew up the image.
Cool so on another note. Aside from Keanu Reeves, who else were you shooting for Big Brother?
I was doing a lot of street photography, they published a couple of those pictures that I shot.
Then there was a picture of Jeremy Wray doing a big Tre Flip out of a bump and another shot of Jeremy doing this huge Ollie out of this Bump next to this huge eucalyptus tree.
Jeremy Wray, Ollie Shot by Brian Lotti
That photo is sick. What was it like shooting with Jeremy?
For a hot minute I was getting into skate photography. I remember getting vibed by some ‘real photographers’. They were like bro what are you doing? I was like I’m shooting for Big Brother don’t lose your steam. That’s how skating is, people are territorial about shit.
I don’t even think they had seen my photos or thought anything about them, they were just like dude…what are you doing?
That Jeremy Ollie looks like the scene from The Colour Video
Yeah it was right around that time. Similar period.
That’s amazing. Do you remember shooting that one?
Yeah we went out to shoot and we stumbled across it looking for shit. That was down in Encinitas. It was just a happenstance thing. This bump looks good. Let’s fuck around with this.
Yeah, it’s such a good shot.
Yeah photography was fun for a sec. Photography is composition and design. Composing a frame. That’s the painting game. Comp, colour and position. Working within those four sides, within the rectangle.
Yeah, never thought about the relationships between the two. So you you had a couple tricks in Tim and Henry’s Packs of Lies?
Yeah the Blind promo? Yeah that was just after I go on Blind, when they put that out, I had one trick I had filmed for Planet Earth and something I’d filmed with Socrates Leal around that time. I didn’t really have anything for that
Was that after you’d recovered from those injuries?
That was right before actually. That was the summer before. Me, Guy and Rudy, we were like we don’t have much footage but Tim and Henry had so much. So they were like let’s just put it out and we’ll do a full-length Blind video at some point. So that video came out but then later that year in the fall, as I was starting to film I got hurt, then some of the tricks I filmed that fall went into the Plan B friends section I think and that was kind of it.
I had these three injuries, I broke my toe, then I broke my thumb, slipped out on a curb and shattered my thumb, then I was in a weird cast for two months, then I was getting back on it, summer came and then totally dislocated my shoulder and then it was kind of like uh!
Brian, Noseslide, Shot by Spike Jonze
Yeah, your shoulder is a pivotal one for doing anything
Yeah. That was the show stopper.
After that you left Blind but then you said you were over skating at that point? What happened?
It was a combination of things. It was injuries, it was also, because back then, skaters weren’t pro into their forties. It’s insane how long people are ‘pro’ for these days. I think it’s too long. You can skate forever but you don’t necessarily need a pro model. Back then you were pro for a couple years. So for me I’d gone two years without having a pro part. I was like fuck man! I felt like I was resting on my laurels.
So there was that pressure. I had been hurt. Because I hadn’t been skating and I’d been painting I was like really interested in painting
Then a professor at my school was like dude if you work on it you could be an artist, if you really give it your all. So there was that. I just wanted to go back to school, there’s actually a lot of things.
Also if we really want to get into it, right around the time I was shooting for Big Brother and shooting with Jeremy Wray, there’s this other great, great filmer called Dave Schlossbach and he and I started this conversation with Rocco, bear in mind, I hadn’t been skating for a couple months, my shoulder was fucked and I wasn’t hanging out with Rudy, Guy or Tim. I was spending more time with the Big Brother guys.
Dave and I had been hanging out and we were chatting to Rocco about starting anew company.
So for a little over two weeks we had this new company, it was Jeremy Wray, we got Gino to quit Black Label, it was Jason Dill, Ben Liversedge and Kris Markovich and me too. So for two weeks we had Dave’s van and a small budget and we were filming a lot in San Diego and some in LA and we we were going to start a new company. But unbeknownst to us Kris Markovich was in this conversation with Mark Oblow who he’d promised to start a new company with called Color also.
So we had this new thing and Rocco was like we can’t announce this until you’ve got Kris Markovich on then it’ll be a deal because then it’ll be a full roster and we can move ahead with this.
Oblow got to Markovich and Markovich bailed on us and I was like fuck man. So basically the whole thing fell apart.
Gino and Dill kind of stuck around and they got on 101 eventually.
I think after that whole thing I was like fuck this, there’s too much fickle shit with the skate industry stuff, I am really interested in the creative stuff, that’s all I really want to do, I was like I just want to go to school and get a degree and be a painter, be an artist and skate for fun.
I don’t know. I hadn’t filmed a part, I wasn’t on my shit, I’d fell in love with other stuff and I just thought It was just cleaner to be like I’m done, I’m peacing out you know?
Especially after that whole company dissolved in the first two weeks. What was the name of that company?
To be honest I don’t even remember.
We had a couple names. But we had some good footage. I remember Jason Dill did a Backside 180 Fakie Nosegrind down an 8 stair rail. All of those guys were really fucking on their shit.
Jeremy Wray was so good. Ben Liversedge was so good. Jason Dill was a little dude but he was great for his age. I’m sorry I can’t remember the name.
When you took a new path, what route did you decided to take?
I had been going to this little college in San Diego , USD. But it’s funny, there were so many changes I was going through but I didn’t realise it at the time that summer when I decided to peace out.
Part of it was this existential crisis that I was going through at the time. I was really close to my dad and he passed away when I was 15 just kind of like in an instant. One day he was there and it was just this freak accident. I’d never dealt with that. There were all these ways I didn’t know how to be a regular dude.
So after that company fizzled I went back to San Diego, and started taking classes and had this really sinking feeling that something wasn’t right. I was reading all this philosophy and religious stuff and trying all this stuff out, trying to find some peace and it just wasn’t happening.
So it’s funny I ended up leaving and I ended up dropping out of school after two weeks. I left and I moved up to North California and my mom’s partner had this little cabin in the woods and I stayed there for six months and I just read and ended up getting connected with this zen centre in Northern California and started learning zen meditation. Got into that. Did that for a couple years.
I did some retreats, did some odd jobs and odd work and ended up moving to Hawaii to study at a zen centre there and then went back to college and finally started studying art back at college.
So I did this little detour you know and kind of had to check in and figure out who I am and what life’s all about for a sec. Then go to come back to painting.
It’s interesting that it led you back into art rather than into religion
The cool thing about Buddhism, all of the beliefs disappear. There is nothing to believe in. There is no god. We are the keys to our own salvation, or peace, normalcy in life whatever. It’s not a dogma. It’s more about tuning in and being like yeah this is alright you know?
Yeah. So back at college were you at odds with academia?
I went to three universities, everyone was supportive and encouraging. I had great experiences. I didn’t go to art school, I went to liberal art colleges. If you pay an interest in things and you want to be there and pay attention teachers are stoked. It’s pretty simple. If I didn’t want to be in school, I wouldn’t be there It was only there when I wanted it to be.
After you left did you immediately launch your art career?
So I started painting, it’s funny, you go to school to learn to paint but nobody teaches you how to have a career. Maybe they do that at schools now but for a career you have to work to cultivate that in the same way you cultivate your practice as a painter. It comes later on with experience.
Where were you living at the time?
I moved to this rural area in Northern California, this cool area, doing landscape painting and portrait painting. It was outside of Nevada City.
It was right outside of this area that Chris Senn and John Cardiel grew up. So a lot of times I would go into town and skate with guys who grew up with them.
I did a lot of odd jobs, I worked for a chair maker, did bush clearing, painted people’s houses.
It was an area you could live cheap I rented a studio house for like 200 a month. It was totally shitty. Cold air was coming in everywhere. It didn’t have central heating. But I had time and I could paint and try out all different kinds of things.
Interesting, you found yourself in this spot where you could skate and develop your art and style.
There were so many good people up there, there were a lot of writers, poets and musicians who live up there. It’s a really colourful area with a lot of history. All of these counter cultural hippy types who left the cities, they had this back to the land move in the 70s and this was one of the areas that a lot of those types of people moved.
So there was this really great community that had its own history. They would have these twice yearly Pagan rituals, Halloween and May Day. I just kind of learnt a lot about being a normal dude, bringing food to a public dinner. It was a good place to learn about life and rub against some cool people.
What draws you towards painting people?
That’s probably one of the best things about New York City is that you can walk down the street and see people and be around people. You don’t even need to talk to them. It just feels nice to be around people, it feels good.
A landscape without people can be lonely sometimes. I mean sometimes it’s meaningful. Like I love chilling in parks in summer, there’s almost like a collective trance everyone is in. People are in the best mood, just kicking it and in this vibe. Playing tennis, sitting on the hill on blankets, hanging out talking, everyone is in this great mood. That’s interesting to me.
People who make paintings, they say a work of art is challenging or comforting. Think of the things we all encounter that are profound that we don’t really think about . People sitting in a park is kind of profound. There’s something about it that’s deep.
You make a lot of water based paintings but I remember seeing you did a painting of Arthur from Free’s family pool that was great.
Yeah that seems like the most killer backyard and pool ever.
For sure. So there is another painting you did with a group of people about to jump into a lake. How did that come together?
A lot of the stuff I paint, is inspired by a particular place. A lot of the stuff was taken from Echo park in Los Angeles. There’s a big lake there. It’s also kind of playing with this piece by this impressionist artist, George Seurat. He did that painting ‘ A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’.
Echo Park Lake
That series I was playing with that, referencing his painting.
The thing about parks, it’s like The Beastie Boys made this song about the New York City Subway how like everybody rides on the subway all strata of society, all colours, from all parts of the world, to ride on The New York City Subway you feel alive and you feel how connected everyone is, like everyone is the same kind of, it’s like this levelling experience but its humbling and it’s also inspiring too, because you feel that connection with humanity and also its cool that we can all coexist but we’re all so different.
But it’s like complimentary there’s so many cool things about humanity, you get that on the New York City subway but I also get that in parks too, everybody’s enjoying life, on the same plane, everyone’s getting along.
My landscapes used to be to me about that feeling of being alive. Seeing in colour is the difference of being alive. But being around people in those situations, that’s just humanity at its best.
For sure. So what are your tennis and basketball paintings about?
Basketball and tennis they kind of go hand in hand. One is this established elite game. The other is this language that we see on the street all of the time. I kind of like them together. They are not really subjects I imagine I would have painted and painted repeatedly. It’s something I fell into and that became interesting.
She Doesn’t Mind
The basketball ones are interesting because there are so many figures, it’s fun to work with the figures as a group and kind of differentiate, some little thing where there is something happening, there’s people in the background, there’s people in the foreground, the basketball paintings really relate to the park paintings and people in public space, they are all kind of escape paintings I guess, the colours and marks are interesting from a formal perspective.
Meaning wise I guess they are touchstones or they remind us that life’s not so bad, there are cool things that happen every day. We are okay. There’s a lot of cool shit that we can do.
But why basketball?
Basketball is interesting because it is elegant, it is rugged and it’s colourful too. The colours the players wear.
My interest in it from a graphic level is like that. Similar with tennis.
I did a couple tennis painting on a whim and I got stuck looking at a tennis game, and I started doing a drawing of it. Then I started doing colour separations and I realised I could do this, what’s the least amount of colours I could use to make a painting of this…and it worked.
Now it has led to a couple years later doing some pretty big tennis paintings.
That’s because I’m still interested in the colours of the courts, what people are wearing and just this whole arena, it’s like the modern court, it’s a duel. It’s kind of elegant and comical. You know the ball and everyone on the side. Everyone is kind of a character in a way. The layers, the referees, the linesmen and the people in the stand.
I think with Covid, it was just this microcosm of this greater world, it’s just this arena, there’s all these people and there’s all these different people in the arena. I painted a lot of courts last year and I started some now, it was fun to paint that subject being in isolation.
Yeah I can see why it’s the complete opposite of Lockdown
But somehow oddly I think there’s a real graphic nature to the tennis paintings that make them different to the other work that I have. That’s kind of given me the opportunity I have to work on issues with what I have to paint and also paint bigger. They are pretty big the new ones.
I will probably do a show next year of just tennis paintings, it’s a subject that just kind of opens up in a way.
The point I was trying to make is that the technique that I use to make those I think I’ve made some discoveries and learnt how to create that sense of motion, without getting too fussy with it.
How long does it take you to make a painting?
The way that I paint them is that they are all single session paintings. So you kind of go in and have a day or two to make them. I like them because they’re like what you’d called ‘one shot paintings’ you kind of finish them all at once. You can’t spend too much time on anyone thing.
I’ll do little studies to zero in on some colours I want to use, like I want to use a cerulean blue with some yellow ochre for the inner court and this one I want to use cobalt blue. But when the painting happens its pretty tour de force, but the texture that results in the end, it creates a certain motion from the players.
It’s interesting the way that I make them you never know what you’ll get to the very end. So you just go in as hard as you can at it in to the end then when I print the thing you get the final painting.
They are transfer paintings. I do these huge paintings on Mylar which is a form of stretched plastic, so I kind of roll the canvas on top of that and with a brayer on the back I push the canvas on to the paint and then you peel the canvas off of that paint and then it transfers on to the canvas.
So the actual painting, you never know what it’s going to look like until you transferred the paint to the canvas. If that makes sense. It’s a fun process. You have to put the canvas on the paint before paint dries. I use oil paint so I have a day or two before it dries. They dry slower but they do dry and if they dry hard enough it’s not going to transfer to the canvas
You have to nail it in a certain window of time and print it and pull it off. I have big landscapes going that are layered paintings and you can work on those forever, the tennis paintings are transfer. So the act of painting is like a five hour tennis match. You’ve got to train beforehand but then before you go to do it you’ve got to be rested and be in the zone and be ready to bust.
Cool. I wondered why you don’t make a lot of skate paintings but I did see one you did called Skater Girl.
I tried my hand at some skate paintings for about a year. It’s not good. It’s too close to home. Someone will do them great eventually.
But it’s not for me to do. I enjoy playing tennis I hope, I can play more as I get older. It’s a fascinating thing, it’s something I didn’t know much about and the more I do these paintings I fell in love with the sport and I have this newfound appreciation to it.
I know it’s this elitist sport but there’s this real poetry and elegance to it just like basketball. Same thing as skating you know there’s levels to it.
The skater girl piece looks pretty tense, it reminds of sometimes when you see a girl who just started skating rock up to a skatepark looking quite nervous. Why did you paint that one?
I think it was just the light and the colours and I ‘d seen her skating around. There was no big intention behind it. I was like this is interesting, I wanted to play around with that. There’s so many women skaters now, it’s fucking awesome, especially in Brooklyn. Alexis Sablone, she’s so great.
Its crazy guys tell women who skate they’re doing it wrong online but you never see that in real life
Yeah and that’s antithetical, the skateboarding spirit, if you will, is inclusiveness.
It’s always been about like dude if you’re fat, tall, skinny, you have acne, you’re missing an eye, if you’re in the army, if you skate your fucking cool. It’s not about how good you look. Fuck that. It’s become this weird sport and competitive because big shoe brands have come into it and are involved and now companies having the biggest impression and influence on skateboarding are not skateboarding companies, they are these big brands and everything has to be a metric of how can we judge who is the best, or who has the most likes. It’s all bullshit.
The heart of skateboarding is anarchy and inclusiveness. Skateboarders we’ve always been outsiders. The people hating on girls for skateboarding need a life dude.
Yeah it’s arbitrary and random
Where’s this judgement coming from? That’s not skateboarding man.
It’s like white supremacy man, it’s the same kind of people. It’s paternal society kind of shit.
Mags like Thrasher used to cover only gnarly dudes but you see a girl on their Instagram doing a trick that is cool and interesting but you often see negative comments
It’s fucking stupid. You raise a great point though. People almost need to be told – skateboarding is not a competition. The thing that makes skateboarding fucking cool, is that nobody is telling anyone what to do, it’s something anyone can do and you can do it however you want to do it used to be more obvious when there were more magazines besides Thrasher. I agree.
Thrasher used to be the cool weird magazine, this is back like 25-30 years ago. It used to be the non-jock magazine but it’s become the jog rag.
Unfortunately Thrasher is great but that’s the critique. It’s too jock. It’s too political.
Have a guy doing a Bertlemen on a bank on the cover like you used to do. Have Mofo do a drawing on the cover like you used to do .
Transworld was focused on progression and tech in the early 00s
Transworld was originally an art magazine though. Transworld was colour photographs and Thrasher was black and White.
Thrasher was in newsprint and when you’d read the magazine, the newsprint would come off on your fingers. Transworld was cool, it was the only colour skate magazine. The photos were a bit more artsy like Todd Swank pushing on the cover and shit like that.
That’s why skateboarding needs cool projects because skateboarding used to make trends and now I feel like skateboarding follows trends in a lot of ways. The magazines follow the mantra that the market says this so we need to do more of this and these graphics are selling, so we should do this. It’s ass backwards. The reason why World Industries was so cool and Big Brother was so cool, is because those guys were taking creative chances all the time.
Yeah, it does seem there is a lot of focus now about what is trending
I know, it takes time for a lot of stuff to have an effect but if people are quick to judge right out of the gate, stuff doesn’t have a chance of percolating.
Skating at its basis is all about taking risks
Yeah, watching someone who’s just started skating do a trick they’ve never done before becomes even more interesting in that way
There was a Thrasher column called Chef Boy Am I Hungry, this dude, would make food recipes and tell weird stories. It was so sick. I mean, I love a good Thrasher here and there, It’s weird, It’s kind of become a parody of itself in a way and too many people who don’t skate think Thrasher is the bible and that’s a bad sign. There’s all these yokels wearing Thrasher, it is a sick magazine, it’s only a slice of the skateboard pie. Its super fucking jock, I love a lot of the guys who work there. Skateboarding is not about being competitive, I mean it is, but in that way against others, it’s not.
Brian, Hip Backside Flip, shot for @thrashermag
Yeah, you are competitive against yourself
When you came up there was no progression path but there is now
I mean in some ways, it was way easier to get sponsored and turn pro back in the day. Now I think that skateboarding is this universal language and so many can speak it.
So many people can fucking rip. There’s so many people who can shred and they don’t get any shine, they might not even care, they might not even get anything. It’s ironic. There’s a lot of opportunities now.
There’s a lot of people skating at such a high level just because they love it. It’s incredible. The progression continues and it’s so organic and it’s so amazing how good people are and how creative people are still.
That’s the biggest thing is that besides all the industry stuff and corporate stuff that’s just the bright shiny lights but the bigger reality is that skateboarding and street skating is here to stay, it’s this language that fits and it works with modern landscape architecture and can adapt too.
Brian, Flatbank Backside Flip, shot by @jgrantbrittain
Right so I haven’t asked you yet about your film 1st and Hope you made for Elwood. How did that come about?
That’s was because I was living in Northern California. I came down to visit some friends in LA and we went for a sesh in downtown LA.
I remember having this vision after that night. I’d been living in the country kind of in the woods for so long so being in that city and skating through all that architecture and stuff it was really vivid, because it was there was this contrast, and thinking wouldn’t it be sick to do a video about that.
I remember at the time really appreciating skateboarding but thinking that there was something false about it at the time.
That’s because so many of the tricks of the time, people would battle them for days for one trick. I was like fuck! People are doing a lot of skating like this and just filming. Like what happened to just going skating around and seshing without a camera. So the video was a place and time thing. Being inspired by the place but also as a reaction to skateboarding being so focused on tricks.
So I was like what if we just opened it up and take it back to friends just having a mellow session and just cruising. I had this vision for it, the beautiful thing about it was Kenny Anderson and my buddy Palmer Brown, who was one of the guys who ran Elwood, they both got behind it and supported and were like let’s do this Lottie why don’t you come down and let’s do this project.
So they really facilitated it. So it was just going to be this visual flow session, I was just going to direct it and work on the framing and everything and try to figure out new ways to film skating, so the camera would move more, so it wasn’t just about fish eyes and there were long lens shots.
Originally it was going to be Marc Johnson and Kenny Anderson and they were going to be the two guys who threaded all of the different sessions. I never planned on being the guy who was skating in the video But then we got started and Marc sort of peaced out of it. It was like well shit. It’s like that photo of the skier that goes off the jump and one of his ski’s falls off.
We’re shooting video and Marc was like I’m out of here. It was like fuck! OK! Kenny was like just skate Brain, let’s do this. I was like ok. So it was cool. The Elwood guys were supportive and behind it and brought in these guys who’d done surf videos and film. The Malloy Brothers were the ones who said you should shoot this in 16mm. Then as we started filming it people started signing up.
Older Steve Olson called it skater date. Because there’s so many sessions with so many people. The original idea was to make a film one long session. Then it became this thing about all these different sessions that were all joined together.
Yeah there were a lot of people. It literally snowballed. In the beginning it was just Kenny and Marc. Bennett Hirata, this amazing super rad, super positive guy, Eric Dressen, Ben Schroeder, Lance Mountain jumping in with those guys in the C&A Bank session. Paulo Diaz, the flatground session with him was insane. He was skating really good at the time. Matt Hensley was in it.
Tom Knox, who is still so amazing on a skateboard. Super underrated guy. The OG Tom Knox.
Not Tom Knox from England!
I’m a super big fan of both of those dudes. Tom Knox from the UK has suck a cool thing going on. I love the way that guy skates.
Tom Knox is one of the best, he’s just got better over the years.
Dude, slow and steady wins the race. Keep building your repertoire up over the years. I feel like he’s skate a lot of the same places and got even more solid at what he does right?
Yeah, Tom’s skating is gnarly. So back to 1st and Hope. The vibe of it, it’s something that’s missing in modern skateboarding.
What was the reaction like to the video?
It kind of fell on deaf ears. There was little fanfare about it. I don’t think people knew what to make of it. The whole thing was let’s make something that’s fun and artful. At the premier we had a chamber orchestra before it went on.
And it had this different score and spoken word too. I read things and other people read things in other languages; Farsi, Norwegian and French and all these other languages. It was this long poem and people read different things.
It was a homage to the city but it was this existential take on being a skateboarder and being a skateboarder and being in the city. I think at the premier some people were like this is awesome and some people were throwing up almost, they couldn’t handle it.
Yeah, it’s weird modern videos are all about bangers
Totally, it was kind of like the video. The project was kind of like a fuck you anyway.
It was about what happens between the trick skateboarding is bigger than the trick. It’s about rolling, the places and spots. There’s a lot of aspects of skating that are fucking dope beyond just the trick This was a way to express that. Not to be corny I wanted to show kids, that there was more to skating than a fisheye and a trick, there’s all this other shit you know?
Skating is more than tricks and filming clips
Yeah, it’s a way of engaging the city.
So how did Free Pegasus, the follow up to 1st and hope come about, the one filmed in Barcelona?
I mean I was trying to express or suggest that spirit of being in Barcelona and skating there and just how fucking gracious the vibe it is there. It’s a special place. Society there is maybe a little more liberal in a cool way, Skaters are more like soccer players there.
Being able to skate a spot and there’s older folk in the park and they don’t really mind it. It’s different.
There’s something about the vibe that’s so fundamentally different to the US where It’s either legal or your making money or you’re not. It’s just so stiff and harsh. There’s a generosity of spirit in Barcelona
Also why was it called Free Pegasus?
I mean the name, it was trying to express that vibe and the community there.
When I first went there I just went skating and it all just happened organically. People approached me and said it would be sick to do a film here, a tour that features the community in a certain way. It was another thing that snowballed. People were like, you should do this and I was like yeah OK.
Barcelona is filled with amazing skate spots
It is ridiculous. It’s smooth but at the same time the city has this old classical vibe and this new modern futuristic vibe and those two together. You feel more of an artist there than an athlete. The context of being there. Functionally it’s really smooth but inspiration wise, it’s where Dali and Picasso spent all of that time, it’s a very inspiring environment. There’s nowhere else quite like that.
Yeah it’s where old Europe meets the modern world.
I’m just about to move back to Los Angeles from New York. I feel like it’s good where cities have their own spaces where different generations can make their own mark and there are these places where people can return to, their iconic, special for the city and each new generation can do their own thing. It’s good for skateboarding. But it’s good for society.
You know like in Italy. Every town has a square or a plaza where people can meet and congregate. There needs to be certain skate spots like that where these traditions can happen.
Yeah it’s like MACBA. Thousands of people go there just to skate and never go into the gallery. What do you think of MACBA?
Yeah MACBA is a pilgrimage spot. It was the first place that I went when I went to Barcelona and there’s something about it. That long mellow slope and those stones. Those stones there are so smooth, but they have those bumps on them that make a fun sound but somehow they’re soft if you fall on them, they’re like hollow underneath, there is all this subtle stuff going on there.
Yeah it’s such a great spot
It’s like a less is more thing with that place. It’s not a fucking skate park. It’s just open and simple but everything is just right.
Yeah for unintentional skate spot design, you can’t get better than that, yeah let’s just build a knee high 60 metre long marble ledge
Yeah that’s the thing unintentional skate spots. If you’re designing a place to skate, don’t design a place to skate. Design a place for people to hang out and enjoy the day.
Tiago Lemos’ SW Back Tail there was such a standout but there’s a local there who did a Nollie Noseslide on that ledge called Alex Lekinho, both are basically impossible.
Super natural talents.
There’s a lot of talented skaters there. So is there anywhere else you’ve been that you enjoyed?
Good question. I mean, fuck I love Northern Spain, The Basque country, Bilbao, the river, the Guggenheim. I actually wanted to move to Bilbao but then I met my wife and decided to stay in California. She was getting ready to move to New York and I was going to move to Europe but then we met and stayed put but Northern Spain is awesome.
The last skate film I made was actually filmed in Bilbao.
But so many places in Europe. Berlin is dope, so is Paris. Paris I visited two years, I was blown away by how many people were skating and nobody was getting kicked out. There were all these little gangs of young skaters, girl skaters, all over the city. My wife and I couldn’t believe it. It was bonkers. Paris was not the city where you could skate like that but now you can. Somebody flipped the switch over there.
What kinds of art are you working on right now?
For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on this series of landscape canvases. I put them all out yesterday. I’m going to do this show this summer in Montana, my buddy Matt has this new gallery there in Bozeman. So I have this bunch of landscape canvases. They are all like 50-70-90 percent of the way finished and I’ve been reviewing them and so I’ve been working on those the last few weeks.
I’m working on a couple series. Landscapes and figure paintings and working on this series of tennis canvases. I just started to get ready to paint a new tennis canvas, I’m doing some colour studies, got my plastic stretched and zeroing on the colourway for that and then I’m going to do that next week.
Then I’m going to have to pack up the studio, as I’m moving out West again and set up shop out there
Where have you been skating in New York?
I had cruiser wheels and I was cruising for a while. The weather has been so shitty recently.
Mostly skating for me these days, well, the last spot I skated before it was snowing, there’s this MACBA like spot in downtown Brooklyn, there’s these tiles, it’s a flatground and curb spot. It’s like the courthouse but in Brooklyn. Just fucking around on flat down there and on the manual spot.
Are you still throwing out Bigspins and Lotti Spins? What tricks do you enjoy to do nowadays?
I throw together little flatground lines. No Complys, Switch No Complys, shit like that, Manuals, Nose manuals, some Slappys. No Comply Wallride – that’s a go to right now.
Frontside or Backside?
Backside actually. I prefer Backside, it’s kind of fun. But nothing too crazy. I don’t skate that much. I think when I get back to California I’ll skate a little more it’s a bit easier and because there’s a lot more friends there.
Cool and obviously the sunny weather too.
It’s funny I realised that everything in California is smooth as hell. People who rip in New York get ‘extra points’. I know England is even more rugged than New York but it ain’t smooth here, it’s rough.
I have a couple buds, who are good to skate with, we’ll find a shitty bank to curb, we’ve got the art high school with the curbs Were’ not killing ourselves you know we’re just trying to get our stoke on.
Sounds rad. So who’s your favourite skate photographer?
There’s so many good skate photographers. I don’t know if I have a favourite. Skateboarding wasn’t as buttoned up when I was a pro, as it is now. The industry, there was a major recession, you couldn’t make much money, You couldn’t go out with photographer often.
Photography wise, Grant Brittain, everything he touches is pretty buttery.
Brian Lotti: Shot by J. Grant Brittain
Seu Trinh, love his creativity with a camera.
Sam Muller has shot a lot of great stuff.
Dan Sturt was incredible. Artistry.
Do you have a favourite photo by Dan Sturt?
There were so many. Matt Hensley shot by Dan Sturt is pure genius. I remember he did a Caballerial over a little picnic table that was really sick. A lot of the bank shots that Dan shot of Matt Hensley doing a Frontside Ollie Grab would just be insane because of the way Sturt shot it.
I’ve seen the video footage of the Cab over the table but don’t think I’ve seen the sequence
Yeah the sequence looks even better than the footage.
Yeah, full cabbing over anything is still a feat. So what’s your favourite skate spot in New York City?
You know I would if it was skateable right now, I would love to skate the Brooklyn Banks again. That would definitely be my favourite spot
Also probably the New York City Courthouse spot in Cadman plaza at Borough Hall.
What’s your favourite trick you’ve seen at the Brooklyn Banks?
Somebody did some crazy wallride shit on that bank to wall. They went up Fakie and they did a Half Cab out, or it was an alley-oop off the wall into bank. It was that guy Brian Brown. Alley-Oop Half Cab off the wall into the bank.
What’s your favourite Courthouse trick?
I saw Lee Smith do a cool Switch Tre there on Instagram over a little gap. It’s fun to do flatground lines there, just stringing some tricks together there, getting the old bones moving, its’ fun.
What’s your favourite skate video of all-time and why?
Girl Skateboards’ Yeah Right.
Vibe wise, it’s not competitive somehow. It’s’ fun, playful and random. They are not too serious. But it’s also got great skating in it there’s some really good skating by all of them, its’ full of great tricks. It’s got all the right touches.
Also the music, Cat Power, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s a treat.
Who has your favourite part in Yeah Right?
Yeah, Marc Johnson’s part was brilliant for sure. The Lazer Flip over that gap. Crispy and classic.
Who’s your favourite skater?
Jovontae Turner is fucking awesome, I always loved seeing footage of him.
John Cardiel, that guy is always a treat.
There’s so many more.
Who’s skating is stoking you out right now?
I see clips of him, he’s constantly blowing me away. He’s so good on a board, He’s so on it, he never misses the beat..
That guy Madars Apse is super fun to watch when he’s in the zone.
Do you have a favourite trick by Madars?
I just saw one the other day, Madars did a Nosebonk on a fire hydrant but it’s almost like he did a nose boost. Like he went to Frontside Ollie and then almost locked into a Noseslide and then Nollied out of the nose tap. Like he bonked it and then he like Nollied out of it. It was really weird.
He was going at speed so it wasn’t a little thing. You had to be precise, I bet he didn’t do that twice you know? It was on a montage on Instagram.
Sounds rad, sounds interesting. Who else’s skating do you enjoy?
Lucas Puig is super fun to watch skate
Tom Knox is great to watch too
Both of them are so good when they are on their game.
For sure. Tom and Lucas are two of our favourites. Lucas is even better at skating then he was 20 years ago. How is that possible?
Yeah, it’s like Zered Bassett too, he just keeps getting better with time and keeps pulling new stuff out of nowhere. He’s super inspiring.
Yeah totally. Zered is a maestro.
I agree, he’s a talented artist too. Who’s your favourite artist?
There’s so many. It’s like when you skate long enough you appreciate so many skaters, I definitely don’t have any favourites. But here are a few
Jules de Balincourt
I love Brancusi’s Sculptures. There’s so many abstract painters I love. Landscape painters. Geometric artists.
There’s this Cuban artist Carmen Herrera, she’s 105 years old, she’s still painting like a madman. She had this show of big paintings a couple months ago that I saw, they were killer.
Alex Katz, he’s 92 years old, I love Alex’s work he’s a big New York native, he’s still making massive paintings.
Are you working on anything else right now?
Not really at this point. Just hope we can all stay healthy and make the next step here and get back to a normal healthy functional world where I hope we can all just get along a little bit.
Definitely. Is there anybody who you want to make a shout out to?
Yeah, I’m going to thank my two cats and my wife Laura, for being great people and being in my life. Gosh, shout outs I mean to everyone, everywhere, hanging in there and dealing with some crazy shit this last year. We’ve basically been through a war, it’s sucked and it’s basically changed our whole lives.
Shout out to everyone for rolling with the punches. It’s been an intense and gnarly year. Hopefully we can start a new chapter and look ahead and let go of all the petty shit and shout out to people who are making the future happen and not letting the dumb shit get in the way.
Also thanks to all the people that have given me opportunities, whether it was art shows, film projects, advice, just saying a kind word when I may or may not deserved it. All that stuff really matters. I think a lot of people extended a lot of kindness my way and that has meant so much. We are all connected. So people who have helped make all of that happen it’s huge.
For sure. Do you have any advice for artists reading this who want to make a career out of it like you’ve done?
If you love something enough and give it everything you’ve got, you stand a chance. Don’t be afraid to try, don’t be afraid to fail, even if you fail repeatedly. Try and surround yourself with people who are positive and supportive and if you love something and work at it, something will pan out and work out. Even things that don’t work out, they lead to something else.
The key to making it happen is to pour everything you have into it, being persistent and trying. It’s not simple but it’s not rocket science. It’s dedication and hard work and not being afraid to get dirty.
Try and reach out to people who you think are interesting and surround yourself by people who might know more than you, who you can learn from, spend time with people that can expand your mind.
Maybe the biggest thing to, is don’t let success phase you, stay humble. Don’t think about making money, money is important but the even more important thing is to have a craft, have something you feel good and want to spend time doing and the money will come but you’ve got to be in touch with something you really believe in and that brings you joy. Something that you think is a good thing to bring into the world.
Sometimes it’s a journey to cultivate that, these kinds of things are not just ideas that come into our heads, we only arrive at them after trying other things a gazillion times. It’s a zero sum game. You’ve got to try a lot to get the stuff that matters.
Yeah, you can’t expect anything in life to go perfect first try
It’s like skating. If you skate a lot, you know how hard it is to get a trick but once your there, in that zone, it’s everything, the whole world opens up.
I think it’s’ the same thing with a creative life or an artistic practice. It’s like that saying, the road is made by walking on it, we don’t just find the road, you make the road, you become the road.