Interview by Alice Smith
Photography by Rob Whiston
Hey Cal! How’re you doing? And could you introduce yourself?
Yeah, I’m well thanks. I’m Cal, I’m 26, and I’m from Birmingham.
So, how did you get into skateboarding, and what was its main appeal to you?
I reckon my introduction to skating was seeing my cousins with these cheap Pokémon boards when I was a lot younger. About a week later, my auntie got me a board. I didn’t properly get into learning how to skate until I was around 14 or 15, but then I started going to places like Ideal and seeing that skateboarding is this real thing. I immediately found that watching people skate was really appealing and mesmerising, and quickly got into it myself. That feeling of learning to skate and cruising was so good. The way that art and skateboarding interact also kept me interested. You know, like finding new boards with different artworks, new shapes, new companies and new outlooks.
I think the first time I encountered you might’ve been when I saw your back three down Fastlands nine, which was nearly a decade ago, right? How has your skating, or your approach to it, changed since then?
Yeah, it must’ve been nearly a decade; it goes by so quick! I think at that point, I was about two years into street skating and starting to try new tricks and things. Doing the back three down Fastlands really showed me what I was capable of, and that feeling of rolling away was so good. It made me want to get really good, and having people like Jamie (Hewett), Marcus (Palmer) and Kris (Vile) really helped with that. Watching how they approached street skating and always going out to film and get footage opened my eyes and made me want to push myself further. Nowadays, I want to be more adaptable, like with doing wallrides, no complies and trying handrails. I’m way more determined.
Skateboarding and art are both so personal and individualistic, and they both keep you in the present.
Yeah, like it definitely gets to a certain point where you get kind of sick of your own bag of tricks, and you want to pursue a new approach to skateboarding.
(Laughs) Yeah for sure, and that’s why I enjoy it; you can get better, but there is always something new to learn. There’s always someone who has done something where you’re like, “woah, I’ve never seen that before”, and they inspire you to think of a trick or an obstacle in a completely new way.
Exactly, and I think the most enjoyable skaters to watch are the ones that have these completely new approaches. So, anyone who knows you, or knows Birmingham, has likely come across your art. You’ve got a really cool, distinctive style. Do you want to talk about that a bit? How did you first get into art?
My dad was an artist, and it stems from seeing his work that inspired this instinct to draw. I was always seeing how my dad created his originality within his style, and this pushed me to create my own style that I could develop and build upon. I just try to remain distinctive in my expression, explore different mediums and styles and techniques. I love to work with new people and grow creatively, immersing myself in something that I’m passionate about. When I started putting my art out there it felt like a very natural thing to do; I was always around a lot of artists who would do the same and be encouraging. Putting my art out there meant I could hold onto it, and other people could access it too. I like going to places where people are being creative, as it makes me want to explore that part of myself more deeply, or in different ways.
Textbook backside tailslide whilst Edgbaston eagerly awaits the arrival of springtime.
Yeah I agree, and being around creative places and people just feels so fulfilling. I’ve got friends I can sit with for hours and create. We don’t even have to talk, it’s all about the creative process and it’s the best quality time. That mutual understanding that you don’t have to be constantly verbally communicating in order to connect.
For sure, and it creates a really immersive relationship between the people involved, one which goes further than words.
I’ve noticed that ‘Clear Your Mind’ is prevalent in quite a lot of your art, which I’m guessing is related to mental health?
So, it’s kind of a highlight on mental health, which acts as a reminder to use creativity and passion to take a step back and not think, but create. Illustrating is a release, and there’s never a direct thought to become more skilful; this happens very naturally, by allowing yourself to appreciate the things that make you feel good. There’s been periods of my life where I’ve avoided creating and skating because of bad mental health, but ‘Clear Your Mind’ comes in because it’s these things that actually help me focus into my own world, and work on feeling better, so in a sense to clear my mind. It’s a relatable message but not in your face.
Exactly, and I think some dialogues on mental health can frame ‘good’ mental health as something that is easily achievable through doing this and that. It can feel quite overwhelming and unattainable sometimes, and for some people, good mental health isn’t as easy as a change in routine, or going to the gym.
Yeah for sure, and that’s why ‘Clear Your Mind’ is a subtle way to relate to those around me. Everyone has their own issues and problems with mental health, and each person has their own way of trying to ease that struggle. ‘Clear Your Mind’ visually communicates breaking down the stigma of talking about mental health, whilst allowing me to express it openly in my own way.
It’s such a creative way to convey that message. As well as using words as a form of communication, I've also noticed how you use characters. There seems to be the recurrence of one specific character in your art. Who or what does this character represent?
This character keeps my creations recognisable, and when I find lines that I like, I stay consistent. It’s a character where race or gender is out of focus, which centres on relatability, representing a character in which the viewer can insert themself. Anyone can look at my work and see themselves in it, make it applicable to their own experience.
So, I guess one of the focal points of your art is that idea of relatability, as both the creation of your characters and ‘Clear Your Mind’ feed into this?
Yeah, definitely. I like creating stuff that can hold significance for other people, as well as for myself.
Do you feel like there’s an overlap with art and skateboarding, in the way you approach both mediums of expression?
They go well together because I’ve met so many creative people through skating, and so many skaters through creative endeavours. They are both expressive and have no real rules, which helps us communicate with others, and live a lot more presently. I think that’s the main way I approach art and skateboarding, in how they keep me in the moment.
Yeah, like I’ve heard a lot of people discuss this idea of skating being very similar to meditation with how present you must be with it, almost down to the millisecond sometimes.
And it’s so important to keep in the present, the same as art. They are both also something that can be expressed very personally, like how I enjoy drawing on my board and creating graphics based around skating. I’m constantly wanting to develop ideas into something bigger and bring these expressions together. That’s why there’s always graffiti in skateparks, and people that do drawing on grip. Skating and art are both so personal and individualistic, as well as keeping you present.
Double set and rumble strip clearing backside kickflip, performed for Sean, Faye and you.
You’ve worked alongside artists such as Dylan the Infamous quite frequently, as well as creating art for Bournbrook DIY and being involved in Darren Whitcombe’s From The Eyes Of A Skater. It’s clear that you’re involved in quite a few of Birmingham’s sub-scenes. What is it that you enjoy about these scenes, and how do they overlap?
Dylan gave me some of my first opportunities to create something collaborative, but with the freedom to have my own personal input. His music is so original and raw, and it makes me want to push myself and deliver something personal for both of us when we work together. I’ll always appreciate these opportunities; they push me to explore the rawness of my own style, a style which is always evolving with each opportunity. And each opportunity has so many people involved from multiple creative circles, like there are also loads of people from the DIY or Ideal that are involved in other creative circles. There’s always overlap in these scenes.
I feel like the Brum scene really does struggle sometimes, but the interconnectedness and people who contribute to the scenes is what is so amazing about the subcultures here. It feels like the scenes here belong very much to the people.
It’s the people that keep the scenes here going. Like with the DIY, that didn’t happen because of the council, it was all because of the initiative of the people. People like Shaun (Boyle), Sam (Lill) and Berni (Good) are the ones who have put in all the work to create this innovative and inclusive environment. I’ll always want to work with people like that because they’re community focused, from the ground up. It’s always a battle in Brum to have those resources, and it’s always the people that make it happen. It’s inevitable that these sub-scenes are going to overlap.
And I think it’s so much more impressive when a city is restricted in terms of resources but still finds a way to thrive.
Yeah, and the emotional connections to these scenes are reminiscent of something in all of us, that’s why we push so hard to make it work. Expression in the form of skating and art is important for people; it can deliver that direction and help them find interconnectedness.
Exactly. I think that’s everything. Thanks, Cal! Is there anything you want to add, or anyone you want to mention?
Love to the homies, thanks to Ideal, karma, Sabbath, Three Sixty, and GVNMNT for the support, love to everyone (laughs).
Follow Callum - @anansiid