Look through Brian Lotti’s art to journey through cheerful colour, lively expression and landscapes with character that almost beg exploration. To put his work plainly, it will temporarily allow you to holiday from the weather conditions that we’re accustomed to at this time of the year (had to be said). Of course, Brian’s modesty about his own work was always going to be a given, not that he doesn’t aspire to parallel one outlet for creativity with a certain other that made his name synonymous with the culture of magazines like Sidewalk. It’s simple logic, we had to chat with Lotti.
Text by Stephen Cox and Guy Jones
Studio Photos by Fred Jacobs
Preferred Medium of Choice: Oil painting on canvas
Let’s start off with where your interest in art began. Did the passion grow from an early age?
I was an only child and my dad was in the military. I spent a lot of time alone; I would draw and colour stuff when I was a young kid. I’ve just always drawn. When I went to high school somehow I ended with a bunch of rich kids – for lack of a better term – and I didn’t have a lot of friends. I used to spend my lunch breaks in the art classroom working on something. I’ve always made art. My interest in skateboarding and doing my own thing just came naturally.
You have an art degree as well don’t you? What did you learn through that?
I learned about the artists that I liked. The stuff I do is pretty traditional in a sense like painting with oils and from observation. I learned a lot from impressionist and post-impressionist painters. Going to school was a chance to study different artists and basic technique for me.
The mediums you use extend to print and film too. Which of the mediums consume the majority of your time?
More painting, oil on canvas. I’ve been painting a lot of landscapes in the open air. I’m trying to do more and more of that almost exclusively.
Is it not important to have a variety of different mediums then?
I don’t think it’s as important as I once did. Some people think there is freedom in being able to do anything like sculpture or, “today I’m making a quarter pipe, tomorrow I’m making a painting or a video.” I’m starting to learn that there’s a lot of freedom in doing the same thing: using the same materials, working on the same subject. I’m getting more interested in that.
You’re refining one area then?
Yeah refining, getting focused. Getting in a groove to make discoveries and learn.
You’re a highly recognized individual in the skateboarding world. Do you embrace how your achievements in skateboarding might assist in pushing your artwork out there or do you prefer it to stand alone?
That’s a really good question. I would certainly like my work to stand alone but I’ll take any help I can get [laughs]. I guess that’s the best way to put it. It’s not an easy road trying to make a living an as artist.
Do personal complications arise in terms of self-validation in that respect or are you indifferent to that?
I think I’m past that point. In a way it’s just kind of what I do and I don’t have any more time to waste. I just have to get with it and start buckin’ hay, man.
With exposure being so pertinent in the art world, in what ways do you think it is best to get your art out there?
Doing it and doing it consistently enough. Right now I’m doing some work for a show, and if I get the work done that I want to I think it will be a cool offering especially for people in Los Angeles. I think it will be relevant. Hopefully it’ll be new you know? I don’t think there are as many people painting the landscapes of Los Angeles.
What exhibitions have you had previously that you’re fond of?
We had a really fun exhibition at The Berrics a long time ago. It was a big group show. The Berrics is a big space and it was downtown. It was a fun night because a lot of people turned up and there was skating going on. It just had that fun vibe where a lot of paths crossed. I’m not sure where the new show is going to be, I want it to be in Los Angeles because so much of the work is about the place.
Would you like to do any exhibitions in the UK?
I’d love to do a show in the UK and I look forward to it. That’s a big question mark with a lot of plusses around it for sure.
Good to hear. Looking at a piece of yours like ‘Valentine Alley’ I couldn’t help but think that the subject matter related to searching for skate spots. Would there be any truth to that?
Seeing the landscape in terms of angles, contours, banks and directions – I think with that way of creating composition there’s a lot of shapes that suggest certain angles which yeah, might be from a skateboarder’s perspective: being in the middle of the street. Definitely.
Is there a lot of skateboarding culture that is left unexplored when it comes to art? Why isn’t skateboarding depicted through mediums like paint more often?
There’s a Scottish painter, Peter Doig – he did some paintings of snowboarders in the mid to late nineties. They were really sick paintings, with the twilight, mountains with all these trees and a skier in the corner looking up towards the corner of the painting where there would be snowboarder upside down doing a backflip or something; he was in pink and gold, it blended with the sky. That guy depicted snowboarding but he was making paintings; the subject was snowboarding but somehow they weren’t kitsch. It’s hard to paint snowboarding or skateboarding because it’s such a subtle thing. Everyone that knows skateboarding, if they see a move and something is kind of weird about it then it’s noticeable. It’s a subtle thing. I wanted to make paintings from photos for a long time and I was always afraid to because I thought it was going to be cheesy.
Your piece ’Sage’ made me wonder how often your paintings are adapted from photos. How often would you work this way or otherwise?
Some of it, I’ve shot a guy skating and in hindsight I look at the photo and realise there is something great about the composition. The last one, I had a view in mind and took Derek Fukuhara to this spot and asked him to do a tre flip into a hill bomb. We set it up together and he did it. It can go any number of ways. It could even be a film still.
From a paused video?
Yeah. Video stills are cool because they’re kind of blurry so that out-of-focus look is a springboard to play with the distorted qualities of the paint. I’m always trying to move away from illustration into painting. It’s the difference between Sonic Youth and someone playing an acoustic guitar. There’s a quality to it, it’s hard to explain.
Which photographers inspire your art?
I love Seu Trinh’s work, he’s looking at things from a fresh perspective and he’s got the bigger picture in mind. Tobin Yelland has photos I love as well as Mickey Vuckovich and the older guys. Sam Muller’s photos are pretty strong. I painted probably four photos taken by other people and I loved the final results but it’s tough because you’re looking through someone else’s eyes, it’s pop art.
Where skating isn’t featured in your work would you paint in a studio or when the subject is right in front of you?
Both. I go back and forth. A lot of the time I’ll work on site: I’ll see a view, make a sketch of it and then go back with paint several times. Sometimes I’ll finish it in the studio and sometimes I’ll do several sketches of scene and then go back and paint it.
What stylistic qualities do you search for or what thought processes do you go through before making a commitment to a piece?
Lately, I’ll be out and about going somewhere, driving or walking and some scene just catches my eye. It’s because of the colours and the shapes. It’s ready-made, like a ball on a tee. I know if I go back there’s something cool like a harmony there or some kind of depth, the way the shadows cut into the scene, something to grab onto. Something to ride with.
You’ve done a lengthy list of board graphics and ads for Almost and Organika. How do you approach this sort of work?
With board graphics my interests lie in making a piece of art that covers the whole board. I want to minimize the logo or [laughs] the skateboarder’s name and maximize the subject and colours. Again, it’s the colour, as an energy or material to play around with.
I loved the Telegraph board with the guy on the phone. Where does a graphic like that come from?
I was watching that Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back of his music tour through England and there was this scene with this gorgeous black and white. The scene was with this guy talking with his manager, a British booking agent was on the phone and I just paused it. I just painted from the image. There was a double decker bus in the street below and it just looked cool, it was a simple scene.
How long does it take you finish a graphic like that?
Oh man, I’m trying to get faster at it but it’s usually a good day and a half or longer per graphic. Sometimes two. A lot of times I’ll make original art then scan it and add colours. It’s usually like a day to make the artwork then it’s another day to format it on the computer and do the colour.
Which board graphics of your own or others do you cherish?
I really liked the original rabbit board that Sean Cliver did. That’s one of my all-time favourites. I did this board for a little shop in France and I really liked the way that came out. It was for Crime La Rochelle. I did a still life with a table, a wine bottle, some oranges and a skate key. It was more like a piece of art (laughs), an impressionist vision of a skateboarder’s dream lifestyle. It was fun.
The logo driven board is a commonly disliked amongst skaters isn’t it?
It’s tough. It’s like, people have to make money now and for some reason everyone is all about the bottom line. The bigger companies just aren’t creative anymore. Everyone kind of does the same thing under a different name. Some of the smaller companies are doing cool stuff. Skateboarding is always in cycles. The level of skating right now is incredible but the level of creativity surrounding into the product isn’t the same. It’s not that exciting.
What board companies should be expect to see you do graphics for in the future?
Wink wink, maybe Isle… Hmmm, I’ve got a good graphic for Palace, I should hit them up. No, nothing lined up yet.
I watched your short film Blue Line. What were your ideas going into that project? Was the aim to create something that was aesthetically pleasing to watch in terms of the videography and location?
That was kind of a test piece. I had a more full length in mind. I wanted to test moving through the landscape in a continuous fashion with the guys progressing through the same areas. I think the video came out cool but it was more like a sketchbook piece, trying to get the bones of how camera action could work.
Why did you thank The Museum of Jurassic Technology in the credits?
Yeah! Nathan Sacharow who I worked with, he was interning at there at the time. We shot a couple of the time lapses in the museum, which was cool.
To what extent should financial incentive play in producing artwork and how do you feel it affects the longevity of yours?
I make art because it’s my response for better and worse. It’s how I relate to the world. I’m hoping that in the long run it will have been a wise life path (laughs). I hope I’ll be able to sell more and more work. I don’t know if it’s going to be valuable or anything but I hope at least the paintings will be nice in people’s houses and make life a little more cheerful.
What extent has Buddism played in the production of your artwork?
Work hard, persevere and be patient. Those are things I’ve learned through meditation and am still working on. Painting and skateboarding are similar. You do it enough and want to get in that zone and be able to let go of everything and let the good tricks or paintings happen. Just being focused and keeping at it. You can’t quit [laughs].
Ever worry you might not be able to paint because of an injury through skating?
For sure, that’s why I don’t skate as much anymore. Skateboarding is like playing with a dog that has sharp teeth, you’re gonna get hurt (laughs).
When having a portrait taken, what’s your most sophisticated pose and how often do you whip it out for the adoring public?
Oh my god [laughs]. I’m working on that; maybe you can help me figure that one out.
Where can the readers see your work?
On Instagram and my website brianlotti.com
Wanna throw some advice out there for the aspiring artists to finish up on?
Every day counts, man. Hashtag YOLO. You only live once [laughs].
[Laughs] thanks for this Brian.
Special thanks – Guy Jones, Ben Powell, Fred Jacobs
Check out Brian’s Website: brianlotti.com
Follow Lotti on Instagram: brianlotti