Swamp Life with Lindsey Kuhn

Visit swamposters.com and conspiracyboards.com to see more of Kuhn's work.

Skateboarding, like art, can be a very fickle thing.  Many people have strong opinions about both, but only “lifers” can really immerse themselves into a world that revolves around skateboarding and art. Lindsey Kuhn was making art and skateboarding way before it became the cool thing to do. Most well known for his work as a poster artist under the business name Swamp, Kuhn has done work for venues like Emo’s in Austin, Jabberjaw in LA, The Casbah in San Diego and Bluebird in Denver. In addition to his poster work, he founded Conspiracy Skateboards in 1994. The Denver based artist has also become a mainstay at the Salt Lake City Tattoo Convention, and this year’s convention marks his seventh year in attendance. Ultimately, Kuhn is one of those “lifers” in the skate and art world and the definition of a word that is seldom associated with either. It’s called fun.  Use your iPhone to Google it, if you’re not sure.

SLUG: Which came first for you, art or skateboarding?
Lindsey Kuhn: Wow, I guess it would have to be skateboarding unless you count scribbling with crayons as art, or maybe plastering pictures of Kiss, AC/DC and surfers on the walls of my bedroom.  I got my first board at eight. It was skateboarding.  

SLUG:  Would you say art and skateboarding are necessarily intertwined or is it just a coincidence that a lot of skateboarders make art and become artists? 
Kuhn: I guess it is intertwined.  Skateboarding taught me to think for myself and to be creative.  I was always drawing and painting on my skateboards, shoes, shirts, walls and books. It also taught me to focus intensely on something until I figured it out, no matter how many times I messed up—whether it was learning a trick, drawing something or building a ramp to skate.

SLUG:   How did the name Swamp for your business come about? 
Kuhn: I grew up in Ocean Springs, MS, and at that time there wasn’t much to do so we would build ramps and skate. At first it was banks and quarter pipes, then finally halfpipes.  Between my older brother and I, we had a ramp in our yard for 10 years.   It rained all the time in south MS so there was always water and mud around the ramp, and people called my ramp the SWAMP ramp.   The locals were known around the south as the swamp skaters. When I started printing shirts to raise money for the ramp, everyone called them “Swamp Shirts.”  Eventually, I started making shirts for bands, restaurants, bars and “SWAMP Shirts” just stuck!  When I moved to Texas in the ‘90s and started screen printing “poster art” I started selling it through the mail and just dropped  the “shirts” in the business name.

: Does your artwork reflect the things you are personally interested in? 
Kuhn: For the most part, yes it does—skateboarding, girls, music, monsters, movies, politics, science, art, world happenings and so forth.  There is a ton of crazy stuff in this world and I try to reflect and use it in the art I make.       

SLUG:  Is there a specific medium you prefer for making artwork?
Kuhn: I guess I’m most known for my screen printing, but I like trying different things all the time.  I get bored easily and it’s fun to try different things.

SLUG: Even though you’re known for your screen prints and posters, is there a certain medium you’d love to try and haven’t yet?
Kuhn: Holograms, movies, sculpture—anything fun that I haven’t done already. I usually do a couple big canvases a year, that’s always fun.  It’s all a matter of time. It’s hard to find the time to do everything I would like to do.

SLUG: Who are some artists you’ve been influenced by? 
Kuhn: Pushead, Kozik, Tim Kerr, Go Nagai, Shigeru Mizuki, Virgil Finlay, Warhol, Dali, Escher, Robert Williams, Joe Coleman, Ed Roth, The Pizz, Alex Grey, John Lennon, Jim Phillips.

SLUG: Who are some skateboarders you’ve been influenced by?
Kuhn: Jeff Phillips, Bryan Pennington, John Gibson, Craig Johnson, Dana Buck, John Kuhn, Dan Wilkes, Scott Stanton, Neil Blender, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain … there are too many! 

:  Who do you think the up and coming artists are in the poster world today?
Kuhn: There are a ton of so-called “poster artists“ now and many of them are good, but most of them don’t print their own work.  If you don’t make your own work, are you really an artist? Anyone can make a poster on a computer then have it printed. I guess that is the difference between a designer and artist. As for up and coming poster artists, I like what Blackyard is doing in Bern, Switzerland.  They are a group of young illustrators that pass the paper and pen around the table and add to each other’s sketch.  Then, one of them will ink the sketch to give it a uniform feel.  They are coming up with great schizophrenic-style illustrations. Much of what they do is offset because they can’t afford screen printing.  They taught themselves to screen print, and when they do, it’s great stuff!  I hope to see more in the future.

SLUG:  Do you do all your own board graphics for your company Conspiracy Skateboards?
Kuhn: I work with different friends and other artists that do some of the graphics— Pushead, Stainboy, Angryblue, Malleus, and Wrex Cook to name a few.  I get sick of looking at my own stuff so it’s fun to work with other artists.

SLUG: What was the skate industry like when you started your company Conspiracy Skateboards?
Kuhn: Dana Buck and I decided to start a company in Texas around the end of ‘93.  The industry was turning from vert skating to street and there were very few companies making bigger decks.  Everything was changing into tiny wheels and very breakable Popsicle-stick-style decks, which we didn’t ride.  The industry was turning very corporate. I would read about companies in “trade magazines” making decks that were made to break so they could sell more. I was disillusioned about the skateboard world—It was all a conspiracy. We started making decks in Buckitheads skate shop in Dallas, and we called them Conspiracy boards because of the industry changing into the money grubbing beast that it became in the ‘90s, and today it’s just a mess.  In the past five or so years there are lots of smaller regional companies that have popped up around the country, as well as a bunch of corporate empires made to look like small companies.  I just do Conspiracy for fun and never really had the cash to compete against the big companies so I try not to pay attention to them.  I just love skating with friends and traveling to all the free parks around the country.  It’s amazing how it has changed in the last 10 years.

SLUG:  Is it better to have a skateboard company now rather than in the ‘90s, or vice versa?
Kuhn: It was more fun then because it was new and it was something that people would be stoked about. Owning an independent small company was rare back then.  Now there are a ton of companies: independent, corporate and almost all skateshops make their own decks. It’s completely different.  I have days or months when I want to shut the company down because it’s not worth it, but then I go skate and get stoked on skating all over again!

SLUG: Is skateboarding a more friendly sport now than it was when you started your company?
Kuhn: I’ve been skating since ‘76 and skaters are skaters. I don’t really think it’s changed much for the “real” skater.  Skateboarding has changed, but the “lifer” is the same. By “lifer” or “real” I mean those who skate because that’s what they love.  It’s not a sport to them, it’s a lifestyle and in life there are always good and bad attitudes, friendly and not friendly, to each his own.

SLUG:  Is it as much fun to make posters now that you do it for a job, as it was when you first started doing it for fun?
Kuhn: It is SO different now it’s hard to say.  I still love making and printing posters, but there is an industry around it now.  It’s kinda like skateboarding or punk rock or anything else that is fun.  It changes over the years. I think there are good and bad people in every business, so I try to find good ones to work with and for and it’s usually the ones that don’t have money. It’s the ones that do it for fun. The computer and the Internet have changed “art” and made it easy for anyone to do anything.  So I just try to stay focused on what I like to do and go forward.

SLUG:  Is there anyone you’d like to thank and/or give a shout out to?  
Kuhn: In SLC?   Big thanks to the crew at the SLC Tattoo Convention!  They bust ass to put that thing together every year!  The Pennington Family! Everyone that makes, promotes or supports independent art and skateboarding.  And of course everyone at SLUG Magazine!  22 years of keeping it real!  Good work! 

Swing by Kuhn’s booth at the Salt Lake Tattoo Convention from Feb. 18-20 to purchase his prints.  Visit swampco.com to see his work online.

Visit swamposters.com and  conspiracyboards.com to see more of Kuhn's work. Swing by Lindsey Kuhn's booth at the Salt Lake Tattoo Convention from Feb. 18-20 to purchase his prints. The man behind the 	posters—Lindsey Kuhn. Kuhn's book, Lure of the Swamp features over 100 pages of art.