I'll be the first to admit that if it wasn't for the Interweb I never would have been able to do either of the Disposable books. Briefly explained: 1) I'm not what you would necessarily call a "people person"; 2) When and if I do attempt to be a "people person" I'm much more on par with a mumbling chimp—and that's on a good day; and 3) I don't particularly care for the telephone—to the point where it may even be classified as a phobia—making phone interviews not only impossible but incredibly stressful. There were a few people I had no choice but to call in the end (and believe me, I waited until the very end ... one I didn't even call), but all in all I'd say that 96-percent of the communication was conducted via email. All hail the Interweb—closet refuge for the socially inept!
It was, however, during the two-and-a-half years spent compiling The Disposable Skateboard Bible that I learned for as awesome a tool as the Interweb can be it can also become a haunted house on the turn of a dime. Three people passed on during its creation, two of which still had unanswered emails sitting in my inbox: Sharon Harrison and Bernie Tostenson. For the longest time I couldn't bring myself to delete them, and it wasn't until I recently had to change my email address that they were finally laid to rest in a virtual graveyard.
When I learned of Bernie's death this past April, The Disposable Skateboard Bible was in its final pre-press stages at the printer in Hong Kong. I attempted to make a last minute revision to the Brand-X spread to acknowledge his passing, but for whatever reason the correction never made it onto the printing press. So, if and when the book ever heads back to Hong Kong for a second printing, that will be the one and only change to be made [see below—way, way below]. Yeah, I know, no one believes me after that succession of updates made to Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art (and I know I'll never live it down ... keep those DVD jokes comin'), but I swear that will be it. No ... seriously.
What's interesting is that Bernie may have played a more significant role in the first book than he ever knew. You see, I first learned of his name in 1995, when the Huntington Beach Art Center hosted a month long show entitled Grind: The Graphics and Culture of Skateboarding, co-organized by Tyler Stallings and Ed Templeton. This was one of the earlier exhibitions I can recall of this sort—excluding Aaron Rose's earlier Alleged Gallery art shows, which were far more arty and less museumy—and it included work by Ron Cameron, Thomas Campbell, Ron Chatman, Todd Francis, Mike Hill (who contributed original Alien Workshop slick sculptures for display), Marty Jimenez, Marc McKee, Lance Mountain, Chris Pastras, Cleon Peterson, Chris Senn, Jeff Tremaine, Bernie, and myself. Up until this time I was really only familiar with my contemporaries, so it was exceptionally interesting for me to read Bernie's self-penned short history "The Origin of Some Famous Logos; or, The True Adventures of a Designer/Screenprinter" printed in the 32-page Xeroxed "zine" that accompanied the show. Here was a guy who had created some of the more iconic and memorable graphics from the '80s and I'd never even heard his name before ... although, come to think of it, I may not have even known the name of Jim Phillips then—imagine that (a lot of these artists I never really "met" until contacting them in 2003).
I never forgot this tale of Bernie's, recounting his days at Sims, Brand-X, Vision, and Flip, and it may ultimately have served as the inspiration for me to seven years later embark on collecting these various artist histories from around the industry in book form before they were lost to time and fading memories.
I only met Bernie once in person (the night of my first book release party in November 2004 at Skatelab), but he would email every so often throughout the years to say thanks again for being included in the book or to share further stories from his past involvement with skateboarding. His very last email to me included the photo above with him standing next to a Brand-X trade show booth display circa 1987. Throughout all of our email exchanges though, what I found most interesting about Bernie is that out of everything he did he genuinely seemed most proud of the screen-printing advancements he'd made in the industry. To him, that was his true art.
What follows are but a few examples of Bernie's work supplemented with excerpts from the original story of his printed in the Grind: The Graphics and Culture of Skateboarding zine (some of which we later appropriated for his history in Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art).
"I moved to Santa Barbara and started working at Sims Pure Juice Skateboards in 1975. I was a silk-screener hoping to slip into a better paying graphics position. The graphics of the time were just company logos printed on the top and bottom in one-color passes. Silk-screening then was easy. I showed Tom [Sims] that I could draw by designing two logos for Sims Skateboards in my spare time in 1976. I only got $185 for the Sims Winged logo and the Sims Winged Oval logo, but I got job security and soon I was doing the ads as well as my other duties as the silk-screener.
"Every once in a while a musical trend will burst upon the scene so strongly that it affects fashion, art, and lifestyles. In 1980, it was the New Wave and Punk Rock music trends. The Brad Bowman model, Steve Rocco model, Lester Kasai model, and the Screamer model were all examples of these musical trends that inspired me to do these graphics. If you look at the Rocco model you'll notice that I took the lettering style right off the first Blondie album. The Bowman was definitely inspired by Devo. My motivation for graphics at the time wasn't for the money and it wasn't to be recognized as some 'art guru'. I just realized that the better my graphics sold, the more money I'd make silk-screening them because at this time I was freelance for Sims.
"The Christian Hosoi model was an interesting job. All I knew was that he was 14-years-old, that he was Japanese, that he was proud, and that he was a red hot skater. I came up with this very 'new wave' design. Two months later there was an epic song release called 'I'm Turning Japanese (I Really Think So)'. At the time I didn't know if it was my design, the song, or his skating talents, but I was silk-screening 500 of these decks alone per week."
"When I started Brand-X Skateboards in 1983, I lost the Sims account. But the thought of being a silk-screener and an artist with absolutely no restrictions ... well, the temptation was just too great to work for anybody else. And soon I was pumping out 500 of my own decks per week out of my garage at night.
"But the industry started changing rapidly. Old businessmen in suits and ties who had never surfed or skated a day in their lives started flooding the market with cheap skateboards. This took a big chunk out of our orders. Anger is a very strong motivation for artists. Their product was so cheap that I knew, as a manufacturer myself, that their profit margin was very, very low. So I decided to make their lives miserable. They could only afford 3-4 colors per deck which was the norm. So, in 1984 I came out with the Weirdo model with 12-color graphics which made the old farts look really cheap in comparison. Wheel wells were a problem, but as a silk-screener/artist I had the ability to spot problems before they can happen. For example, on the Weirdo, you can't screen into a wheel well without spearing and blotching so I just made the wheel well part of the graphic. The Weirdo [shown at right, click the image for an enlarged version] opened up a new market for us and became our best seller. It was cartoony, but it had an edge. This started a graphic trend among the cool companies that set us apart from the old guys' companies. The problem was that I now had to silk-screen thousands of these 12-color Weirdos. I had created a monster and soon I started looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger with really skinny legs and a bad headache. But I showed them!
"Sarcasm is another very strong motivation for artists. In 1988 there were hundreds of pros on the market, most of these 'pros' nobody ever heard of. So, to be sarcastic, I drew the Eddie Gein model. Eddie wasn't a skater. He was the original ghoul, grave robber, and taxidermist loosely portrayed in the movie Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So, to be a wise guy, I gave him his own 'pro model'. At least skaters had heard of him. I've never received so much hate mail in my life."
"The Mark 'Gator' Anthony model was his last Vision model before turning himself in for that tragic murder that will probably keep him confined for the rest of his life. It took me an entire week to do this graphic with Gator by my side making suggestions. He seemed like a nice, honest, and religious guy with very strong convictions on what was right and wrong in the world.
"November 1994, Jeremy Fox contacted me to do some graphics for Flip Skateboards. Ironically, Jeremy Fox was my team captain for Brand-X in the early days, so if you're a skateboarder who didn't get sponsored by Brand-X then it's all his fault!
"With all of the goatees, weird sunglasses, poetry readings at all-night coffee houses, I guess he felt that the time was correct for a 'Beatnik Series' of graphics for Flip Skateboards. The European Flip pro team was staying at the Flip House in Huntington Beach, when they saw a beatnik cartoon show with 'very good characters.' Jeremy suggested that I watch this show. But, as it turned out, this 'show' was MTV's Liquid Television airing nightly at midnight. So, in the classic beatnik tradition, I found myself consuming massive quantities of 'java' to make it through each of the five episodes. The characters were weak, but with a lot of 'stylizing' I pulled it off, coming up with five models to meet an insane deadline.
"No sooner than the dark circles went away from my eyes, Jeremy Fox once again appeared at my door with his English charm convincing me to do the next series of graphics. A brainstorm session took us in a new direction. One of the characters of the first series was a portly fellow who we called 'Daddy-O'. He was an abstract oil painter, and I talked Jeremy into having Daddy-O paint each of the other characters in the first series. We used Daddy-O's abstract paintings as the graphics for the next series which we called the 'Beatnik Gallery Series'."
In late 2007, Tim Steenstra, who also had a long-running correspondence with Bernie throughout the 2000s, contracted him to do a graphic for his garage-operation Spyhill Skates. "Being a huge fan of Bernie's work with Sims and then Brand-X," Tim said, "I was stoked to get him on board for a little project like mine. He had a major impact on the evolution of skateboard graphics and I miss his insight on art and silkscreen techniques."
I can't say for certain whether or not this was Bernie's last board graphic to be produced prior to his death in April 2009, but it's the most recent I am aware of.
Rest in peace, Bernie.