The setting: an apartment in West Hollywood that Jason Dill is moving out of right now. The acting personas: Dill himself with a long monolog. The plot: read for yourself.
Jason Dill is used to moving. Unbelievably, he has done so 22 times up to the age of 17 – all within Huntington Beach. Trailer parks and motels constituted a world of their own to him. “It’s a horror. It’s anti-culture to me. It’s white culture at its largest, glowing trashiness. Big trucks, guys with shaved heads, tank tops, and fucking UFC shit. I got to see a lot by growing up there.” These influences, the abysses of modern first-world society, are still visible in Dill’s artworks today – as well as in his apartment, which looks fairly chaotic at the moment because there’s yet another move waiting. Some leftover relicts from pop culture, books, newspapers, and hand-picked findings from the curb are scattered all over the ground as a part of a hoarded treasure while the rest is associatively stuffed in boxes. “You are a homeless person with a home, that’s exactly what you are,” one of the friendly moving helpers, who happens to be no other than Danny Garcia, comments while Dill unsystematically pulls out more and more random things that are supposed to make it inside of the transporter parked outside. He lived in this West Hollywood apartment for six years, right around the corner of the Supreme store, but now it’s time to leave the turmoil of this city behind. He’s about to make his way to the coastal city of Ventura, which is about a one-hour drive away from here, because “this apartment is possessed by the devil”. A classic Dill sentence. He says it while sitting in a pretty worn-down chair that he described with: “I’ve had this chair for ages. I did everything in here. Made graphics, did drugs, got blowjobs, cried because I didn’t get blowjobs…” The man understands how to bring stories straight to the point. He points in the direction of the window which is giving a glimpse of the street life. “I’m living in a zoo,” he rumbles on, “just that I’m not inside the cage, but the ones out there are.” I can only agree.
The neighborhood is a little over the top, even for someone who creates artworks fed by chaos and madness. And he has had plenty of chaos and madness in his own life. It definitely started early and lingers on to this day. “There are certain drawings I do now that look the same as they did when I was eight, before my dad went to jail. I found a bunch of drawings while helping my mom to move. They’re crazy. It’s war scenes, car crashes, people with knifes. They’re so funny. You have been drawing as a little kid and you get older and you see E.T., Pac-Man, all this crazy shit at the movie theater, and Stephen King films, you get older and all the sudden your mom is a single mom, your brothers and sister are off at their dad’s, your dad is in jail. I’m watching The Killing Fields, Colors, The Color Purple – films that kids shouldn’t see, but my mom was in her 30s. She doesn’t want to go watch Fantasia, she don’t give a shit about Karate Kid. And the greatest thing my mother did for me was taking me to these films and talking to me about what we just saw – whether it was about Vietnam or the civil rights movement in the South. It was incredible for me to see all that when I was eight years old. You get these pieces and pockets of the horrible history that this country has. Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, I saw it all. And my brothers, being older than me, they showed me Heavy Metal, the cartoon movie. That’s the first time I’ve seen boobs. And then they showed me Purple Rain. There’s actually real boobs in. Then my brother started feeding me with books and then I got to New York when I was 16 years old. I went to see Kids at the movie theater. I got out of the theater, went to the fucking Astor Place and was like, ‘I know these dudes. I know what I’m doing for the next ten years.’”
A clay figure of a saint shattered into small pieces on the ground. “Do you want to see how it breaks?” Dill asked and merrily dropped it. “I like to break things.” He picks up the head of the saint and wonders for a second whether he could make something out of it. That’s how it works here. Things splinter, disappear, reappear, merge, and make new sense. You feel like Dill will find anything that needs to be found in here – such as, for example, a photocopy of a poem by William S. Burroughs, who is known for his cut-up technique (the seemingly random combination of texts with the most different meanings). He couldn’t have pulled out anything more appropriate for this moment: two media dudes from Europe in some West Hollywood apartment which one of the most influential persons in skateboarding at the moment is moving out of – pretty much real-life cut-up. And “cut-up” is a pretty good way of describing how the brain of Jason Dill seems to work. “If I see something… I can't help but to take everything in. Just sifting through the mundane to make something someone maybe has never seen. ’Cause that’s what’s good about imagery: there’s always a need for imagery. If people are sick of looking at things, I’m out of business. If everyone wants a white skateboard and a white T-Shirt or a white tennis ball [throws a white Supreme tennis ball on the wall, editor’s note], there’s nothing I can do about it. I can just fill it with imagery. I’m… [looks at a pile of papers and enthusiastically picks one out of it. Another find, editor’s note] Here you go! I have a warrant for my arrest in New York [watch his Epicly Later’d, editor’s note], but I couldn’t find this paper when I was back in New York recently. Police Department of the City of New York… Oh, they have my old address on here. I don’t live there anymore. I wonder what’s going to happen.
It was only for marijuana. They did arrest me and they took me to jail. I was in for fucking two and a half hours, barefooted and handcuffed.” But let’s get back on track. Dill is already digging in some other boxes completely filled with old VHS tapes. He explains how he likes to scan the little pictures on the side of the cover. He also prefers to scan stickers and put that on a shirt instead of using the computer-generated logo. He likes the extra depth graphics get from this process and also he adds that he’s bad at the computer. “I’m only good at seeing things and seeing things to piece together. And apparently, I’m good at gluing things. One of my mini-talents. I accumulate so much stuff that I’ll have a newspaper from 2001 or other stuff that I have collected and can’t seem to get rid of. It’s like I gotta use it some time. I gotta cut something out and put it in the background of something else. Things just gotta make sense. It’s all a collection of moments in time that I keep upstairs and just throw it up on a fucking board or whatever and hopefully people want it.” He’s not the first to do so. Artists like Dash Snow, who died in 2009 and was a friend of Dill, worked in a similar manner. But he has found his own style. He says that he always asked the people he worked with – let it be Natas Kaupas, John Lucero, or some filmmaker – about how they do what they do and morphed all this input into his own handwriting. By now, he has become a mentor himself. “I have young kids coming up to me. They don’t necessarily skateboard, they might make music or art, but they’ll ask me about a little advice because they want to start a clothing company. I always just say that the most simplistic thing for me was not to pay attention to what everyone else was doing. You have to know that whatever you are doing is at least authentic to you. Just do your own thing. Make sure it feels like you. ‘Cause you know when you take something else. Do I take and borrow this and that? Mhh, yeah, but I really feel like… Say, I want to cut fucking Elizabeth Taylor out of this magazine, it would be so much more than that once the graphic is done. Cutting her out is the easy part, making the rest of it all chaotically make sense is something else.”
Even though he’s fleeing from it at the moment, chaos nevertheless seems to be something he needs. Why else would you let yourself be filmed and photographed in a situation which is already stressful by default? “I think I just like to let life fly in front of me. If I can make it go faster, I make it go faster, if I want it to slow down, I slow it down. ’Cause being in my position, there’s a whole running around and craziness going into this. And a whole lot of deep researching through numerous bookstores and junk shops from Berlin to San Francisco, Cincinnati to Nantucket. Paris. Tijuana. You can find cool shit everywhere to make your own cool shit out of. I feel lucky to do what I do. But also, there’s a lot of anxiety at the same time. When you’re constantly outputting… Then you get to a point where you don’t look at it as art. I’m looking at it as making something called art that goes out for sale.” A modest mindset in times where artists like Takashi Murakami or Damien Hirst have long arrived in the world of product when it comes to their artworks or marketing their works. As eccentric as he might seem on first sight, Dill is fairly humble when it comes to his works. His favorite FA graphics are all done by other artists, he says, artists which would be able to really paint and draw in comparison to his skills. However, he finds the term “artist” problematic anyways. “I fucking find people who take their title as an artist quite amusing. Like they are walking around with their pants covered in paint. ‘Oh, I’m working on this new exhibition. It’s happening.’ I feel the same way about designers. There are certain designers I’m really good friends with, but I’m like, ‘Get out of here with your fucking 17,000 $ handbag.’ ‘Oh, we’re doing an inspirational trip to Tuscany.’ Take a trip to Stockton, California. That’s an inspirational trip. The only fucking city that has ever gone bankrupt in America. I just get really frustrated over all that fufu shit. I like making clothes that feel really nice and I like intricate design and the more I do it, the more intricate FA gets.” There’s no need to make the things he likes easier to digest and there’s no certain target group he wants to reach with his designs. He’s just happy about every person he sees in a Fucking Awesome hoodie, it doesn’t matter if they’re still going to school or if it is a worker in their 50s.
And more and more people are wearing his stuff. No matter whether his niece tells him how many kids wear Fucking Awesome in high school or the kids of Nick Cave or Jarvis Cocker (for him, as an avowed fan, it’s twice the pleasure) ask their parents for his stuff – the brand he has kept tiny for years and only sold small quantities of in selected shops (for example, Supreme, about which he says, “Without Supreme I couldn’t do what I have done.Being with Supreme is like learning karate at the most respected dojo in the world. And then you go on making your own fucking dojo.”) has gotten big. Rappers request him to make their merch by now. Does he have problems with his rising popularity? “Do I get bummed when someone shows me a picture of fucking Rihanna in a FA hoodie? Fuck no, I fucking don’t. Do I like Rihanna? I don’t like her music and don’t know her as a person, but I get it. There’s a hundred people I could list. That fucking Sam Smith guy, that motherfucker wears FA. I’d look like a fucking fool if I’d say that people can’t wear that shit. I find a lot of that talk… Like Thrasher gear and what not, ‘Ey yo, you don’t skate, you’re not supposed to wear it bro!’ You have a baseball hat on and I haven’t seen you throw a curveball motherfucker. That’s crazy talk to me.” For someone who considers himself a product designer, it’s natural to want it to be consumed by people. He has no problem with informing us what he wanted to reach with FA after starting it as a board company. “Of course, in the back of your head you want to be like… I wanted to fucking Nirvana them. Here’s the Bleach Album, you don’t know much about it, you’re like, cool, cool, cool and then booosh: they slaughter down the nation and had an impact on the whole world. I was a teenager when Smells Like Teen Spirit came out. I didn’t understand what he was doing. To me, it was just another band, but they were good and I liked it.
"Being with Supreme is like learning karate at the most respected dojo in the world. And then you go on making your own fucking dojo"
But people have an inverse reaction to over-popularity, so of course, I’m worried about that. I looked at Nirvana’s albums like that and by the time they got to In Utero, you’re just like, ‘Fuck it, throw it off the wall.’ I feel like that too. You get to a point where half the crowd won’t understand why you’re making this because they weren’t paying attention ten years ago.” But with FA, it seems like slowly but surely people start to comprehend what he does or they at least comprehend that it’s cool. For some, it’s still too dirty after all, too edgy, too much niche. He tells this anecdote about how Dior invited him to Paris. It was supposed to be an ad campaign with him and Thom Yorke of Radiohead. They provided him with a hotel room plus all conveniences for one month. After all, it didn’t work out as planned. They rather chose A$AP Rocky and Larry Clarke as new faces for their brand. Dill didn’t care as long as the room service was still paid for. Thanks to Dior and let’s continue. “I like Dior though. But a lot of fashion companies bother me because they use wack celebrities’ kids. Come on, he’s that dude’s kid – that’s corny. There’s some brands that would get a little weird when they are using celebrities while they are still too young and stuff. I heard that the guy who shot all the Marc Jacobs ads, when they wanted to use Miley Cyrus, he was like: ‘I’m not gonna fucking shoot that nimrod for anything.’ I don’t like the big fashion houses in general – except Dior… The big fashion people are just as lost as fucking McDonald’s when it comes to advertising. It looks like McDonald’s is losing its grip on the fucking world. People don’t want fucking McDonald’s no more. So brands are taking this 15-year-old daughter of so and so and sexualize her in the ads or use one douchy actor after another douchy actor and just put out corny stuff.”
We’re talking about imagery again. What makes Dill's so interesting is the constant combining and re-contextualizing. And also the seemingly naïve compilation of childish and benign motifs (Snoopy was the first figure he was able to draw, he is still a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh and the Class Photo series is pretty much the most famous ever done by FA) with explicit and shocking contents or “with serious political bullshit. It’s like a cartoon of a tragedy. A cartoon of a graphic, slightly innocent tragedy. Pornography can be so innocent. [Horkheimer and Adorno already said that the mainstream culture industry itself is rather pornographic with the already mentioned sexualization and the connected suspension of pleasure, editor’s note] Yeah, a lot of pornography looks a little hard on the women – no pun intended – but if I’d make pornography, I’d be a little more sensitive. I don’t like the weird stuff. I’d like to use imagery of women and try to show them in a way I hope they are not offended by. There have been women in my life that were like, ‘Oh, I didn’t really like this graphic.’ And I get it. And then it’s also changing. I don’t think I make graphics like the ones I made for Dylan anymore. They weren’t pornography at all, but they were just so sexual because Dylan was a fucking very sexual being. He walked into a room and half of the women there fucking fell in love with him. I’d see him as some kind of Dionysus god of wine and sex.” Whilst in the eye of the hurricane constituting his pictorial world, this reluctance seems kind of coy, but he seems to be honest about it. Sometimes the explicitness of our world overwhelms him. “It’s funny being a human ‘cause there’s something about it why we like violence. And I do my little tidbits as well, but I don’t think that you can categorize FA graphics as violent, but I don’t know. I did the World Violence board with the guy all blurry holding a gun. Then I saw a dude in downtown LA, he just picked up his board with that graphic and said, ‘I fucking love what you’re doing.’ And I was like, ‘Thanks, man.’ But that graphic is not funny anymore. How many shootings can you not have read about? We live in such a fucking wild fucking time that I’m attracted to a women that just fucking shot people at YouTube. [It happened the day before the interview, editor’s note] I’m not gonna lie. She’s fucking hot!” All the things are out there and they rush unfiltered into the mind of people who are sensitive accordingly. You just gotta bear it. “It’s like I can’t not notice so many things. Look at the things I pick up just walking around on the fucking street and imagine how I am with the fucking news or reading a book. You can’t keep up with the current American government. I don’t believe in any higher power, but I find myself at night kinda, like, worried in the middle of my brain, I hope the CIA is still good, I hope the FBI is still good.” He’d probably never admit this, but we are dealing with a philanthropist who seeks shelter under the cloak of cynicism in order to not get messed up by all the bullshit revolving around us on a daily basis.
He has overtaxed himself already, barely survived his time in New York. “I think I have posttraumatic stress disorder. It’s usually applied to combat veterans, but I think from living in New York and drugs and friends dying and all that crazy shit I have a little bit of that.” Mankind is causing him stress (mainly the part of humanity that’s driving a car). It’s the small things that get him going. Small acts of impoliteness, negligence in everyday life. But he’s also concerned with big themes and tries to get involved. His self-image is that of a product maker, but this doesn’t mean that it’s supposed to be some dull good. “Everything I do sends a message. It depends on whether it’s perceived as stupid or smart, but there’s always something to it.” You at least gotta do something because: “No one is trying to kill the president anymore.“ He’s digging in some other mountain of paper and pulls out two issues of the New York Post and looks at them – “It’s all right in front of you. I almost feel like we are living in an augmented reality, like someone programmed all of this. It’s too stupid because it’s too WWF [World Wrestling Federation, editor’s note] at this point. America, the capital state of everything. It is surreal to see that once again: there’s a person in a high-power position who has never been in a fist fight. You don’t talk like that if you’ve been punched in the face.
It feels as if America is now represented by all the white people of the world.” He bluntly says that he just doesn’t give a shit, but it sounds like a well-trained reflex. You realize that he’s basically contemplating about all of it, worrying about how the world could look like when the next generation will have to take care of it. He talks about children of friends and how much further they are in comparison to back in the days and how their upbringing has changed. Where there used to be a McDonald’s, you find vegetables nowadays. That’s similar to how his world has changed. Where there used to be dark drug-fogged times, he follows a rather planned and drug-free routine nowadays. The obligatory joint, which at times waits in the corner of his mouth for half an hour to be lit, is almost some kind of prop. Otherwise he gets up at seven, grabs some coffee, and works on the things ahead of him. And for the evenings, he developed a rather special creative technique. “It’s kind of expensive, but what I like to do every single night is to go to upscale restaurants and draw and order the most expensive food and sit there for hours and rich people have to look at me. I watch them, talking about the stock market and all of that and I’m sitting there drawing, taking it all in, watching older guys with hot young pussy in their arms and shit. I’m in Beverly Hills in a restaurant I have only known from movies. I like doing it at those places because they play piano music and shit like that. I don’t feel uncomfortable, but I feel so far removed from what I did grew up in. No one’s gonna sit at Denny’s and draw, there’s gonna be speed freaks sitting next to me, asking for a quarter.” Working his way through the White Trash has brought him from one life to another. Not less White Trash, but at least in a suit. He doesn’t seem to fit in, rather collages himself into it like one of his cut-up artworks. And he has his fun being the tack in the ass of the wealthy.
Now, he’s off to Ventura. Not immediately, because the move takes longer than he expected. One night in a hotel room is still ahead of him before he’s finally out of this place. And then? Where does he see himself in ten years? “Hopefully alive. And I need to be doing all of this on different platforms. It’s not just FA, I need it to be a whole system. Basically everything we do is FA World Entertainment. It can be books and films and music. Everything we are already doing, but then take it to different realms. I’m trying to take it to places that people don’t expect. I’m looking at FA World Entertainment as a whole. It doesn’t need to be skateboarding. FA might not be putting it all out, but we are branching out in films and Na-kel is representing acting and all this stuff. The modern world is really cool when it comes to being able to do so much stuff.” The restless wandering between different worlds, the piecing together of seemingly unfitting things, he’s not done with it. And playing with opposites and irreconcilable differences is something that is inherent to him, which again becomes obvious when he adds, “Why would you run your own company? It’s a crazy pain in the ass. But it’s all really worth it when it’s all kick-ass and rock ’n’ roll.”