Having a dull moment hanging out with Fos is a difficult task. Whatever the 41-year-old English artist and mastermind behind Heroin Skateboards is into at the moment tends to become awesome by osmosis – even if one never really plans beforehand to, all in the same day, sommelier on ice cream, ride in a 1974 Mad-Maxified Camaro, shoot rare guns, skateboard, see slimy Mickey Mouses being disfigured on paper, nor attend Fos’s weekly skate nerd of a radio show on pirate radio Kchung, hidden on the second floor of a Chinatown building.
Well, old friends, I did it all. And survived. Incidentally, this journey into an eclectic abyss also taught me how Nick Cave got educated to gun culture, and where Fos’s obsession with patched jeans comes from – all grade A informations. With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins blaring in the background of his Highland Park office, here are some pieces to help reconstitute the random human puzzle known as Mark Foster.
FOS & DRAWING
“I started drawing when I was maybe four years old. I have sketch books when I was a kid that my mom kept, and it’s drawings of like the Incredible Hulk vs. Darth Vader fighting. It’s just something I’ve always, always done, you know what I mean.
I didn’t really like school very much, I didn’t like any of the subjects and I wasn’t really good at anything apart from drawing, so I was trying to figure out what to do and what direction to go. My dad, of course, was like, “Don’t do art, don’t go to art school.” He came from an artistic background, he worked for a paint company and he was doing sort of interior design stuff. He saw that the art industry was a really difficult one to get into, so he thought I should do something else, that I should be an electrician or a plumber if I wanted to make money – but it wasn’t me, it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
So I ignored him, and went to art school and I tried to figure out if I wanted to do fine art or illustration, and I ended up in the design course in London, at Goldsmith’s – a big art college in London. I ended up on that. It is funny, because it has little to do with what I do now, which is more illustration. However, years later, my dad said it was good that I did my own thing and went my own way and didn’t listen to him. He said he was proud of me for doing what I did.
He always said “You’ll never make a living drawing monsters,” and we laughed about it years later that I do exactly that.
“SEEING A SKATEBOARD MAGAZINE IS WHAT GOT ME INTERESTED IN CARRYING ON DRAWING.”
At the time, I had been skating since I was 14. I suppose, seeing a skateboard magazine is what got me interested in carrying on drawing, really. The art of Jim Phillips... I could relate to his stuff more than I could relate to Picasso or what people was telling me was greater art at school, you know?
Also, I really liked comic books growing up, comic art. I used to go to Manchester every Saturday morning and the first thing I’d do is go to the comic store and then go to the skate shop and go skate all day long. That was the two things I was passionate about. Which is funny ’cause they both almost seem very popular nowadays. When I was into them it was kind of a nerd thing to do. I was a complete nerd growing up. I liked my own things, which were totally nerdy, and all the other kids were on football [soccer] and going out drinking and stuff, and I was never into that. I never really cared what anybody else thought. That’s probably what got me here.”
FOS & SKATEBOARDING
“I always wanted a skateboard and my mom always said no. Then Back to the Future came out: Every single kid on our block had a skateboard. She couldn’t say no anymore. It was an explosion. Everyone all of a sudden was skateboarding. I bought a £30 piece of crap board from the sports shop – a Variflex Zig Zag, from Cocker’s in Burnley.
It took me a year to scrounge money together and I ended up buying a G&S Bill Tocco – the whole thing, Venture trucks. I had a birthday, and some money, so I found a skate shop in the town we were in holiday in, looking in the advert section in the newspaper. I never stopped since. Ever. I’d be like on my own in Blackpool at college, riding a piece of crap Acme board with two different sized Standard trucks but I still skated.
FOS & HEROIN
“The first person I did graphics for was Ed Templeton, in 1997. I worked in English distributor’s Slam City Skates’ warehouse and we distributed Toy Machine, Zero. You see that that thing I’m showing right now? That was what I sent to Ed. A black-and-white outline drawing. And he faxed those actually, back to the warehouse, asking me to get in touch. He sent me his number.
I really liked Antihero a lot, and Scarecrow, and Spitfire, so I used to send stuff to them – a lot. I guess it didn’t fit what they were trying to do at the time or whatever. So I ended up sending it to Toy Machine, and they were into it… Ed faxed those, I called him, I could not believe it, ‘I have to call Ed Templeton when I get home. That. Is. So. Crazy.’ It paid I think $350, which seemed like a fortune to me. And it was for something that I loved doing, it didn’t even seem like work. I pitched a couple more things to Ed, but nothing really happened with that. So I thought, ‘I just wanna start my own skateboard company.’
“I REALIZED HOW ADDICTED TO SKATEBOARDING I WAS. IT WAS AS SIMPLE AS THAT…”
I started Heroin in 1998. I remember spraying boards in my backyard because we couldn’t afford to get full screens printed. Getting a bunch of Shorty’s boards from work and spraying over them and making them into Heroin boards and selling them. That’s how we started.
How it came about was that I was in hospital with a broken wrist. On the way there, looking out of the ambulance window for skate spots, I realized how addicted to skateboarding I was. It’s as simple as that – addiction to skateboarding, and it’s a name that you always remember. To some people it can appear that I’m glamorizing drugs or something but it’s quite the opposite: I hate them, I think they’re worthless. I never had time for them at all. I always wanted to focus on more positive things, like skateboarding and art. We made a shirt that says ‘Fuck Drugs Let’s Skate’ that sums up my take on drugs.”
FOS & PANTS
“The patched pants started from going to Osaka and hanging out with my friends The Osaka Daggers. I went there for the first time in 2000, and then every year for 12 years after that. I would go and stay with Chopper for a month, and learn to speak Japanese. Chopper is basically the king of Osaka, he started the Osaka Daggers crew.
Anyway, I was just this kid in London trying to figure things out, and I started going to Japan and hanging out with them a lot, and they just didn’t give a fuck! They were into old punk stuff and I was as well, and I looked down, but I didn’t dress accordingly. I was kind wearing the same stuff as everyone else, kinda clean and everything. I was like, ‘Fuck this!’
I had this one pair of jeans I loved and wore all the time, so I started to fix them up. Chopper is amazing, he’s still one of my favorite skaters, and he’s got pants made totally out of patches. He was a real influence for the Daggers, and they got influenced by the punk-rock scene in England in the 1980s. So it sort of came back around.
I find the patches on my travels: Incredible Hulk, some fabrics from Japan, the Dropkicks Murphy one was from their show, Immortal, Morrissey, that’s good one. Oh, and that BAKU is probably my favorite because it was custom-made. My friend bootlegged it in the UK, and I went to Canada and the BAKU (Barrier Kult) guys were like, “Where did you get that? That’s sick!” Starbucks, too. I got it of a cap I bought in a thrift store. I love Starbucks and I’ll tell you why: It changed people’s perspective on coffee in England. I was into coffee since I was 9 years old. And I used to go skateboarding, being 14 in Manchester trying to get a cup of coffee – it was difficult! Because coffee in England was a polystyrene cup with a spoon of instant coffee in. When Starbucks came in, people had to change their game. We are not going this afternoon, but, you know... thanks for doing that, Starbucks!”
FOS & GUNS
“The first time I ever shot a gun was in 2002, I think, I was staying with my friend Mirko Mangum, and his friend had guns and they wanted to go shoot and I was super down. It was almost a bad experience because it was a 45 – it was real heavy 45 – and it was really loud. It was almost overwhelming. After that I didn’t shoot for a while, until I moved over here in 2010. Me and Justin Reagan started going a lot more to the gun range. I’m friends with everybody at the gun club now. They give me free ammo and everything… I have my own gun now: I have a Beretta 92 FS – it’s my favorite gun because it’s weighty enough. A lot of 9mm now, glocks and such, half of the things on it are carbon fiber so it’s super light, which is rad if you have to carry it around all day, but for me, accuracy with this? Every time! It doesn’t even move when you shoot. Sturdy.
…It’s all fun, really. I really wanted to demystify guns, that’s it.”
FOS & NICK CAVE
“I’m always into Screamin’ Jay, Nick Cave and Tom Waits. I always find myself going back to them. I grew up being a little punk rock and metal kid, I started listening to Iron Maiden and Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat. I like a lot of stuff, and it’s really making skateboard videos that made me have to be sort of open-minded to what I listened to.
So one day, Andrew Reynolds wanted a Nick Cave board for his pro model. I ended up reaching out to him, I was actually at art school with a bunch of people who make his movies, they made his 20,000 Days on Earth film. So I reached out to them, ‘What’s up, you remember me?’
They put me in touch with Nick, and he was super into it, we started emailing and meeting. We got the board sorted, and I proposed for him to bring his kids to Baker, because his kids skate. They turned up at Baker, we showed them around, and I got to get them skate The Berrics.”
FOS & RADIO
“Altamont paid for me to come over to the US and got me a work visa. Literally right when I came in 2010, they told me they wanted to do an Altamont radio show. I thought this was a rad idea. But they were like, ‘Yeah... but we want you to be the guy. The host.” I had no interest in doing radio, I didn’t know how to do it, it was all Altamont, Patrick O’Dell, and these guys, wanting me to do it because I had an accent. So I gave it a go, why not.
We did three podcasts with Randy from No Age at his recording studio. By then, the legal department at Sole Tech said, ‘You can’t do this. You are uploading music, you don’t have the rights to put any of this music out.’ We had to shut it down with Altamont. But we were really into doing it, so we ended up finding this pirate radio, KCHUNG, in Chinatown. We’ve been doing it there since. It’s become, like, sort of a weekly habit.
I have no plans, no idea what I’m gonna ask people, people are on the show and I don’t even do any research about them or anything beforehand. Because that way, the conversation seems more natural. There’s always stuff that’s gone wrong but it never phases me.”
Fos is currently showing/selling some of his art at the “Agents Provocateurs” art show @ Subliminal Projects : 1331 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026. T: (213) 213-0078. Open Wed-Sat. 2 PM – 6 PM