September 21 . 2017
Aleim
Chad Muska
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C_Chad

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“If You Think It, You Can Manifest it…”
Forced to Re-Invent Himself, The Skateboarding Icon Rolls Out His Street Vibe on Concrete Canvass
Interviewed by Victoria Foster / Photographed by Austin Irving

A look at Chad Muska’s skateboarding videos from the 90’s reveals a kid surfing the uninterrupted momentum of life: bending like a weed, weaving half-circles through busy traffic, catching air and flying over obstacles with arms up like wings, the board a part of his body or spinning between his feet just for kicks— always keeping the wheels rolling, and his eyes on whatever was coming just up ahead.

Muska’s fluid energy and focus carried over into other pursuits. After becoming an icon of skater style in the 1998 skateboarding video, “Shorty’s: Fulfill The Dream”, he brought his signature style to shoe design, releasing many models of shoes with Circa and Supra Footwear. He found another vehicle in music and he produced for hip hop artists such as Afrika Bambaataa, Biz Markie, Guru, Melle Mel, Ice-T, Jeru the Damaja, KRS-One, and Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and U-God. Now he’s found a new outlet inspired by his buddy the graffiti artist Hakula—he’s a self-taught new voice in the New York art scene.

So far Muska has pulled off a solo show in Union Square and sold pieces through group shows and LAB ART, an LA gallery dedicated to street art. He’s more about expression than recognition. “ I don’t even care if I sell it really, I just want to make it. That’s all I really care about. It may sound cliché and bullshit but it’s seriously the truth.”

A gnarly ex-skateboarder entrepreneur with hip-hop flavor makes art? What does that look like?

“I tend to do a lot of repetition.” Muska says, “Repetition with progression, continuously changing the techniques I’m using but with similar, repetitive imagery—sort of locking those images that I use in peoples’ heads to make them more iconic.” Fittingly, he uses a lot of cement. “Cement represents so much of my life, it’s like skateboarding, it’s street, and it’s the walls the graffiti’s put on.”

Muska doesn’t question the unlikely continuum of different passions in his life: they’re all just outlets for irrepressible energy. “I just sort of do stuff. I’m sorta’ obsessive compulsive in every way in my life and with everything that I do.…Art is a release of frustration, of ideas. It’s channeled a hidden energy inside of me that I haven’t felt for a long time—Back in early skateboarding days you just had this rush and this overwhelming desire to just continue to do that thing you were doing. Skateboarding was that for me for so long and now I get that same feeling.”

Once a self-made skating legend, Muska is now a self-taught artist figuring out technique as he goes along. “Skateboarding is just you and your skateboard. Somebody can teach you things and tell you how to do things but ultimately you have to just learn it. I applied that to everything I did in life—art, shoe design, clothing design, all these different things.”

The upside of being a man of action is that overthinking things doesn’t slow you down. The secret to his spontaneous skill acquisition and productivity is, in Muska’s words, pretty simple: “If you can think of it in your mind there’s a way to manifest it in reality. Like a trick on a skateboard, or a shoe design or an art piece, it doesn’t matter—it’s all kind of the same process of picking up something, creating it, and making it manifest.”

Most of Muska’s body of work takes the form of real graffiti on actual city streets. He’s been doing it since he was 14. At that age he was caught in Vegas and high-tailed it to California to get out of hundreds of hours of community service. Now 34, his friendship with Hakula and other street artists in New York has turned graffiti into a serious pursuit as an adult—well, an adult who has a great relationship with his inner teen street vandal.

“I’m usually pretty blacked-out wasted when I’m doing it so yeah—catch me if you can! Right place, wrong time or wrong place, right time, it’s the luck of the draw.”

Muska recently did find himself at the wrong place at the wrong time—and with the wrong attitude when you’re being arrested by the LAPD.

As the TMZ report goes, “Muska was arrested for allegedly vandalizing two buildings in Hollywood — and repeatedly dropped the “N” word on the security guards who nabbed him.” He was spray painting his name on the wall of a Coffee Bean, and while the security guards who caught him were waiting for the LAPD officers to arrive Muska demanded that they let him go, and called them “ni**as” several times before being booked for felony vandalism. A wipe-out like this can be a reminder that the cement is as cold and hard as it is free.

If Muska actually were an unknown street artist, this incident might have blown over in the moment. But the reality is that he’s a famous white guy. An onlooker videotaped the whole exchange and it ended up on the internet. To make it worse, after the incident a rep for Element Skateboards, Muska’s sponsor since 2006, attempted damage control with the argument that “Chad used an “a” and not an “er” … at the end of the racial epithet,” which seemed to miss the point.

Muska later issued his own sincere public apology.

He readily admits that “It was a stupid and embarrassing moment in my life.” The context of the situation was that he had just returned from a trip to Europe, “I was in Berlin, Copenhagan and Amsterdam and all these places where I was freely painting like a madman and it was widely accepted culturally. I think it was a lash out against coming back to LA and conforming to rules. So I was on a hot one from Europe still, and I went big and then there were the cops…and the consequences.”

“Honestly I don’t know what I was thinkin’. I know I was in a pretty crazy state of, like, artist mania. I don’t know how to explain it, but coming from Berlin where I was painting at nightclubs and on the streets all night long I think I felt invincible at the time.” When it hits right, free unexamined expression liberates people—many artists besides Muska have proven this. When it doesn’t, it can become a weight that drags them down.

As to what it was like watching that video of himself berating the security guards he says “Oh it was horrible! Nobody wants to see even a picture of themselves wasted at night with their friends let alone a video where you look like a complete jackass and you know that however many people got to witness it and formulate an opinion of me based on that video –it’s just horrible. If anyone knows me they’d know that’s not me in that video. That was a complete blacked-out version of me. It happens to me when I drink–I like, turn into a maniac. And that’s kind of just part of who I am. But at the same time that’s not me. I was on a crazy, crazy party mission that night and it happened to get caught on camera because I forgot I was in LA even at that moment. It is what it is.”

“I’m the most unracist person in the world. I’m a little hood, I’m a little ghetto. And I admit it. In the video I wanted to apologize if I upset anyone with that because that’s the least of my intentions and just because something is culturally accepted in my group of friends doesn’t mean that it is on a worldwide basis. You know, seeing yourself saying some shit on video—it kind of made me rethink things a little bit to about the language I used. I’ve learned a lesson from it. I’m moving on and if I’ve made enemies from it so be it. What else can I do but keep living my life.”

The arrest isn’t the only thing he’s moving on from. Before the incident, Muska and his longtime girlfriend Vanessa Traina ended their relationship. As difficult as both of these events have been, that unbroken momentum that Muska mastered as a teen on a skateboard continues to carry him forward. “I broke up with my girlfriend. And that’s part of life too. Life goes on and you gotta keep moving ahead, you know, and you gotta keep goin’, the world keeps spinnin’ with or without you and it’s Ok to keep goin’ with it—or you’re gonna get left behind!”

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