Vernon Courtlandt Johnson 's Interview - Art of Skateboarding

May 19, 2011 by Matt DeAngelis

VC Johnson is the genius behind the graphics that propelled Powell·Peralta into the stratosphere. His iconic images have inspired countless others to not only draw, but in some cases, to begin skating in the first place.
An enigmatic figure, he disappeared off of the radar for almost 20 years until starting to work with Pocket Pistols a few years ago, and now back in his rightful place, Powell·Peralta. 

MD: So how did skateboard graphics fit into a journey of self exploration?
VCJ: They answered to the needs of the soul that chose the body. The soul that inherited, that grabbed the baton in my early 30s had a very different mandate and how it affected the life is fascinating. I can see this in other souls who’ve come to profound turning points in their lives and I’ve shared notes with those souls who have experienced a transformation at the core of being.
  I come back to the company interested in a different order and what I see going on now is literally like another lifetime with completely different values.

MD: So this is a new life?
VCJ: This feels like a very different…. a new life. All the old values have changed. New values don’t represent the old values.
MD: Before I go into the past, I’d like to maybe deal with the now. What made you decide to come back to Powell Peralta and do graphics again?
VCJ: Public mandate.

MD: The demand?
VCJ: I felt that George Powell and a lot of other people were calling me to function in some way in their lives and upon considering their sincere requests and gestures I said "there’s nothing in my personal life that measures up to a public mandate like this". I’ve been living a very private life playing the second to my wife, playing background to my wife who’s in the midst of her career …and very private life.
  But George has been very sincere and open with me in his invitation to participate in a corporation …I see the company now is a massive end. Before I used to see it as people. PERSONALITIES! Differences! Now I see it as a significant massive end to be involved with.

MD: You did do some graphics with Pocket Pistols...
VCJ: I did.

MD: How was that?
VCJ: It was a karmic thing. I felt like I’d known these souls before and that I needed to pass some time with them and share some things with them. The result was that the company didn’t really get off its feet with my work but I didn’t really care. I had my wife’s blessings to draw and to keep drawing alive on the basis that I work for that company.
  The think-tank here determines how designing goes and the direction that designs go. I was on a very long leash when I was with Pocket Pistols and I was allowed to determine a lot more about the thing before it went to print all by myself without a lot of people’s input. But I like think-tanks a lot and this is a most promising think-tank in my life.

MD: So you appreciate the feedback?
VCJ: Yeah. I’ve had my "ya-yas" in terms of manifesting my personal work. EXPRESSING what I need to express…. And there is not that much that I need to express for myself in black and white anymore. I’ve published written works too and that really satisfies the soul ….that I’ve published my instantaneous intelligence in the mojo filter which is a form of … it gives the practitioner a way of knowing themselves in a very elegant fashion.


MD: So this is old hat for you then between you and me?
VCJ: Not at all! I noticed that you are so much at ease in your psyche that I can see that as a soul you’ve answered certain questions over the time that it’s taken for us to encounter again. But essentially I feel like we’re continuing with the conversation that we left off with.

MD: OK! So continuing along. You could take a look at any skateboard back in the day, and there was a very distinct style that each artist had. It was very easy to pick out one of your graphics. Where do you pick up your style? What has inspired you and helped you to mould and develop your own distinct style?
VCJ: Style is based on how the soul sees. If you give a final comprehensive pencil drawing to a bunch of different artists, they’ll all come up with a different treatment for that. You say "do a final ink of this idea" and it’s a matter of who the soul is how the drawing comes out cuz he’ll express his values through the drawing and that’ll be conveyed.
  I’m much more interested in substance than style. Styles come and go but if you bank on substance or some kind of truth… some inner truth, then the inner truth about what I’m doing is that I want to inspire other artists.

MD: Are there any artists that inspire you?
VCJ: If my work inspires skateboarders then that’s fine, but I’m not a skateboarder. I just know that there’s a lot of artists out there that really enjoy black and white drawing. The binary system of black and white. To all those out there that are involved with the true value of black and the true value of white I say "I wish you all the highest fulfillment and a pleasant midnight groove" cuz it’s a big reason why electric lighting was invented… It was for people to stay up late at night and let something blossom before their eyes.

MD: So does colour then detract from the final image for you? Do you prefer things be black and white?
VCJ: You still have a burger without the special sauce. The bun and the burger are the essential parts. The special sauce doesn’t really matter. Things get re-printed over and over with different special sauces but the black and white work is something that is seen by other artists as worthy of study.

MD: With Mike Vallely he had the elephant graphic, but before that was the intention to use the cockroach graphic. Were you disappointed at all that he rejected it?
VCJ: Not at all. Not at all. I was near the end of a phase of expression at that point in my life and the company allowed me to work with scratch board for his idea. I really liked the effects I got out of that design.

MD: The insect or the elephant?
VCJ: Both of them. I was so glad to have access to scratch board. The ability to work on a white surface adding AND subtracting ink from that white surface.

MD: Is that still your preferred medium?
VCJ: Even if I do an ink drawing I’ll still work on scratch board because you don’t have to use white out then. White-out over time will yellow.

MD: What are you working on right now?
VCJ: It’s on the board [behind us]. It’s a company logo dragon. We were joking the other day in design group when I said "We’re a dragon factory aren’t we?" Next year is the year of the dragon or something? And what is a dragon? It is a symbol of something that cannot be conquered.
  Dragons don’t exist in such a way that a human can engage them directly. A hurricane is something that you are powerless to deal with. An earthquake; we are powerless to deal with. Lightning and tornadoes… we’re absolutely powerless to deal with them. So they represent immutable power in a way that fascinates humans.
  But also the dragon symbolizes the individual soul and the way it blazes it’s way absolutely through every life and how every soul has to live a COMPLETE series of lives and no soul gets out of the process of the complete series of lives towards graduation. It eventually graduates. The soul never dies. So the dragon is a beautiful symbol of a soul that dies a thousand times before it graduates.

MD: So that’s a good reflection of what the appeal of that kind of imagery would have for you to be working on. When you talk about the inner person, do you think that it’s a concrete way of saying that that’s where the skeleton and skull imagery comes from… that it’s a reflection of what’s on the inside?
VCJ: Without bones we’d all be bags of jelly and there are life forms that don’t have bones and it’s a good life for them but… humans and cetaceans, or dolphins and whales, have large skulls and large brains and individual souls appointed to them. Cetaceans use reason. We use reason. They have culture like we have culture they have language like ours but they don’t have hands.
  The planet was all set up as a campus so that 2 large brained individually ensouled beings could learn a series of lessons. The skull of the cetacean or the human skull both represent large brained ensouled creatures who are at this point in history are about to start talking to each other. There’ll be an electronic interface invented so that the dolphins can talk with us within our hearing range. We’ll invent it and they will begin to be understood for the first time.

MD: Whether they chose to speak to us though is another issue...
VCJ: Oh they will. They know that we’ve ceased hunting whales. 60 years in Santa Barbara and only in the last 10 years have I even seen them. There’s a large incidence of whale and cetacean sightings right off our beaches. My wife swims with them everyday here in Santa Barbara and I’ve grown up not seeing them AT ALL!
  So the humans and the cetaceans are on the cusp of a meeting and communication… and it’s absolutely fascinating.

MD: Where did the inspiration come for the caveman "future primitive" drawings come from?
VCJ: Future primitive is… we all dream of what it would be like to live a simple life. We dream of it… it can be actualized but it’s tough. You can make an island of yourself as a man but you don’t learn as much as when you engage other humans. If you live a life of solitude you’ll learn less than if you decided to mix it up.
  Court Johnson was always running away from intimacy. *I* who have inherited this estate of his am FASCINATED with intimacy and what we’re here for…which is to learn. Court Johnson was avoiding it. Vernon C Johnson here is directly engaging with other souls and intimacy.

MD: So it’s interesting. The creative process would be very different cuz now with that new emphasis on intimacy and working with others, the idea of a design review would probably be MUCH more appealing than in the past where you didn’t want to work with others, wanted to work in isolation. Or am I making an assumption there?
VCJ: I’m not saying a life of solitude is invalid but at this point in THIS life I feel called to live on HWY 101 close to that 101 that is being travelled on by very interesting human beings that are coming to California to enjoy the fringe of technology, the fringe of therapies, the fringe of arts, space travel, of …. 175 Nobel prizes have settled to live in California for some reason. The West coast is submerged in a state of mind. It’s inundated with an ocean of intelligence that has come to Santa Barbara.

MD: Where would you like to see your work go in the future?
VCJ: Towards… let’s see… towards enjoyment of expression everywhere.

MD: And what would you like to express?
VCJ: That the world is a safe place. That if it’s not a dance is a dead duck. The lack of a soul is lethal. But that the world is a safe place. The cold war is over. The nuclear race is being held in check. We will master nuclear power. The Russians are our friends now. The Chinese like us. The Germans like us. The Japanese like us. There is a lot of communication going on . The corporations are seeing that people around the world have iPhones. This is the beginning of a whole new age on Earth. It’s not the beginning of the end.

MD: Is there anything you’d like to wrap up with and just have people know about you?
VCJ: That I’ve learned to deal with information sickness and that I know what’s mine and what’s not mine and I’ve learned to ignore stuff that’s completely irrelevant to my life. The information that is not relevant. IF the sun burns up in 5 billion years… that information is not at all relevant to a human being. You know? If an asteroid is headed our way, it’s not relevant at all to human life. There’s going to be a bigger earth quake. It’s taken for granted. We live in California! So what?! You know when all the big ones hits… all this chicken little stuff going on! I’ve conquered information sickness. I know what’s relevant and not relevant and I would want everyone on Earth to take a deep breath and say "the cold war is over. We will master nuclear power. Being human is good."

MD: Thank you for talking to me! It’s been a real pleasure!
VCJ: Well… you’re a soul who doesn’t really use this [points at iphone] but for formality sake. An old soul like you? A 3rd level old soul. A warriors soul.

MD: How many levels are there?
VCJ: Seven to the old soul. You’re not an infant soul. A baby soul. Those lives are behind you. You’re an old soul now.

MD: Where are you at now?
VCJ: You can call me an old soul. My life is very much like the old soul. I appreciate how the mature souls like everything just so. But old souls haven’t conquered an age like yours. I see a lot of souls of your age and your ilk on TV right now. In government. In the military. In teaching. In these prominent fields that I get to see examples of on TV and I’m really glad that 3rd level old souls are taking over this country. This is a young soul nation heavily industrialized but I see souls like you coming into prominence. I look and say "Ah YES!" You know like detectives?
  3rd level old slave souls can be incredible memories. You’re a warrior soul. I thought you were a slave soul at first but warrior souls love all kinds of challenges and a soul like you can be seen in any field. Join the avant guard pushing the envelope in any field. Enterprising! You are designed to be enterprising in this life.

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