Editor’s Note: We are one day from Halloween. What a great opportunity to match two of my favorite things:
Enjoy this rather unique article and have a Happy Halloween!
When I was a child, I saw magicians vanish candles on TV with a handkerchief. I would grab my mother’s candle and try sliding it down my sleeve, drop it on the ground, or any method I could think of to duplicate the effect. I had this innocent belief that I could do anything. After many poor attempts to create something that actually looked magical, I purchased the effect, only to find that they used a trick candle. I felt cheated. But more importantly, I felt I was losing the belief that I could create my own magic!
Around the same time, I would go out skateboarding and people would talk about a mythical trick called the ollie impossible. As a magician, it fascinated me, this was before the internet, so there was no way to look it up and validate that it was humanly possible. No one I knew could actually do it, but they could describe it with enough detail so I could start trying to accomplish the impossible. I failed so many times, my ankles bruised to hell, until one day I landed it. It was the best feeling in my life. That was the day I discovered what magic really was –through a skateboard!
Magicians disempower their potential through trickery, while skaters have limitless potential and will their desire into being, which is real magic.
The art of magic is about using metaphor and moments of awe to plant seeds in your audience’s mind, to expand consciousness. But magic could grow if magicians expand their consciousness too – it is a transformative art, and it starts with the self. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m an artist and my medium is magic.
You can purchase Joe’s book here.
The passions I have combined to create art are animation, skateboarding and magic. The tools are the brush and pen, which conjure images on the page or screen; the skateboard, which places you in the moment, in the flow; and magic, which is my way of life.
I studied animation at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I was the kind of kid who would stay up all night setting up dominoes for those few quick seconds of magical motion. I sort of see myself as an animator; finding hidden life inspires me. Animation is a huge theme in my work. I don’t just think of it as hand drawn cartoons. Animation is also puppetry; it is storytelling that moves and inspires you. I want my audience to “feel animated” when my magic show is over. Skateboards are interesting because although you manipulate them, they also animate you!
Drawing has an energy and magic to it too. When you draw, the way your pencil moves across a page feels very similar to skateboarding. It skates across the page, leaving marks, while you lose yourself in it and act on feeling. When you do a wall ride on a skateboard, it leaves marks that are pure raw energy. As an animator, you draw fast and rough to produce motion. I have always seen a skateboard as being similar to a paint brush because it’s a simple tool of artistic expression.
I have always thought artists were the closest thing to real magicians. Francis Bacon was like a ghostbuster; he would put his canvas out like a trap, trying to capture a moment of truth. Bacon was trying to paint a wave, so hethrew a bucket of water at the canvas to get as close as he could to a real one. He incorporated dust from his studio floor into the wool sweaters he painted. Ralph Bakshi, the wizard of animation, is the most real person I know on the planet. In his film Wizards, the character Avatar says the spell, “Krenkel Morrow Frazetta.” It might
come across as some kind of mumbo jumbo, but each word is the last name of one of his favorite artists. Most magicians are not conscious of the meaning of their spells. Abracadabra actually means, “It is created as it is spoken.” Bakshi is a real wizard, and I have always admired people who are real magicians. Skaters have a similar authenticity to what they do. Magicians like Jeff McBride have it. Skaters like Rodney Mullen have it.
Skateboarding has always seemed like a performance that we undersold. In old skate videos, bystanders would stop on the street and watch skaters. As a skater, you could put down your hat and busk and make money street skating. Skateboarders could elevate the art by adding new flourishes to their tricks to keep them mysterious. When Rodney Mullen invented the [ollie] kickflip, it was called a “magic flip” because people didn’t understand how it was done. Now that we know, it has become a stunt. How cool would it be to have skateboard tricks that were kept a secret, tricks that were mysterious? This is why I wrote The Magic of Skateboarding. If we can make regular sized skateboards look like they float without using any gimmicks, or vanish fingerboards, we might be able to fill a void and connect skateboarding with fingerboarding in a magical way! Skateboarders can now take the stage, not just in the skate demo sense with headphones on while staring at the ground, but as conscious performers.
The fingerboard has so much potential to grow right now. I see it gaining respect. Just imagine DJs having them with LED lights, becoming a new prop in juggling culture, magicians using them with sleight of hand, and skaters combining the micro and macrocosm skateboarding with your hand down, trailing a smaller fingerboard behind you. I’m working on painting with fingerboards like palette knives, using skateboards that have actual marks from board slides as a canvas. The marks left by the fingerboards mimic those left by real skate moves, true to the art. The fingerboard has so much room to grow. Rodney Mullen talks about filling in voids, and I think combing small and large skateboards could make everything new again. In my promo video, I transform a fingerboard into a large skateboard and jump on to ride it away. If these tricks are not revealed to the masses, but instead are passed down between skaters, we could add mystery and magic to skateboarding – fingerboards could progress.
Now I skateboard on stage to start my magic show and screen animated shorts I made between my magic tricks. I only perform in galleries, museums or private parties where you can host me as a guest artist to perform in your own home. I’m open to skate venues and giving artist talks. I don’t use gimmicks in my magic; I might just grab a silk handkerchief and see how many tricks I can flow out of it just like I’m skating. I tell stories as I do tricks with fingerboards, and I recently discovered how to make an object float in the air with no gimmicks. It’s a very pure levitation – no strings, no lies, just a search for real magic. Skateboarding taught me this.