The Art and Artifacts of Sticky Shaw

The first time we texted, Sticky Shaw was driving to Mammoth. The second time, he was there, on the mountain, taking a powder break and ready to talk. I didn’t know his real name (it might be Sticky Shaw after all) or much about him, I just found his work—a Berlin Fox stenciled into the sidewalk by Crab Cooker—and emailed him, curious to know more.

“You’re not the police, are you?” The Newport Beach native, who now creates from his home base in Santa Monica, asked when I called.

“No, just a writer.”

“Cool.”

There’s street art that’s pretentious and neat, paid for by some municipality hoping to seem edgy and community bound, then there’s street art like Sticky Shaw’s variety. His art is like a neo-iconoclastic genre that skirts the conventional, punk rock and unhinged from predictability, messy and free.

Sticky Shaw Newport BeachWhen did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?

Growing up, I had learning disabilities. I took special ed classes. Art was an escape and my teachers knew, I guess, I was kind of good at it so they gave me free range. When I would do projects they said, “Do whatever you want to do.” I had extra privileges and sometimes I didn’t like the projects, so we’d butt heads and I’d get a C and I would say, “That project wasn’t fun.” I’m not good at self-portraits. I barely do any people in my art and if I do it’s the Sex Pistols.

Why no people?

Animals are nicer.

Sticky Shaw Newport Beach

Nicer than people?

I don’t like people. Animals are way cooler and prettier. They’re just doing their own thing. People have agendas.

That’s part of your aesthetic then, stenciling animals?

Every art has been done before. I’m not the first person to color or stencil with collage work but I’ve been told my art is organized chaos.

Do you have any strong influences? Musicians, artists, surfers whose work inspires your own?

I get influenced a lot by music and street art. When I travel, I’m influenced by that, too. In Berlin I was influenced by the art there … Brooklyn, too. I got to go on a four-month tour with Crystal Castles and I saw a lot of street art all over Europe. It’s about dissecting a little bit and trying to make it your own. You can learn from everybody but you have to try to put your stamp on it.

Do you think you’ve been influenced by a childhood spent in Newport Beach?

I was really lucky because Newport Beach is the birth place of Volcom clothing. My brothers and sisters went to school with some of the founding members at Newport Harbor High School. In the early days it was a pretty punk rock company influenced by the Sex Pistols and Pearl Jam. As a little kid, I was like, “Wow what is this a punk rock snowboard company?” I ended up working for them a little bit in high school, helping out in raw materials, sending out samples and organizing stuff. They would always give me the samples at the end of the day and I’d wear them to school at Newport Harbor High School and everyone would ask, “Where did you get that?”

Did you wind up working for them after you graduated?

Yeah, I started working in the marketing department at Volcom as a freelancer and I also worked with Vonn Zipper [VZ]. VZ was the first one to contract me to do some custom art work, hand painting on snowboard goggles and sunglasses. It happened because was always coloring on everything. I colored on my goggles and GT, the founder of Vonn Zipper, said, “Color on mine, too.” So I did and ended up in a meeting with his designers and hand-painted over 3,000 goggles with paint pens and spray paint and I did 400 pairs of sunglasses. Growing up, I also worked at Surfside Sports in Newport Beach, the coolest shop in O.C. besides Frog House. I’m highly influenced by surf culture.

I don’t like people. Animals are way cooler and prettier. They’re just doing their own thing. People have agendas.

Do you surf?

I surf where the girlfriend waves are. It’s safer and the girls are nicer.

But you snowboard?

Yes, I do snowboard and I’ve broken a lot of bones. I’m a punk-rock snowboarder. I don’t call it a sport; I have fun with it. My snowboarding style is influenced by other snowboarders. My friend Danny Kass is an Olympic snowboarder and my other friend Jamie Lynn, he’s an artist and one of my influences.

What projects are you working on right now?

I take a lot of naps.

Are you still designing snowboard gear?

Art is so random for me. I’m doing some work for Lib Tech in Seattle—the greenest snowboard company out there. I got to do five boards with them and they were like, punk rock snowboards. I’ve been really lucky, things just kind of fall into my lap. Right now I’m working on a top secret project. I’m developing a cartoon but I can’t talk too much about it. I’m also doing some custom watches for Vestal, a company in Costa Mesa. They’re giving me the watch faces and I’m taking a razor blade and scratching my characters into the watch face. I’m probably going to only do 20 of them.

Every art has been done before.

How do you look at a space and know what you want to put there? How do you pick out the best spots for your street art?

You’re going to know my secret but it’s mostly wherever I park. I always have my stencils in my car. Sometimes I get down and do bigger stuff. I’ve spray painted vampire snails and stencils all over Berlin and I’ve done some in different states in the U.S., a few in Barcelona. In the long run, street art does give you some street cred but I really don’t like being arrested.

It doesn’t seem to fit with your fun vibe. What’s the street art scene like in Newport Beach?

Newport is more of a sticker place, which goes with the surf culture. I have my stickers and my love bats and love spiders all around Newport. I have stickers on the door at Laventina’s and some are at my favorite bar, Cassidy’s.

Love their burgers. Do you have a lot of your art at Cassidy’s?

Caleb the bartender is super cool and I have a love bat on the opposite side of the door and a stencil and some stickers there. It’s the best bar on the Peninsula. You can get drunk there for $20.

A philosophy to live by. Speaking of, do you have your own life philosophy?

I’d say, look down. Sometimes you don’t know what’s down there.