When Tom offered me the opportunity to put some questions together for Mark Foster (aka Fos) I was pretty excited to say the least. Well, to say I was excited was a bit of an understatement – I was fully stoked. I’ve ridden a skateboard on and off for the past 12 years and Heroin skateboards were one of the first brands I remember seeing around as a kid. For any real skater they have become as much of a staple as Girl or Alien Workshop and their graphics have always caught my eye with their outlandish characters and exaggerated features.
Fos is a true skaters skater – he’s in it for the love of it – and it’s reflected in his work. It always frustrates me when people praise big business for pushing skateboarding forward with the money they plough into skateboarding through sponsorship. It’s people like Fos that lie at the real heart of skateboarding and will continue to be there long after corporate sponsorship has lost interest.
As Fos now resides in LA, we conducted the interview via e-mail and it was a pleasure for me to read Fos’s responses to my questions. I would have loved to sit down with him so I could have asked him to elaborate on a few points and maybe sometime in the future I will have the opportunity. For now though, what follows is a brief insight into one of skateboardings true unsung heroes.
Hey Fos, How’s it going?
All good, super busy with Video Nasty stuff right now.
Are you living in LA permanently right now?
Yep, moved here a year and a half ago.
How is it living out there?
Glorious, sunny every day so you can always skate and you can shoot guns and drive old cars.
For those who don’t know could you maybe give a little introduction to who you are, how you started skating, and how Heroin came about?
When I was about 13 I opened the page of a skateboard magazine and that was it, I was obsessed since then. I always skated and loved it, and then after I did a design degree at university i started working at Slam City Skates warehouse and got to learn a bit about the industry. I started by unloading boxes of shoes off a lorry, then packed boxes, and then ended up as the sales manager somehow, but somewhere along the line I wanted to start my own thing that represented my vision of skateboarding.
I still remember being a kid and going to the shop with my mum to buy my first deck. This was when skateboarding still had that really raw almost intimidating feel about it, certainly to a a little kid going into a skate shop for the first time. I remember seeing the Heroin ‘good shit’ graphic. Being young and probably not really understanding the concept of irony I definitely found it quite shocking. Could you maybe talk us through why you decided to use the name Heroin and has it ever led to any misinterpretations?
Oh yeah, well I was originally going to start a company with three friends and when they heard what I wanted to call it they bailed, which was a good thing in the end, because I get to run it exactly how I like. The point you made is exactly why Heroin exists. You SHOULD be scared to go into the skate shop with your parents, its a right of passage that you go in there with your mates. The point is, of course it’s ironic because I’m straight edge, and it’s memorable, and shocking the first time you hear it. It’s not gonna be a case of ‘What was the name of that company again??” It’s called Heroin, you’ll remember that.
So, I know Landscape started with the intention of finding a more suitable home for Snowy. Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about that and how you try to differentiate between the two both in terms of aesthetic and who rides for which team?
Heroin was always my vision of skateboarding, i basically got to sponsor my favorite skaters, when i first met Snowy he was a grubby kid from Lancaster who rode an Anti Hero board, as he grew up so did his influences, he was into the cleaner aesthetic like Girl and Alien I guess and we were getting grimier, So it was a case of either losing him to Cliche or Blueprint, or starting a new thing with him involved. There were some other rad skaters who we wanted to get together too, and they ended up leaving their sponsors and starting Landscape with me. Although for a year at Slam it was called Organic, but when the owners didn’t want to cut me in for a decent share of the company, I left and re-started the brand as Landscape.
It’s not even that hard to really see who fits what. Heroin is grimy and creative and Landscape is more classic design based I’d say, a cleaner feel. It’s pretty obvious which riders fit which company.
You’re also the art director for Altamont right? How did that come about and how much time does it take up?
Yeah, I’ve been involved with that right from the start, I drew all the logo’s and did the ads for the first few years. When we started it took up loads of time, but I’m less involved than I used to be nowadays, so I usually just go down there one day a week or so.
What’s a standard day like for you?
Wake up around 9 or 10, check emails deal with everything that needs sorting out, if I’m on a deadline for Heroin or something then get down to that and draw loads. If things are mellow maybe try and get out and skate. Been really hectic at the moment because we’re trying to make Video Nasty on top of a Heroin graphics deadline, so long days drawing stuff up, skipping meals, going to bed at 4.00 and waking up at 9.00
Do you still get chance to just go out and skate with your mates?
Yeah, when I can. It’s like anything, when you’re 17 you don’t have a care in the world and you just wanna skate, when you get older you worry about stuff and have to pay bills and support yourself. So all those things that you kinda worry about weigh you down. You’re 17 and all you really have to worry about is learning that new trick you wanna do. I still get out for sure though, I just filmed a short part for Video Nasty.
Where’s your favourite place to skate?
Stockwell is amazing. That park in Brixton South London. I loved that place. I think that will always be my favorite park
I know you used to travel to Japan quite a bit. I feel like Japan’s had a lot of coverage recently and I agree with what Leo Valls said in a recent interview that the Japanese skaters have a lot to show us in terms of exploring skateboarding in new ways, certainly from an artistic point of view. What’s the scene like over there and what inspiration do you take from your time there?
I used to go there every year, I’d stay with the Daggers for months on end, it was amazing. Japan is a truly incredible place. You have great skateboarding coming out of there, people are more inspired to do their own thing now, like Gou Miyagi, rather than trying to copy U.S. skateboarding. I think it’s great.
The scene there is very similar to the UK I find, it’s a good strong scene made up of a few key good people that are pushing it.
So let’s talk about art for a bit. Who do you take inspiration from as an artist?
Everything, Tom Waits, Black Coffee, David Lynch, the Gorilla Biscuits, Basquiat, Slayer, Black Flag, Nick Cave, Beat Takeshi, Rancid, Japanese Horror films, WU LYF, Morrissey, Edward Hopper, John Cardiel, Andy Roy, Howard Cooke, Crass, Quicksand, Withnail and I, Hunter S Thompson, Ralph Steadman, Jack Kirby, Taiyo Matsumoto, Ito Junji, Russ Meyer, Stone Roses, Gwar, Mike Mignola, Jean DeBuffet, Cy Twombly, Mad Max films and so much more.
It’s everything that you see and hear that visually stimulates you. All of that stuff above is in my work in some way.
Do you have a particular board or piece that you’re particularly proud of?
I am stoked that I did Antwuan Dixons Black Jesus board for Deathwish. But I get hyped on Howard Cooke boards, cos he’s been my favorite skater for a long time.
What about other than your own work, do you have a favourite deck graphic?
Good question, I loved all the old Santa Cruz boards growing up, like the Jason Jesse Neptune and Sun God were amazing. I love Neil Blender too, Coffee Break and the driver were great boards. Todd Francis’s stuff on Anti Heroin 96-98 was great. If you gave me any board in the world I’d take the Sean Young Spider on Anti Hero though. Mainly because of what it represented at the time I think.
Do you ever find yourself with creative block?
Yeah, definitely, hard to come up with awesome stuff all the time, ha ha.
I think it’s easy for things to appear a little warped with the internet these days but I feel like there’s a certain polarisation in skateboarding at the moment with your street league on one side and the rise of new independent companies like Polar and Palace, which I would say are a direct protest to big budget skateboarding, on the other side. I think what’s nice about seeing more independent companies though is more attention to detail in terms of the artwork.
As an artist and somebody who’s probably seen a lot of changes in skateboarding over the last 15 years, how do you feel about the skateboarding industry at the moment and where do you see yourself fitting into this?
It’s in a very interesting period of transition right now, all the big companies that were doing great 5 years ago seem to be struggling, I think maybe people just want a change and to try new things, that’s why smaller brands are growing.
We’re definitely not a street league level company, we’re definitely still a small company even though we’re at Baker Boys Distribution. On a day to day basis though I don’t’ really look at what other people are doing or where we fit in,I just focus on making our stuff as good, funny, or interesting as I possibly can.
What other skate companies are you a fan of at the moment in terms of their artwork?
Send Help, my friend Todd Bratrud is the best. His company should be way bigger than it is, it’s awesome. I really like what Deathwish are doing, my friend Brian Romero is one of the most under-rated artists in the industry. I always liked Anti Hero and Toy Machine stuff.
So, by the time the interview’s published Video Nasty should be out. I’m really looking forward to seeing it, the trailer went pretty hard, haha. What I think’s interesting though is that even though Heroin’s a big company now with team riders from outside the UK, the trailer definitely has an inherently British feel about it. Is this something that’s intentional?
I’ve always seen Heroin as being an international company. Yeah, I started out spraying the boards in by back yard in New Cross in South London, but our first Pro Chopper is Japanese, we’ve always had a following over there. Deer Man is from Canada, we’ve always operated like that.
I think the “Is it still a British company?” question to be a bit narrow minded (not having a go, but I’ve heard it from other places), yeah we were based out of South London for a long time, 14 years, but when I moved to L.A. we didn’t’ kick everyone in the UK off. Heroin is definitely an international company, we have riders from Preston skating grimy cobbled banks, as well as Chopper bombing down the street in Osaka, and Deer Man skating barriers in Canada. I have an interest in all these other scenes, it’s what keeps skateboarding interesting to me. Heroin is trying to show parts of all those scenes to the world.
What’s was the process like for shooting Video Nasty?
Miserable. Ha ha. It was a hard one to film this one, I’d never really broken a video camera before, and filming this I think I broke three.
It’s hard, I had people stay at my house in LA and we were meant to go on these missions and we just ended up sitting around or I had to work really hard. It’s not always easy to pull these things together, then we’ve got the Japanese guys who all insist on editing their own parts and are really stubborn, so I have to bring all these people with different views together and try to come out with a compromise that keeps everyone happy. I’m really stoked on Video Nasty though, I think it’ll be refreshing. I just want people to watch it and get inspired to go out and skate.
What’ve you got planned for the rest of the year?
I’m doing a road trip to the South with my girl, and then we’re gonna get married at some point too. Maybe some are shows too if I have time.
Words: Mike Evans
Photos: Chris Mortenson