Everyone creates their own path in life. Every decision, every fork in the road takes us closer to the places we want to be, the people we want to become, and the projects we want to work on.
It’s a powerful dynamic. One that can overcome great distances and physical boundaries.
Even someone who grew up in the middle of the ocean on the Canary Islands can ultimately end up painting vivid portraits of the world’s most famous skateboarders – the very icons he idealized as a young boy after he picked up a skateboard and uncovered a path that would change his life.
This, in a nutshell, is exactly what happened to graphic artist Marcos Cabrera.
Before skateboard shoe company Vans tapped him to portray team riders Tony Alva, Christian Hosoi, and Steve Caballero, the graphic artist followed a unique trajectory. It led Marcos from a young skate kid in Tenerife hooked on skateboard magazines and board graphics all the way to working as a full-time artist in the skate, sneakers, and music scenes with a studio in Barcelona. That’s where the phone call found him…
A PHONE CALL FROM FATE
One day in 2017, Marcos was working on some board graphics for Spain’s largest skateboard label, JART Skateboards, when the phone rang. It was Jurgen Bluemlein of the Faux Ami artist collective in Berlin, who was working on a secret project for Vans to honor a few of the brand’s most iconic skateboarders.
Would Marcos be interested in supplying the graphics and create poster-sized portraits of Alva, Hosoi, and Caballero in his own signature style?
He did not have to think twice.
“As you can imagine, they are legends for me. I totally had a few posters of them hanging from the walls of my room in the early years when I was a kid,” says Marcos Cabrera. Was he nervous about the high-profile nature of the assignment? “Nervous not so much, but very excited to work on something involving them.”
SKATEBOARD ART WANTED
Jurgen Bluemlein had come across Marcos’ work during an artist exhibit at Bright skateboarding tradeshow in Berlin in 2011. “Spanish lamono magazine hosted the ReSkate show, featuring skateboard decks created by artists. The ones from Marcos really stood out, so I broke a personal rule and bought his work without ever meeting the artist before,” says Juergen Bluemlein, who frequently curates exhibitions for Vans and operates the Museum of Skateboard History.
After this initial contact, the two ultimately made a personal connection. “It was clear that at one point, we would have to work on something together. So for the posters, Marcos was first in mind since his style was exactly what I envisioned. And bang! I could not have asked for anything more perfect,” says Juergen.
What about Marcos’ approach made him the perfect choice? “For me as a skateboarder, his style is really appealing. With its blend between skulls and gore with a great sense of humor, plus sharp references into pop culture. And as a great zombie fan, it’s exactly my taste!” said Juergen Bluemlein.
A quick trip through Marcos Cabrera’s portfolio reveals images of flaming skulls next to creative takes on name-brand sneakers imagined into mythical beasts next to howling zombies and laughing skeletons.
It’s a style forged early in Marcos’ journey, when he would copy famous skateboard graphics by artists such as Pushead, Jim Phillips and Vernon Courtlandt Johnson mixed with a healthy dose of blood and guts from underground comics by Robert Williams, Richard Corben and Rat Fink by Ed Roth.
A SERIES OF ANNIVERSARIES
With Marcos on board, Juergen laid down the details of the mission: “Tony Alva is celebrating his 60th birthday and Vans wanted to invite him to Europe to celebrate this milestone in style. So they need a fitting gift. And since the Museum of Skateboard History is all about chronicling skateboard history and culture, the gift should showcase what Tony Alva has achieved over the years and what he stands for today.”
But Alva was not the only icon celebrating a milestone. “Hosoi is also about to turn 50 in 2018, plus Steve Caballero’s shoe, the Half Cab, has just turned 25 years old. So if you’re about to immortalize these Vans legends as poster art – you have to feature all three of them!” said Juergen Bluemlein.
A large-sized poster appeared as the ideal format to mix the portraits with scenes from each skateboarder’s career such as iconic magazine covers or photographs.
“Juergen and me worked together looking for the images that were important to the career of each rider. He gave me a bunch of images of each one and then we decided together on choosing the most important moments,” said Marcos, adding: “Fine details were also important, like sneakers they had, decks and shapes, tricks, and so on.”
For the extra special touch, Juergen commissioned seasoned screen printer Stu at Berlin-based label Lovenskate to screen-print the posters in a limited edition run of 60 pieces for Tony Alva and 50 for Christian Hosoi.
As a special insight into the creative process, here’s Marcos in his own words about the inspiration behind each of the three portraits.
“In the case of Alva, we chose the iconic images that we though are most representative of his career and life: the air grabs in the pool, the one with the trophy, and for sure, the portrait of his beloved dog, and of course his ALVA logo on the top,” says Marcos Cabrera.
Elaborating on the approach, Marcos said: “Tony Alva is for me for sure the ‘Skateboarder’ in terms of the skateboard heritage and culture. For me it was very important keep the iconic images recognizable with only four colors and taking good care of all details: His first team color at Zephyr was blue, later followed by red white and blue from the Logan Team and finally his creation of the first ever skateboard shoe designed by skaters – the Vans style #95 era in red white and blue.”
Juergen Bluemlein also points out: “We made sure to implement the famous photo by Craig Stecyk from the Zephyr/ Dog Town Era where Tony is holding the wild cat, but with his chihuahua Maxine instead.”
About portraying one of the most stylish skateboarders of all time, Marcos said: “Hosoi for me is the meaning of style on vert. The Christ Air I think is one of the most representative tricks from him, also the Rocket Air.”
What is the overall vibe in terms of personality he is creating with this portrait? “Hosoi for me is one of the hardcore punk guys, the skate and destroy spirit from the early years. Love the rivalry with Tony Hawk and I try to represent this on the illustration.”
Looking at the finer details of the print reveals tributes to Hosoi’s track record as an innovator. “I think that his famous grab airs like the Christ Air, Rocket Air grab and the hand plants are awesome, so I decided to represent them on the illustration as well,” said Marcos Cabrera.
About the portrait of iconic Bones Brigade team rider Steve Caballero, Marcos said: “I think that it was very important to represent the Dragon, the hot rod and motorcycle culture and the detail with his punk rock band, The Faction.”
“Also drawing the Cab Dragon on the back was a lot of fun for me. By the way, it was very important show the Half-Cab air that Vans used on the sneaker model,” Marcos said.
What is the overall vibe in terms of personality he is creating with this portrait? “Caballero is one of my favorites riders of all time, not only for the style of riding or the importance on the skateboard culture, also for the meaning of being one of the Bones Brigade riders and keep this feeling alive. So you can imagine how important was for me working on this one.”
NEVER MEET YOUR IDOLS?
As the icing on the cake, Vans threw Alva a massive birthday party at House of Vans in London, during which Marcos Cabrera had the chance to present the framed poster to all three legendary skateboarders.
Contrary to the famous saying to never meet one’s idols, Marcos had a grand time interacting with the heroes of his youth.
“I had the opportunity spend all day with Alva and give him the portrait during the Vans event. It was very exciting because it was a kind of surprise for him, like a present for his birthday. Alva was very enthusiastic with the project, Hosoi had a great moment when he signed all the prints and Caballero was absolutely great.”
The end? Not quite, as Marcos Cabrera’s unique path as an artist continues. “We had an incredible time in London and I look forward to implementing even more projects together, plus bringing him to Berlin for a solo show really soon,” said Juergen Bluemlein.
Check out Marcos Cabrera’s work at www.marcoslatragedia.com