CARTWHEEL Interview: Corey Hagberg in his Rockford, Ill. Studio

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When 33-year-old artist Corey Hagberg was four years old, he watched his dad draw super heroes and fighter planes with a mechanical pencil and equated the scents of lead and erasers with magical abilities to stop time. Two years later, at a garage sale,

I remember coming across this skateboard with some of the most far out graphics of a gigantic melting face with vibrant colors and amazing line and detail work. This was the work of Jimbo Phillips on a Rob Roskopp Santa Cruz board. At that moment this was erroneous information. At that moment all that was important was my introduction to skateboarding which would become the center of my universe and overshadow almost all things in my life for many years to come, as well as introduce me to my first instance with a spray can.

By high school I was spending more time skateboarding, more time drawing, and more time doing drugs. I spent more of my downtime when not skating, messing around with graffiti. I never really considered it an art form. For me it was more about the accessibility, immediacy, and ability to have fun. The act of getting the paint was an adventure. Due to being minors we couldn’t buy it so we had to “rack” it. Stealing is the common nomenclature. Then we would find our spot and get busy. While other forms of creating art and mediums to create art with were more solitary, graffiti gave the option to work together.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Hagberg has amassed a young lifetime of experiences that are just now getting his artwork noticed in gallery settings. After sending us the above message last December, it was apparent that Hagberg is talented with a pen for not only drawing, but writing as well. We asked him to share more in an e-mail interview.

What are you working on in your studio right now?

I’m currently working on a rebranding for a friend’s liquor-infused frozen custard business, new images for prints with my screen printing posse Fatherless, a t-shirt design for up and coming Wett Brain Clothing, and some new paintings for Fountain Art Fair New York as well as a show later this year with the Freeport Art Museum. Jesus, I need a clone.

What’s your favorite part of your art studio?

The favorite part of my studio is the fact that I get to be alone and my music collection.

What’s the significance of the mask?

The mask is a replica of the mask worn by Guy Fawkes in “V for Vendetta” that I painted black. I picked it up at Chicago Comic Con about a year before it became synonymous with Anonymous and the Occupy movement. Its significance to me is that sometimes when painting in public I need to cover my face because not everyone appreciates that I’m transforming an ugly, run-down building into something half worth looking at. Not to mention every phone has a camera now. Def some times I wish I would have had it when I didn’t.

The words in your work are so powerful; do the words come first or last in your creative process?

Thanks. The words or phrases come at all different times. I keep a pocket notebook with me because they don’t always arrive when I’m working in the studio. They could be plucked from random conversation and re-arranged. Maybe inspired by something I see when driving or when daydreaming. I attempt to arrange the words in a fashion where they have conflicting meanings but when out together plant a somewhat obtuse image in the mind. Take “Dunce Magic” for instance. What kind of magic would a dunce produce? each person that runs that through their mind might picture something different. Maybe his magic will pervert anything it comes across. Maybe the exact opposite. Maybe it transforms the world for the better. Maybe his/her magic is what has caused the label of dunce to be applied. I’m big on themes of identity and where they originate and how they are lived up to or ignored once they are applied.

We would love to know more about the backgrounds in your work.

The backgrounds in my work are built up of many different collaged drawings or prints. Sometimes I’ll use prints that I f—-d up on and go back in with pencil and add little things. Other times I’ll take obscure images such as mechanical blueprints or gun diagrams. If you look closely into the background of Stale Throne Heap, you’ll see an assortment of gun diagrams. I started collecting an image library back in 1997. I would spend time each week going to the school libraries and used bookstores and gather old life magazine and popular mechanics magazines. Sometimes I would spend hours copying pages out of different books and comic books. If I was broke I would just rip out the pages because I would notice that some of these books hadn’t been checked out since the 1980s. I would then use xylene to transfer them to newsprint or another similar paper to give them that faded aged look. More recently I have been using more of my own imagery. Sometimes I will make collages in Photoshop and print them out and use different techniques with paint to give them that grimy look. I like things that look like they have been discarded. I’ll paint over layers of wash or spray paint to partially hide pieces of the background because I don’t want the underlying theme to 100 percent accessible. I want the viewer to navigate through them and maybe find different elements each time they look at the piece.

Do you put your past into your current works?

I do reference the past in some pieces. But more often I allude to certain futures. If I reference the past it’s usually in a vague general way that will connect with more people. The triumph of the human spirit. The will to overcome a set of circumstances and not live up to and inside the confines of labels whether self imposed or applied from external sources. I think the relevance in referencing the past for me is to remind me that the past doesn’t need to be the present. The tightest locked prisons are the ones we build for ourselves. But we also posses access to the key.  When referencing my own life if done distinctly and specifically, it will remain enigmatic to the total stranger unless they have had similar experiences. Most times I’ll ask myself  how I can use a certain reference to connect with who might be viewing the work. Other times I’m less concerned with that. I try to avoid using my past experiences to force a point of view or push the viewer down a specific path. I used to make art that was more politically motivated or socially aware but after time it felt exclusive in the fact that I was only communicating with those who had similar ideologies or feelings. I’ve steered away from that not because I’ve changed my political leanings, but because I don’t want to keep the conversation one sided. I usually feel put off by people who go out their way to have me validate their political leanings,  religious Voodoo, sexual identity, etc. As people we waste far too much time sizing each other up. Dance in the mystery, its much more peaceful that way.

Skateboarding and art. Why does it seem that my favorite artists are also skateboarders? Is that a coincidence?

The influence of skateboarding on my art is monumental. The freedom and the danger that went with skateboarding, along with the fact that you are only limited by your imagination and your environment, is what attracted me to it. I was given my first board when I was about six shortly after we moved to the Bay Area from the Chicagoland area. I was pissed that it was a Varaflex and not a Santa Cruz. Not that functionality had any impact on me at that point. It was the graphics I had seen. at the time Jimbo Phillips was the mastermind behind Santa Cruz’ mind bending graphics.

Later I would end up getting a Rob Roskopp with the melting face graphics, Indy trucks, and Slimeball wheels. I took it everywhere. I had no idea there was this huge emerging culture of skateboarding. I wasn’t concerned with doing tricks yet. My brother and I would go through the neighborhood and garbage pick appliance boxes and spend all afternoon making them look like spaceships. We would cut a little hole for a window in the front and bomb hills. If you hit whatever curb you end up hitting with out tipping over, then it was a successful launch. But early on it was the graphics that impacted me the most. Their pristine imagery, I would go to extreme lengths not to f— them up. Skateboarding is also responsible for introducing me to the spray can. After the graphics would get trashed I would try to make it look “new” again. I remember finding a can of black paint my dad had used to paint our grill. I would sneak into the garage and repaint my boards and draw on them and put stickers on them. A very innocuous introduction that wouldn’t remain that way once I became a teenager.

As I grew up I became immersed in the culture surrounding skateboarding which ultimately introduced me to graffiti. In 1999 I ended up tearing my ACL. This would ultimately lead me down a much different, darker path of extreme addiction, crime, jails, and even physical death in a few instances. I eventually set out on the journey upward out of that and back into skating just accepting certain physical limitations now. I would say without skateboarding and art to come back to, I wouldn’t be here answering these questions. I don’t think it’s a coincidence either that most of your favorite artists are skateboarders. Skateboarding attracts and caters to a lot of free thinkers. It began as a fringe culture and is rooted in self expression and freedom which is why the cops and private security guards are always bring static. Even with efforts to commercialize the sport, it can’t be subtracted from its roots.

How has your art style changed and evolved over the years?

I can definitely say my style has evolved and progressed the most in the last five years. I sobered up and drifted out of the fog of depression that permeated my work. A regular use of brighter poppier colors came into play.  The work now is less rushed. I’ve developed more of a visual theme I also became more focused which allowed the work to become more refined. The earlier work was more about being caught up in the moment.  There was a visible lack of some of the tighter line work. It was pretty sloppy looking without trying to look that way. I’ll shoot for a grimy, messy, unorganized look sometimes but I’ll balance it against the tighter more cohesive elements. My portfolio from seven years ago looks more rudimentary, less polished.

I love what you said about graffiti and working together. What do you do now with your art that you work together with other artists?

As far as collaborating goes, I enjoy playing off each others’ elements and the creative energy that builds up and allows you to get engrossed in the moment. I’ve gotten to know and work with a lot of very talented local artists: Joseph Goral, Peter Goral, Laurence Barr, Mario Martinez, Dan Moorman, Eddie Fajardo, Javier Jimenez, Dave Menard, Jarrod Hennis, and Greg Lang just to name a few. We’ve done a lot of murals together and the element of working as a team to complete a larger project is something I enjoy because it unifies us as people. Over time a symbiotic energy evolves and you can go hours without even speaking. I love how graffiti unites.

When I was in Miami the locals make you feel at home. I had a bunch of paint that had delivered and it was lost or stolen but it wasn’t long before I was given free paint and put on walls working side by side with artists from other states and countries. But that acceptance isn’t automatic, you have to show you can hold your own because nobody wants some total stranger showing up and fucking up the flow of things. Mostly it’s unity but sometimes you develop rivalries which are fun if you have a sense of humor but also get pretty personal sometime. In the end it’s just fun to laugh about. Another collaborative effort that has been on going is my screen printing posse, Fatherless. It consists of Javier Jimenez, Dave Menard, Jarrod Hennis, and Greg Lang. We formed in 2010 to bring together our different artistic styles, abilites and general love of printmaking. The name stemmed from the fact that the work wouldn’t have one person taking credit for it, and coincidentally, we were all fatherless, either having deadbeat dads or dads that had met their demise. We’ve been building steam since and are set to go to London to show at Pick Me Up Contemporary Graphic Art Fair.

CARTWHEEL Spring Pop-Up Show
March 21-24, 2013
Opening Reception Thurs., March 21
1553 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028

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