Meeting… Nick Jensen!
Portrait and interview: Benjamin Deberdt
"I think it’s about people with a clear vision of what they think is important in skateboarding."
You have all speculated about the Blueprint riders exile a couple months ago, and then heard about two of the legendary British brand main characters, Shier and Jensen working on something new…
They have been releasing ads over the past weeks, only letting people know about their riders, one by one, with no clue about the name they had decided to gather under. Well, as of this morning, Isle skateboards is now alive and kicking! Time to meet with one of its riders, which also happen to have been shaping up what all this is going to look like…
So, the brand is about to drop… Are you feeling ready?
Yes, it’s an exciting time, with a lot of anticipation.
Can you rewind a bit for the people that might not be too up to date on what happened since the death of Blueprint?
Well, basically, there was no potential with Blueprint anymore. It was not what it used to be and it was time to just let it go. Then, Shier and I decided to do something new.
I take that you are not just a rider for this… What is your exact job there?
I am doing art direction and generally just overseeing the team.
So the name is finally out, and we were joking recently about how much speculation has been going around it. Is that something you guys came up with really early, or it just happened?
We decided to keep the company under wraps in order to really prepare, before the release. In the process of constructing the visual side to the brand, we realised we wanted to keep it light and open, and not to enforce a strong and overwhelming approach. It’s a good way to gather intrigue.
For a joke, in Valencia, we decided to use this stencil to create a new version of the name. Jon Ngyuen came up with Celest. We spray-painted it onto a blank board and had it photographed to appear in the background of a picture on Instagram. I remember how earlier that day I had done an interview for Slam and talked about how our name had derived from a larger word, and someone on the message boards had clocked onto this. He was saying how it must have been abbreviated from “celestial”. It worked pretty well!
Can you explain what the name means to you, and how it came upon?
We are thinking of it in terms of an independent piece of land that is related to a larger part. In the way that each skater has their own uniqueness that relates to the team as a whole…
What would you say you, personally, look into when thinking of someone to ride for Isle?
We think about the individuals within the whole. Each person brings something different, but I suppose this is a common motivation when constructing a team. I think it’s about people with a clear vision of what they think is important in skateboarding.
Chris Jones brings some tricky and gnarly switch tricks into the mix. Tom Knox is a truly original London skater who skates all those really tricky, awkward and gnarly spots. Sylvain Tognelli is his own entity, always down to skate everything, from a burnt out car, massive drop in or metal edge ledge. He is an inspiration. Jon Ngyuen has such a good style and is so good at skateboarding. He always lands shit so fast! Shier is a G. Just really pushing himself, doing all kinds of creative stuff. He can take some serious slams, and just gets up and laughs it off. He did some of the most inventive shit at Fairfields, back in the day! And he’ll still be showing this in the new Grey video.
Frontside 5-0. photo: Dom Marley
How is it to work with Paul?
Working with Shier is great. Obviously we have known each other for ages, which is good because we know what each other thinks is good and what is not. I suppose there is just this respect for each other and a trust, which is great to start something with.
Shier is and has been organising the account side of things. He has been sorting out distribution and also defining our budget.
Can you tell us a bit of your art background?
I went to Central St Martins and did a B.A. in fine art and then an M.A. at Chelsea. I have always been really inspired by painting, and especially the collection at the National Gallery. I recently ran a gallery space with a friend of mine from St Martins, and now we organize stuff outside of the space, as the lease came up. The majority of my time, when I am not skateboarding, is spent making my own work at my studio.
How does art, let’s even say fine art, transfer to board graphics and the aesthetics of a brand?
It about presentation and context. I think a lot of it also just has to look good on a board. Some really great art works just wouldn't work on skateboards, mostly because they don’t fit properly on a board, or they just don’t translate well in that context.
Any inspiration from the skateboarding art side of things, these days?
Yeah, a hell of a lot. If I am to understand your question, I am really inspired by the way Polar does graphics, I think there is a lot of freedom in the way Pontus makes his boards. They also have an inherent style, which is really good. For example, when you see a board that has a completely different graphic, you can still tell that it is a Polar board. I also like Alien Workshop, some of the early stuff done by Don Pendleton up until their X-ray graphics through to the Warhol Series. I also really like Girl and Chocolate graphics.
Any inspirations outside of the skateboarding realm, for the brand graphic direction?
I look at art galleries, fashion brands, and all kinds of books. It’s refreshing to look at how galleries produce printed material, how they display artworks on their websites, etc. Looking at fashion brands from the way they make display cabinets to show shoes in, to the colour-ways of a jacket. And I look at books in terms of their design, how they layout images and designs. From an old Penguin book to a Bauhaus catalogue. I wanna look at records more as they are interesting in terms of the space in which to layout information, as they are similarly specific in the way a skateboard is.
What about on a board, who has been keeping you excited about skateboarding, recently?
Filming for this Grey video is exciting. Sylvain was over, last week, and it was the first time in ages it was dry for the whole duration. I get really motivated working on a project, especially when you have good friends doing the same thing.
Backside flip. photo: Henry Kingsford
I believe you are quite peculiar with the spots you decide to shoot or film on… Is that true?
To an extent… Realistically, I just try and skate everything. There is no point not skating for the sake of spot snobbery. However, I do find it more interesting skating less obvious spots. There is a balance between letting the skateboarding do the talking and letting the spot do the talking.
Define what you do at this moment of your life, if you were to explain it to someone totally foreign to skateboarding…
I skateboard, which means I roll around on a plank of wood. I have sponsors so I have a responsibility to document stuff on this plank. I also think of ideas to go on the bottom of this thing, and I make other artworks, which have nothing to do with it.
We’ll let you have a go at what Isle skateboards is about here.
But in the meantime, just be reminded of Nick’s onboard abilities with his recent Thunder clip: