If you’re familiar with Polar Skate Co., then you’ll be familiar with Jacob Ovgren. His comic book-inspired graphics are a huge part of the brand’s identity. We wanted to find out what inspires his work, so we asked him. Enjoy.
This interview was originally published in Parade Issue 01, a zine we put out. You can pick up a copy in-store at one of the Parade stores.
When did you first start drawing? If you can remember… I have evidence from when I was about three years old, it was all very abstract though. They started to get good when I was around six or seven years old. I’m very lucky that my mum saved a bunch of my old drawings. Thanks for that mum, I love you!
I imagine you got into comic books at a young age, what did you read? Yeah, I liked, and actually still like, Bamse (a Swedish cartoon), he eats his Grandma’s ‘special honey’ and becomes super strong, he’s very cool. I love the more childish looking comics, ones like Nancy or Peanuts for example.
And discovering skateboarding, when did that come in? When I was in fifth grade or something like that, all my friends started at the same time but then they moved on to other stuff. I stuck at it though, luckily!
Do the two inform each other at all for you? You’ve spoken before about being more interested in doing than just viewing? Yeah, I guess, just being on the street, in weird places looking for spots etc. It means you see a lot of strange stuff that you might not see otherwise, which in my case has been very inspirational. You start to view the city in a different way.
How did you first meet Pontus Alv and start to create graphics for Polar? We started talking at the skatepark and from there slowly started working together. I have learnt a lot from working with him and Stefan Narancic - hopefully I have taught them some things too!
And you also skated for Polar too? Yeah kind of, I guess. But now I leave the skating to the professionals!
Have you produced any work that's even too wild for Polar and they've not run it? Ah, you mean the secret archive?! Yeah, I got some pretty wild in stuff in there. If I was to write down all my thoughts on this it would be way too long. But I would say that ultimately, I want things to be free - art and comedy especially.
Do you have a set way of working or a set process? Or does this depend on when ideas hit you or other things? I always draw and put down ideas, depending on the time limit I can play around with new things. An important lesson for me has been to put more time into sketching. It felt like a waste of time at first, but I promise in the end it’s a time saver.
What inspires your graphics work? I assume you have free reign to do what you like? Total freedom! As long as the rider likes it when it comes to board graphics. I like to exchange ideas with people too, they can sometimes see stuff from a new and refreshing point of view.
Pretty much anything can inspire me, sometimes I get inspired by the simplest or uninspiring of things. That’s not to say simplicity is uninspiring, I just mean everyday common things that for whatever reason you start to see in a new or different way.
You seem to like creating images that shock, or at least confuse at first viewing, what’s the thought behind this? Things are not always what they seem to be...
How does it feel to have helped create the identity of one of modern skateboarding’s most popular brands? Hmm, humbly... it’s all a team effort. I’m standing on a stage built by giants.
Do you ever feel trapped by your own ideas? Like you’ve created an expectation of yourself and the work you’ll produce? Like being typecast as an actor I suppose... Yes, this I why I created Puff, my comic zine. With Puff, I can play around a bit more with crazy ideas.
Which artists work, skateboarding or otherwise, do you admire? I really like Frog and Quasi. But there are so many good brands out there now, it's hard for me to name only a few. Fun times in the skateboard world!
You’re friends with Mike O’Shea, any chance we’ll see his work on the bottom of a Polar board? I remember reading this maybe was going to happen a few years back? Unfortunately it's out of my hands, sorry Mike, I love you! If you have a brand and need a good illustrator you should grab him before someone else does! Check out @thehighbrowcompany.
Do you get much fan art? I see kids on Instagram from time to time who are very obviously inspired by your work. It's one of the best parts of this kind of work. I love to see people get inspired and start to create themselves. I did the same with graphics when I was young, it’s basically how I learnt to draw.
Researching this interview I came across articles describing you as a “controversial artist” a few times, how do you feel about that? I suppose it’s correct, but a lot of things are controversial until they become mainstream…
I think sometimes people get conflicted with work that looks cute and childish, when you look closer you see what they are up too and people are horrified. It's not so much that the work itself is shocking, it's the context and how it’s displayed.
Just wait until they see what I’m working on now!
Any plans for the future, just carry on doing Polar artwork? We see Jacobs Corner crop up a bunch of times, maybe a little sideline company for your wilder ideas? Time will tell... But yeah Polar, new Puff comics and lots more fun. Peace and love! Jacob Ovgren
All photos: Nils Svensson
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