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Mark Gonzales - The Freeform Telling of an Icon

Sem Rubio discusses his new Rizzoli book.

Mark Gonzales - The Freeform Telling of an Icon
Posted by Anthony Pappalardo6 min read
Thursday, October 29, 2020

This past September, one of skateboarding’s most iconic figures was canonized in a 208-page hardcover book. In a time where everything is mentioned and marketed as “iconic,” Mark Gonzales is not only worthy of the tag but larger than it. Fuck, if skateboarding had a logo like the National Basketball Association, Gonzales would be the “Jerry West,” a testament to icon status, but we don’t view skating as a graphic or a singular entity and neither is The Gonz. OK, sure, Gonzales is one person, but his imprint in skating hulks over decades. Steeped in humor, innovation, expression, and liquidity that always feels relevant and poignant. Perhaps it’s simply that Gonzales’ contributions to skating drive back to not only the feeling of getting your first board but imagining what it would unlock.

Described as, “Part skate photography, part intimate portrait,” 'Mark Gonzales' documents a decade of his life told through photographer Sem Rubio's lens, alongside several peers, writers, and admirers. It’s neither linear nor comprehensive, and nor should it be. Who wants the whole story or a curated timeline of a body of work that continues to expand and evolve anyway? Instead, 'Mark Gonzales' is more intimate in what it conceals; more personal through others’ anecdotes and emotions.

I spoke with Rubio about his journey co-creating the monograph with Gonzales, Lou Andrea Savoir, and Julian Dykmans.

Let's time travel, prior to actually meeting Mark, what was your relationship to his skating and art—what was your perception of him as a fan?

Sem Rubio: The very first time I knew about Gonz was just when I went to Barcelona, Spain to buy my first board when I was 10-years-old or something and the Vision Gonz board was the very first one I saw at the shop. I ended up buying another one because it was cheaper... but I remember I thought he was a Spanish skater and I was convinced his last name was misspelled on the board - because it should be 'Gonzalez' not 'Gonzales'. Silly little boy. [laughs] But Blind Video Days (1991) was the eye-opener moment for me.

Mark Gonzales - The Freeform Telling of an Icon. Sem Rubio Mark Gonzales Rizzoli Book 1

I've talked to a lot of pros and artists who are friends with Mark and they still feel intimidated by him to this day. What do you think it is about him that evokes that reaction?

Gonz has earned that through decades of radness and genuineness without even trying. You don't see that too often or maybe they don't quite understand him. But in my experience, he is really the most humble and fun guy out there when you do stuff with him. 

The book isn't a biography on him but more of a look at where he is. Can you get into detail about the process of the book and explain what it is to you?

I didn't want to get stuck on his past, I wanted to show Gonz now. All the ‘80s and ‘90s stuff is great and there is a bit of that here and there in the book but that's been all over for a long time. I really wanted to focus on the present time for this project: his family, his art, his skateboarding, and his friends. This is also how Mark likes things, he is not really looking behind but always forward. So the book couldn't be different. This is a non-linear story. It’s created through connections you get from the photography, poems, paintings, and interviews—which are all different sides of the same coin. 

Can you talk about the first time meeting Mark?

The first time I got to meet him was a trip with adidas we made to Brasil in 2010. It was shocking to see him skate and hang out in person. He is super funny and spent the bus drives making jokes all the time. And the stories he has to tell are amazing. Some photos of that trip are in the book as well. That was the trip where I started to be intrigued by him. How was his life now? Who did he hang out with? He was still skating rad, what spots did he like to skate back home? What inspires him in his art? I would say all the book ideas started to gestate on that trip.

Mark Gonzales - The Freeform Telling of an Icon. Sem Rubio Mark Gonzales Rizzoli Book 2
Mark Gonzales - The Freeform Telling of an Icon. Sem Rubio Mark Gonzales Rizzoli Book 3

Maybe Neil Blender and John Lucero were the first to create their own graphics, but Mark is perhaps the most imitated artist in skating. Without naming names, it’s obvious when people emulate his work. Why do you feel Mark's art resonates?

Yeah indeed, there's a lot of people trying to follow Mark's path. I think it's cool, as long as they don't try to become him (which would be lame and wouldn't work anyway). There's something really genuine in his art, which (to me) is a reflection of his skateboarding which also is a reflection of his personality. It's just how he is. 

The idea of this book having all these different voices makes so much sense to me, as his life isn't a linear thing and honestly, an A to Z story isn't necessarily the best device. Can you talk about how you chose the writers and interviews and which ones are really special to you?

Exactly, that's something I had very clear from the beginning - a non-linear book, something you can start from the end or the beginning and will work the same. Some stuff in the pages will make sense to you and might not make sense to someone else and that's exactly what I was looking for. More of a visual poem than anything else. 

All the writers and interviews were picked up collectively by Tia Romano, Lou Savoir (book's editor), Julian Dykmans (producer), and me. Savoir and Dykmans are my beloved old-time friends and collaborators from Cascade Berlin who took the reins of the editor and producer duties and did an amazing job. Savoir did all the interviews and managed all the writing chaos from start to end. Which I tell you, was humongous. 

There are many special interviews, all of them are super interesting. Spike Jonze was probably the first person I thought about and the last person to be confirmed as an interviewee... like really last minute! So knowing Spike was “in” was truly a special moment that came right at the very end of packing the book. I can't thank enough the efforts of Savoir and all the external collaborators for trespassing layers and layers and layers to get those interviews done.

Mark Gonzales - The Freeform Telling of an Icon. Sem Rubio Mark Gonzales Rizzoli Book 5

As far as visuals, are there any images that tell a story to you or really nail a moment or time in the book?

Oh man, there are quite a few. My favorite one is actually a combination of photography and painting. Not going to do any spoilers but in that spread, you can totally see the correlation between both photography and painting. One of the things I was most interested in when doing this was to find the right connections between photography and art. Albin Holmqvist (our graphic designer) helped a lot with this, he has a great instinct for that. We also were managing a thousand photos at a time so not an easy task. 

The book is full of visual connections like this, some obvious, some more hidden. We worked hard to have everything connected in a way it made sense to us. 

Now it's up to the viewers to find out their own connections in the pages and make their own portrait of Mark.

Mark Gonzales - The Freeform Telling of an Icon. Sem Rubio Mark Gonzales Rizzoli Book 4
Mark Gonzales - The Freeform Telling of an Icon. Sem Rubio Mark Gonzales Rizzoli Book 6

There's a cliche about New York that basically says "NYC is the place every city wants to be but no city but NYC can be." That feels like a metaphor for Mark. 

That might be the reason he loves NYC so much. 

Favorite Gonz image you didn't shoot and your favorite graphic of his?

My favorite is a photo of Benjamin Debert. He shot Mark getting a haircut in Paris, France and I loved the photo since the first time I saw it. Benjamin, you are a giant! My favorite graphic is his last Krooked Beemer board.

Having completed the project, it's going to live in libraries, museums... I mean probably the fucking Library of Congress. How does it feel to be a part of that?

[laughs] That'd be great!  I know this book will be seen by a lot of people, which is rad and it definitely feels overwhelming. The thing that sticks with me is the fun we had doing this.

Look out for our upcoming competition to win a copy of Sem Rubio's Mark Gonzales Rizzoli book, be sure to follow us on Instagram for news.

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