Since leaving legendary British board company, Blueprint, Nick Jensen has brought his passion for aesthetic fine art together with his long history in the London skate scene to create Isle, a skate brand that elevates the approach on everything from board graphics to videos, like 2015’s “Vase” done with Atlantic Drift’s Jacob Harris. We talked with Nick about his artistic inspiration, the origins of the patch on the Isle Blazer and why having fun is better than pushing boundaries.
Nike SB: How did you get into painting?
Nick Jensen: When I was a kid, I remember doing art at school and always loving those lessons the most. When I got older I couldn't believe you could just go to art school. From there I carried it on and became more and more into it.
SB: Who are your artist inspirations outside of skateboarding?
NJ: I have a lot, historically: Picasso, Matisse, Deibenkorn, the list goes on. And contemporaries such as Peter Doig, Mathias wiescher, Sam Windett, Ted Gahl, Christian Hidaka, lisa Brice, Kiera Freije, I could go on, for sure.
SB: Art and skateboarding have had a long history together, why do you think that is?
NJ: I would say it is probably due to them both engaging the creative part of the brain. Skaters and artists are both drawn towards creating things, and playing around with ideas.
SB: When did you first realize that a deck could be a canvas for art?
NJ: I realized when I started Isle. I remember thinking, “Uh oh, I don’t really know how to use photoshop…” and then realized I could just make things and put them straight onto a deck.
SB: Tell us about the design on the shoe? Did you paint it? What about it made you want to put it on a shoe?
NJ: So I was asking Casper Brooker and Chris Jones which Nike shoes they like best and we all agreed on the all-black Blazer Mid. Once we figured that out, we spent a while throwing ideas around.
I visited my friend a couple of doors down from my studio for a cup of tea and we discussed the shoe. He had a bit of canvas lying around his studio and we thought, what about just putting that straight on the shoe. It looked wicked, next I spoke to the lads and we discussed what artwork would work in this canvas patch.
I was making cyanotypes at the time, which is an age-old technique of making an image by exposing paper coated in chemicals to the sun. If you place a silhouette image on the paper the print comes out as a negative cast of the silhouette. It also has this really particular blue colour to it which I love.
The image we ended up going for is a section of an eye. I liked the abstract quality, but also the simple symbolism of it. So in this way the blue eye expresses a skater's unique perspective on the city.
SB: Tell us about the process of working on the shoe with Nike?
NJ: The guys at Nike were very encouraging and up for anything. We tossed around a few ideas of different shoes we wanted to try before arriving at the Blazer Like we considered a Gato at one point. However, we realized how hard this would be to connect with our patch idea. Everything just flowed after that, it was a really nice, free way to work.
SB: Vase still holds up as a skate video that really went beyond what a traditional skate video can be. Do you feel that approach is part of Isle’s attitude as a brand? Why is that important to you and to skating at large?
NJ: Good question, thanks, I don’t know how conscious it was. We just wanted to make a video and have some unique art direction. I think we like to surprise people with interesting ideas, but we’re not competitive in that way. The main thing is to be experimental and open-minded, and this worked out nicely from the feedback we got.
But actually, I don’t think boundary-breaking is the right mindset. For me, the skate videos that I like these days create a spirit that looks fun and something you want to be a part of, as well as good skating.
SB: So much of Isle’s aesthetic feels really analog. Would you agree with that? If so, what about the analog process is important or attractive to you?
NJ: I think it’s that we like looking back at old stuff, the way film feels and objects look. We enjoy the materiality of things. And I sometimes feel this is lost in the slickness if digital media.
SB: How do you balance running a brand, having a family and still getting out to skate?
NJ: It’s fun. I like being busy and having different things going on, makes me feel important, ha! Also, I just try to copy Tom Knox, he makes having kids and being on the cover of Thrasher look easy.
SB: You grew up in the London skate scene, how is it to watch it grow and be a part of it?
NJ: It’s changed but it’s also no different. Hard to describe. Nice that Southbank has reopened. It's like I have had the chance to return to my younger years, and it's good to see people like Casper always there keeping it alive.
SB: Who are a few of your favorite London up-and-comers?
NJ: Kyle Wilson, Atlantic and Darius
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