When London-based filmmaker and lifelong skater Ben Gregor decided to pay tribute to those who inspired him throughout his life, using skateboards as his canvas was the obvious choice. Using 70 decks, Gregor laser etched the names of his closest friends, family and heroes. From Spike Jonze all the way to Evil Kneivel each deck is unique in it’s markings and it’s accompanying story. As part of the Humble & Epic Exhibition each deck’s sales go to help benefit Skateistan and their work to empower youth in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa through Skateboarding and education.
We caught up with Ben to hear how the project came about, his life in skateboarding and the upcoming Free Pizza for Skateistan evening this Friday, August 12th at the Project Gallery in LA – 961 Chung King Rd, LA, CA 90012
For those that don’t know, what is the inspiration behind the Humble & Epic Exhibition? What drew you to using skateboards as the medium?
I’d just gone through a break up. I was in a new apartment and the new furniture was all made of laminated wood. It had this newly cut wood smell and I just started thinking about skateboards, lots of new skateboards, about sponsoring back everyone who has sponsored or inspired me in my life.
So, I got hold of some blanks through Shiner – who were awesome – and laser etched them all. Then wrote a little bit about each person to go with it. About how one friend punched me in the face one news year’s eve, or about how Jim Thiebaud once wrote to me telling me to keep writing when I asked him about a book he had published. People who shaped me, on purpose or by mistake.
Growing up skateboarding what were some of your early influences in skating and in art?
Really it was VHS skate videos for everything. Take this video part from G&S Footage – it got me into trying to skate like Dyrdek, working in film and Dinosaur Jr. With skating my mind was open and I was like…I’m in. Not just, “I want those shoes, I want to buy those shoes, cut them down and spray them white like the EMB guys, “ – but – “I want to use cameras like that – I want to spend four months trying to make that trick – I want to go to see that band and be knocked down in the mosh pit.”
Skate videos shaped not just my taste but my whole life. I wonder if in this Instagram era they have the same power, things seem to be more trick by trick then just getting a feel for how a team or people see the world.
Did your life in Skateboarding influence your interest in filmmaking or inspire you to make your own films? How soon after you started skating did you get involved in filmmaking?
It took a while to get off my ass. I never was a skate filmer – but my roommate, Josh On – who was a skater, got me into shooting post production heavy comedy things and it suddenly took off. We would skate and then shoot stuff and then invoice out our crappy house in Brixton as a post production suite and no one seemed to stop us. We did a lot together and then he moved to SF so I had to start doing it on my own.
What other ways has skateboarding or specific skateboarders influenced you?
Skateboarding teaches you that falling is fine. It’s doesn’t mean you won’t do something if you fail for a bit. Amazingly few people in the world realize that. So that’s the best influence I think and I guess ultimately this show is a tribute to skateboarding as a whole.
A few people stick out: like a few years ago I got to work with Spike Jonze – he was acting in this show I was doing with David Cross called Todd Margaret .It was pretty intimidating directing him. Like – Spike try this, Spike come in later. Spike where is the thing you’re supposed to be carrying? Directing my favorite director. What? He was very gracious though, and I learned tons from him, and got to ask all the questions I had about Video Days, Lakai, all that.
In terms of skaters I always liked Rodney Mullen, Mike Vallely – but I didn’t want to do too many skaters. There are a lot of people skating today who are just amazing, but I don’t want to do a big list via the boards. I would never have stopped – I’d still be making them now.
How did the connection to Skateistan come about? Have you worked with them before?
I was just a fan really. It’s amazing what they do. In Afghanistan young women aren’t allowed to ride bikes but they are allowed to skate ‘cause it’s seen as a toy. So Skateistan built a skatepark where they could skate and do educational programs, and they’re doing the same in Cambodia and South Africa. The whole thing has attitude but it’s really compassionate too. I set the show up so 100% of the sales form the boards go directly to them. We’ve already raised three thousand dollars. It feels good not just to pay tribute to them artistically but give them some dough. It’s right.
From what I gather it seems that the boards in the exhibition are somewhat autobiographical, was there any sort of criteria you had for whether or not a person would get their name on a board? What went into the decision process?
It was pretty much just who floated into my mind, and lots of people have been kind of pissed off when they don’t have a board. I don’t recommend doing this, it’s a minefield. But it’s meant that certain aspects of my life have been easier to deal with – my mother died when I was young and things like that have been easier to think about now it’s more out there through this show.
With the artwork and the tie to helping raise money for Skateistan, what is the one thing you want people to take away from the exhibition?
I want people to just see it, experience it – especially people who maybe would avoid art galleries normally.
So I’m doing a free pizza evening on Friday, August 12th from 6 pm. The gallery is in Chinatown, Los Angeles, on Chung King Road. It’s kind of a great place – it used to be a Kung Fu school!! So if you’re reading this and near LA, come by.