THIS IS ZIT
Punk rock Picasso and longtime journalistic purveyor
of heavy underground music, Pushead is now a hot
art commodity, due in large part to a few friends
cellectively know as Metallica
by George Petros
All of a sudden, there was a hardcore/thrash/skate scene,
and PUSHEAD personified it in three ways: giving hardcore punkers
something to look at, riding Zorlac skateboards to fame and fortune,
and helping to establish one of the most powerful post-punk social
genres to survive the '80s.
Pushead is primarily known as an illustrator. For years, he's been
creating skull-ridden drawings, the most widely seen of which appear
on certain Metallica products. The best examples were collected for
an extended show at New york's Psychedelic Solution gallery. He reduces
skate/thrash to its elemental symbols: skulls, bones, tattered flesh
and wounds, all with a sense of the blackest humor. Pushead is today's
premier board decorator. Additionally, he writes a highly influential
column in THRASHER.
Early interest in Pushead centered around his work in the punk zine scene.
He provided scene reports, putting Boise on the tour agenda of many hardcore
hedonists. As time went by, skate rock developed and Pushead stayed on top
of it all. Here he is, to tell you how he did it.
What sort of criticism about your work bothers you the most?
None really, because I don't think I draw for praise or for criticism.
I just draw an idea or a design. if someone criticizes it, that's fine; if
someone loves it, that's fine also.
You have a relationship with the 'ol hardcore scene-
I still do.
Going back to your association with THRASHER Magazine.
Well, that's two different subjects. We stopped doing Septic
Death awhile ago, even though we have some records that are still
coming out. Septic Death was more just a fun project that I started
when I lived in idaho. It just kind of took off from there. As far as
THRASHER goes, when I started, I was also living in Idaho, just a contributor
who'd send things in, trying to represent the scene that I was involved
with,because I didn't see many people doing that in the industry. In
doing that, when I moved to San Francisco, THRASHER wanted me to come
down and do more work with them. It's come to where now I'm doing the
music type work that's in there, exposing all types of music, of all kinds
of minds, to the 400,000-plus a month kids that read the magazine. So,
there's room to expose the hardcore stuff to the kids; bands like Sick
of It All-they're a great band, and it's good for kids to find out about
that kind of stuff, that it still exist.
Do you like the designation skate/thrash/metal? Is it accurate?
That's even hard because there's so many people who skateboard, and
they're in so many different types of lifestyles. Hardcore and metal are
probably the most dominant styles listened to by the THRASHER audience, but
then again, they like other stuff too, and we try to cover that at the
same time. We also try to throw in things that they'd never expect.
Is skateboarding a sport?
Some kids will say it's a sport, some of them will say it isn't.
It's an activity that's considered close to being a sport. It's a lot like
surfing. In fact, I think the skate scene is much bigger than the surfing
scene at this point. I don't know if that in decades to come, old skate-
boarders will still be into it, like how the old-time surfers are still
totally into the beach and the water. It's too early to tell.
Surfing spawned skateboarding. Then what will follow skateboarding?
I don't know, because surfing was spawned from the waves, and they
formed something that the boards could cruise around on. So what's next
after skateboarding, who knows? BMXs got real big for awhile, when skate-
boarding was down, but now BMX-ing isn't as popular as it was, and skate-
boarding is still really big. skateboarding is such a hard sport to describe,
because it's such a personal thing. It's such an independent, individual thing,
it's the person on the board and what they can do with it. Even for spectators
to watch, they'll see certain things, like lift tricks, that they won't
understand, but the skaters will understand, and they can relate to that.
What's the connection between your art and your music?
You mean with Septic Death? Well, I started drawing way before I had
the band. I've been drawing for ages. We startd the band just 'cause it
was a fun thing to do, we got together 'cause we all liked the same music.
We were able to play live, to tour, and to put out records-it was a fun
and very unusual experience. But drawing is still my number one priority,
of all the things that I'm involved in.
I hate to ask you, but what are the influences on your drawings?
My influences stem, over the years, from anywhere to Virgil Finlay
to Bernie Wrightson to Alex Ninio to Franklin Booth to Albrecht Durer and
Will Eisner. Those are the people that I came up with first, and they're
the ones that I like because of the way that they work. Especially, Virgil
Finlay, he was a genius ahead of his time.
All those people you mention were black-and-white illustrators, which
is not as prevalent today.
Yeah, like Finlay, he used to illustrate stories for all the famous
authors of his time. His stuff was great; he knew, so well, how to use
detail to his advantage, and that's remarkable to me. Like Booth's stuff
too, he came out of that late 1800's-early 1900's period when the pen ink
genre of art was so popular. And he was one of the beast at it.
Finaly did his best stuff when he was in the army. Would you be doing
your style of work if you were in the army?
My impression of the army is that if you're in the barracks, and
had to do your certain soldier-type duties during the day, you'd probably
spend your spare time doing something like drawing. Especially if you're in
the army today-which I would hate to be, 'cause war sucks-you'd really want
to express how bad things are. Then, the things you'd learn as a soldier, you
could express through your artwork. Like the vicious cycle of the democratic
system, and how, as a soldier, you're forced to kill people that you shouldn't
have to. That's the kind of stuff that you'd want to express, so that people
can see it. You have to understand, that unless you've been in the military
or served in battle, most people don't know what was is like, aside from the
stories they've heard or what they've seen on television. And I don't
think that any film could describe the fears and feelings of the men who
fought these wars. Also, there's two different sides to it: The guys who wanted
to fight, and the people who didn't want to, but had to go.
Going back to the subject of your drawings, what effect did psychedelia-
and I mean the real thing, not the stuff that came afterwards-have on
The only thing in psychedelia that I can say influenced me was Rick Griffin.
To me, Rick Griffin's lettering is mind-blowing, he's really good. I'm real
glad that I met him and that I'm friends with him. He was responsible for
getting me this show.
It's his lettering that grabs you, in particular?
His style of inking is amazing. His lettering changed the face of the genre.
Nobody really did that beore him. I don't know where he got his style from,
but it's truly wonderful.
What kind of present-day art don't you like?
I don't like the majority of comic art anymore. I think there was a time
when people like Barry Smith and Jack Kirby were in the field where there was
a lot of good stuff out. But now, I go into a comic store and the only thing I
look for are Zinclavage, Simon Bisley, Kevin O'Neil; I look at all these other
artists and there's really nothing that I'm into. There's also some Japanese
artists that are totally mind-boggling.
What about the underground art scene?
I don't know too much about the art scene. If you talk about underground artists,
I'll tell you about the people that I know like Squeal, Sean Taggart, people
that I've met by doing the whole Pushead trip. Being in communication, I've
met this whole genre of artists that people don't know, and Squeal is the best
of the bunch. His style is so unique and different, I can't believe it. I like to try
to help people like this out, to help them break into new markets, where nobody
knows who they are. Since I know certain people in the business, I try to
recommend these other great artists. Instead of taking up all the jobs myself, I love
to give new people a chance. To me, that's what the underground is all about. Like
Sean Taggart, he just did a shirt for the Prince tour, which is really good.
That makes me happy to see a guy like that break into a market like that too, and
still do his style of work. We're all friends, and that's important.
What do all these people have in common?
We all come from the same scene, the hardcore music scene. That's how I got
together with them; they saw my stuff, I saw their stuff, and we tracked each other
down. We've become friends and we help each other out. We're like a little family.
So the music scene is a catalyst for art?
Yeah, in these days it really helps 'cause there's so many things to do.
There's album covers, t-shirt merchandising, stickers, the whole rock thing
has expanded into different areas. In the old days, we used to wish that we
could draw comic books. Now, I don't wanna do comics. I was asked to do Mr.
Monster with Michael Gilbert but I'd rather do t-shirts and fun stuff like
I know you're probably tired of this question, but how did your association
with Metallica begin?
Well, I came across Metallica when I first moved to san Francisco from Idaho.
When I met them, they were fans of the Misfits shirt that I'd done, 'cause they
were real fans of the Misfits' music. A few years before that, a friend of mine
had introduced me to Glen Danzig. I'd told him that I'd do some drawings for him,
and that maybe he could use it on a poster or something. I just wanted to be nice,
to be a friend to him. It was cool, one of the drawings he used on the back of an
album cover, and Metallica really liked it. When I met those guys, they asked me
for some shirts and I gave 'em to them. They wore them around, and then James called
me up and asked me to do a drawing for the Masters of Puppets album.
But being that they recored in Denmark, and that James gave me the wrong telephone
number to contact the management, I had no idea what to do, and by the time they
got back from Denmark, it was too late. So, then they got me to do a t-shirt design,
and together with james, we created the "Damage, Inc." skull. I've been working
with them ever since. The success of that design has been phenomenal, and the
people in that industry, saw the success of this-helped bring skulls in general
back to merchandising. I'm not saying that I created the skull thing, but the
merchandisers say that I rejuvenated something that was already there. Now, every
rock band has a skull t-shirt.
What is it that you rejuvenated?
Well, I guess using skulls as a merchandising factor to make money. Metallica
shirts sell like crazy. Nowadays, when a band puts a skull on their t-shirt, that
shirt will sell more than the rest 'cause kids right now are into that skull-type stuff.
But there must be something more unique about your work because the
Grateful Dead have used skulls in their marketing for years.
That's why I used the word 'rejuvenated'. What I think happened is that since the
Dead did use skulls, a lot of people looked at skulls as either a biker thing, or
as a Grateful Dead-type thing. It got stuck in that kinda genre for a while. All of
a sudden, skulls came back through hardcore, and people like me were drawing them.
But that was all underground. But bringing skulls to a band like Metallica brought
it to all new proportions. I mean, Tim Yohannon of Maximum Rock 'n Roll
said to me, 'We're gonna put a skull on the cover, and I wanna kill you 'cause you
started this whole thing, this whole stupid skull thing.' I told him that I had
no idea. Who would have known? I had no idea that drawings I did in 1981 would make
someone want to get a tattoo of it today. I mean, there's so many tattoos of that
stuff, it's crazy. There's so much controversy over those drawings. I had no idea,
I was just drawing skulls.