Nick Jensen on Art, Isle & ‘Vase’

Anticipating an upcoming Isle Skateboards section in TransWorld’s ‘The Cinematographer Project World View’, a series of interviews conducted in the lead up to ‘Vase’ will be uploaded throughout this week! Here’s the final instalment with Nick Jensen and featuring Jacob Harris, originally published December 2015.

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Due to having not seen ‘Vase’ at the time the following conversation took place, I invited Jacob Harris along to fill in for any absent information on my part. It also seemed deserving for Jake to spend some time on the other side of an interview…

As an integral part of Isle Skateboards, Nick Jensen has been unique in the process  of creating ‘Vase’, experiencing it from  the perspective of both a skateboarder and film maker through assisting Jake with the 16mm camera work and developing the video’s art direction. 

With opinions on skateboarding are just as interesting as his actions when riding a board alongside consistently releasing video parts, many of which are regarded as classics; it was a real privilege to talk all things Isle and ‘Vase’ with Nick.

When I last spoke to Jake he discussed how meticulous your filming habits can be. Such as trying things over and over again because you stress about tricks not being good enough. Have you always been like that when it comes to filming or has it developed as you have got older and felt you have to be a bit more considered in your approach? 

(Laughs), sort of, I wouldn’t say unbelievably so… I just think it’s always a feeling. Like when you know yourself and you do something and you have got a sense that you have got a better version in you. I think everyone has that and if you have got a filmer who is patient enough then it’s for that reason. Sometimes you’ll do something and you’re like, “It’s fine leave it” – it’s to do with instinct I think.

Is there anything outside of skateboarding that you find affects your mindset while filming?

Jacob Harris: I think you’re pretty closed off when it comes to that. When you are skating you’re completely sectioned off from everything else.

I mean I’m sure you’re like that too; when you skate it’s a pshyical thing so you’re not that mental. I think everyone has shit going on that can influence a certain attitude towards a trick. Unless it’s something that pisses you off you might have a bit more in your tank to try be gnarly and do a harder trick. With me and Jake, having a good relationship with a filmer and someone who knows your capabilities – and (Tom) Knox as well, we hang out together quite a lot. Knox is good because he’ll push you and so many times I’ll try and wriggle out of things like, “Eh, don’t think I can do that”, and talk myself out of it but Jake and Knox wouldn’t let me do that. I don’t find it that pressurising because you’re out with your mates.

There are a few obvious similarities between filming for Vase and Eleventh Hour [2013] but has it been different in any ways?

It has been more exciting because we’re crafting a vision as a new company. Me and Jake would have long chats after skates and talk about ridiculous things we were going to plan. It felt like being back at school, like A-Level art projects. It was just really exciting to watch something come together.

In a past interview you talked about having certain themes apply to your video parts. With Eleventh Hour you said it was lines –

These are probably just excuses to make me sound more interesting than I am because I’m shit, (laughs). I just think you get excited about certain things. This time me and Jake came across loads of bike lanes in central London which had quite interesting proportions so you can ollie one, land in the middle and then ollie to the other. It’s a bit like Chris (Jones), he skates these tunnels that you’ll see in his section in the second part. I always get so excited about that, when someone gets so into something and then finds all these different versions of those spots I think it’s cool.

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How has filming for Vase compared to some of your other previous sections?

I guess with Fully Flared [2007] it was a bit panicky just because it was such a stressful video; the way it was being talked about like, “It’s going to be the best.” All this pressure and stuff. Then I think more Eleventh Hour, things just develop as you get older. When I was younger I didn’t necessarily think too much about it but when you have skated London a lot you get, maybe not bored, but want to find new exciting ways to present things so you look for connections in spots. Being from London, or England in that respect, one thing we have in our advantage is that we skate really interesting looking spots that you can’t get in other cities. So I just tried to make sure I skated loads of brick or rugged things. That wasn’t really a theme but it made me realise the strengths of being a British skater is the quirks of our architecture and environment.

Jake: I think you have always had three or four spots that you have always concentrated on, that you have always returned to.  Is that a conscious thing or is it just the spots that are available and you get comfortable there?

I think you build confidence when you have a relationship with a spot because you know you have done something there before so it’s like, “I can do something again.” If I had taken a really bad slam at one of these spots maybe I would never go back to them but I had got something out the spot… Maybe it’s more of a security thing.

How long does it take for you to be able to enjoy a video part after it is finished? With what I said at the start about re-filming things, I imagine appreciating the effort you put in would be somewhat of a bigger issue for you?

After I’ve finished it, to enjoy watching it? It’s weird, I don’t know how to say it without sounding prententious but I’ve never really kept any magazines I have been in or things like that. Some people have collections and stuff but other than Isle boards on my wall, or maybe one cover hidden at the bottom of a bag somewhere I’ve lost everything. I’m bad at organising things. I think I’m bad at feeling that sense of pride and always being so proud of it. I get stoked on the atmosphere of the video and what everyone is doing and I don’t really think about it more than that. I don’t like it when things get historicised loads like, “Oh, we did this video, we changed the world”. At the end of the day it’s just our way of having fun, skating and presenting it.

Jake: So you don’t dwell on your parts at all?

I mean dwell is quite a hard word to say… It’s almost a bit awkward isn’t it, when you watch yourself doing something? You don’t want to be like, “Yeah, amazing! So proud of how good I am”, or something. There are moments obviously when you’re watching, like at the premiere on my last trick I get like a hit of, “Yes! Stoked!” Because I know how hard it was.

As we have got Jake here to fill in for my lack of knowledge, what was that trick?

It’s at a spot I like to return to, the three stairs up and six stairs down, loads of people have skated there. I did a switch flip manual on that which I was stoked on because I didn’t have enough pop to get up the fucking manual pad. I spent hours and hours trying until I fluked one, (laughs). It’s going to be an anticlimax for you now.

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You have a lot of involvement with the production of Isle’s graphics. How do you find that process and how do you decide what will be run as a board graphic?

It’s really fun doing graphics. I guess I go to see a lot of art shows so I look at other people’s work, take influence from that and have a more relaxed relationship with making a board graphic. As long as it looks good, then that’s made the criteria for me. It’s not as sophisticated as fine art in terms of it doesn’t have an agenda outside of being interesting and functions on a board. It’s more playful, experimental and fun and you can kind of gauge quickly by doing a few experiments. We will make a board and be like, “Hmm that’s not really working”, and go back to the drawing board. It’s not like we come up with these great ideas and then the next day photograph them, they can take up to two months to develop.

Something interesting you have utilised with Isle is basically building what will become board graphics like with the ‘Curiosities’ and ‘Studio’ series. Why do you prefer the process of psychically creating a graphic rather than digital production?

I don’t know, I’m shit at using a laptop so I just don’t know how to do that or I don’t get excited about that. I’ve never been that interested in illustration or that language so for me, arranging objects in space is the funnest and most cool thing to do. Then we realised you can actually photograph that if you get someone like Sam Ashley, he’s the one who shoots quite a lot of the graphics. So, if you set up all these lights and screen print it, it can look really good. I was worried it would look really low-fi with the printing technique.

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Appropriated imagery has become quite prevalent with skateboard graphics at the moment. I was wondering about your stance on that and where does the imagery for the ‘Push/Pull’ series of graphics come from?

(Laughs), well rather shamefully that has been nicked from an artist who is dead now. That book was from the 1970s, we just really liked it. When you first start a brand you are kind of scattering, you kind of know what you’re about but then certain things resonate and you realise that, “Wow, that really relates to the to the way I think about skateboarding and the way I think about art.” Those images had that effect where it felt connected in a way so we thought, “Fuck it, let’s just use them.” We changed them around slightly, the text and the size.

There has been a couple of graphics based around the vase them to tie into the video, like one of Tom Knox’s pro boards is literally a bunch of stacked up vases. I know the reasoning behind the name Vase but where does the concept stem from?

Basically, in the way that a lot of our graphics are still lives made in the studio, Jake and I were thinking about how do we extend the static photograph of that into a video? How do you translate that? Coming up with Vase is a punctuation of that narrative for us. That is what we are interested in, looking at objects. Then I started relating a vase as an object to the video camera, this notion of it being a container for something and a video being a container for tricks that are aesthetically pleasing the same way as a vase is for flowers. It’s trying to be poetic and open to suggestion without trying to be too proscriptive. So, there’s no real reason, it just sounded a bit fun… One of the benefits of it is Americans pronounce it ‘vayze’ and Isle has also had trouble being pronounced. So many people pronounce it like ‘eye-sel’. People think it has been intentional on my part and then I’m taking credit for it now, pretending it has been.

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Going way back, why did you choose to name the company Isle?

Rob Mathieson helped us to decide it. I was thinking ‘Island’ – these ideas of something slightly exotic or remote and independent. Something soft sounding, no sort of strength behind it other than something suggestive and open… Four letters look good on a board, simple things like that.

Getting to back the imagery surrounding the video, last night I noticed that the tape slot of the VX is smashed on the poster, is that reflecting that this is Jake’s ‘last’ full length video?

Jake: No, no symbolism like that. To actually get the flowers into the camera we had to take a chisel to it.

We bought a fucked camera online…

Jake: Off of Avi (Chris Atherton), actually.

How have you found focusing on a video in a wider sense, by being involved with visuals and 16mm footage, rather than just your section?

Super fun, I’ve always loved to do this sort of stuff. I remember at St Martin’s, the first year when I was doing art school, I got really into Super 8 camera like every art student does and flirted with it and thought it was really fun. Me and Jake have a really good relationship with filming and coming up with ideas together which is why it has developed so well. We can say things and the other person knows what they  are on about when it’s a bit abstract and take that idea further and develop it together. Without that dialogue then it would be a bit impossible to achieve.

What is about 16mm footage that appealed to you so much for the intro and throughout the video?

I think Jake should answer that.

Jake: I guess that’s a personal thing for me. It just has so much more magnificence than something like Super 8 which is just a tiny image; but that has a place which we used as well. 16mm captures the details of what you are looking at and instantly romanticizes things. It has this language. I feel you can point it in any direction, or at anything, and it mythologizes things straight away and lends an atmosphere they sort of don’t have and I think that’s a really powerful tool. Jake previously described the introduction as a clear vision that turned into a ‘disparate jumble of images’ – can you elaborate on that, Nick?

Well I guess we didn’t have like a theme. Other than we’re interested in vases and a more suggestive language so it made sense to try and come up with an intro that responded to that. We wanted to collate more creative ideas that we felt were connected just through a kind of gut instinct. But then we came up with the idea of balloons to use as a thread, a kind of backbone structure…

Jake: Also the way you end up working with it is you shoot fifteen 

minutes and have to get it developed as a batch otherwise it’s super expensive. So you shoot fifteen minutes of film and you actually don’t know what it looks like until youget it back or you don’t remember what is on there and you get super excited by a different idea when you’re shooting. When it comes back it looks completelydifferent so it is like, “How are we going to marry this?”

Have you ever considered giving Jake a guest board for Isle?

Definitely, like a filmer cruiser board would be sick. I haven’t asked him yet…

Jake: I need massive royalty cheques.

Yeah, I think he’s too expensive for us.

As it is the first northern premiere tonight, do you think the video may be received differently up here as opposed to London? 

I think people here are super cool and they are core skaters and the video is a core skate video. It is interesting, every premiere we get a different cheer for different things. Certain people get more stoked on certain things, I can’t predict people’s responses but I feel people really like it.

Jake: The only thing that’s different is we’re just surrounded by all our mates in London so no matter what we’ve done they are just like, “It’s fucking amazing mate!”

And we have got no northern skaters on the team.

Jake: Oh yeah, shit, that’s true…

Is it a concern for you that Isle might be labelled a ‘London company’?

I guess we’re just interested in good skating. That sounds so stupid but it isn’t that we are picking people specifically because it’s London. If someone we were really interested in stood out we would definitely put them on the team. It has got nothing to do with where but I wouldn’t want to start a company and put people from different parts of the country as an agenda to make it more homogenised.

Isle is distributed by Theories of Atlantis in the States and there seems to be some anticipation on that end. Do you think the video can resonate with an American audience as it can here?

More so but in a different way because the Americans romanticise British culture so much. They’re like, “Oh my god, I love Morrissey dude” so we’re playing up to that a little bit, (laughs).

Jake: They’re going to think it’s cute, I think.

They’ll think, “Oh, it’s so rugged”… They’ll love it, but in a slightly more patronising way.

Jake: Yeah, exactly, (laughs).

Do you think they will understand that the sort of spots featured in the video are not pandering to the fact that spots over here are like that, it is just as they are generally?

For me it’s more about style and how that person threads ideas together in what they do. So, if people skate rough spots and it feels like a pastiche or they are trying make a cellar door look ‘real’ with spray paint and put it next to some stairs – I’m cool with that but what they have got to understand is it isn’t just about how the spot looks. It is about how you connect that with your style and your skating and other ideas.

With the majority of the video being filmed in London, do you feel you get the best out of a skater when, for lack of better way to say it, they are in their natural habitat?

I mean, it’s just your strengths. I guess you grow up skating certain stuff. I prefer skating tarmac to a smooth concrete skatepark because my legs feel like they need a bit of vibration in them to do a trick otherwise it feels too good and I’ll slam.

Jake: With you guys, you definitely work better at home. It depends how you skate, a lot dudes work so well in the trip scenario because they have a bunch of tricks to rifle off and need a spot to do it at whereas it is not the case with you.

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nick-jensen-isle-skateboards-curiosities-graphic-speedway-magazine-vase-interviewWith Vase finished, Isle has passed what could be considered the first milestone for the company. Due to the legacy Blueprint left, you and Paul (Shier) are both still strongly associated with the name and in turn, even though it has a very different aesthetic, Isle is often considered Blueprint’s successor. Does the thought of that bother you or make you feel the brand has something to step up to?

I just feel proud that there is a certain British way of presenting skateboarding that Blueprint is so responsible for in a way that I can’t really define. If there is any way elements of that can be carried on, to me that is amazing. If there is a comparison between the two I feel like that is a real privilege and I think it carved a niche in the way it presented skateboarding or the way you felt if you watched it. It had a certain quality to it. Jake really liked Blueprint videos and there’s something about the way Jake edits and films that continues that on a little bit.

Finally, as Jake felt he didn’t have a proper answer to this question and you have been so heavily involved with the video, I thought I would put this one to you. What are you hoping people will take away from the Isle video about both the company and skateboarding as a whole?

I’m just really happy because people like the graphics and stuff but we have only done a couple of video projects here and there and they have been a bit on the side of ‘art’. To actually have an opportunity to show how good and interesting the skaters are on the team, I feel like it is such a relief. It just galvanizes what is already strong so I just want people to be like, “Cool, we can really believe in those dudes.” We’re like a little family, it sounds a bit weird to say that but it is true. We’re really good mates, we hang out. I just want that to transfer across, for people to get that and to feel like they’re connected with that.


More on Isle Skateboards & ‘Vase’:

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tom-knox-isle-skateboards-vase-interview-speedway-magazine

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