Whether or not you're among his legion of maniacal fans, it's hard to deny the wicked genius of Neck Face — an artist whose singular style has retained its intensity from graffiti to gallery, always a step ahead of proliferative copycats. Since moving to L.A. nearly a decade ago, the 33-year-old has gleefully inhabited the underbelly of Tinseltown, finding inspiration in its dankest reaches for his paintings, sculptures, skateboards, books, haunted houses and gallery shows. These days, he also has an eye on animation.
"When I moved here it was all glitz and glamour, Hollywood this, Hollywood that. Like, 'Oh, you're a Hollywood guy now,'" he says over a pint of tequila and soda water at Black, the bar he opened on Melrose a few years ago after one of his regular dives threatened to kick him out. "There's the darkest corners you've ever seen in your life here. And I've explored all of them."
An inveterate troublemaker, his big eyes and deadpan expressions animate next-level mischief but also radiate warmth and depth. Much like his characters — those bristling, vibrant demons paired with punchy humor and a corrosive tinge of testosterone that make a curious, timely heir to both Bosch and Bukowski — he has a knack for one-liners delivered with old-school comedic timing.
He also has a complicated relationship with his liver. Days start with a slug of pickle juice, for the hangover. A promising sober streak ended recently when his friend, skater Preston "P-Stone" Maigetter, died in a tragic accident. "That's no excuse. But I just started drinking there and just kept going. And I was like, all right, I got it. I can still handle my work."
When not drawing he's often on the road, skating. "I don't skate every day, but mentally," he says, finger to forehead, "I'm skating all the time." And unlike most skateboard artists — "guys who just sit in an office and draw" — he says, "I'm actually in the van, these are actually my friends, I hang out with these dudes all the time."
Covering his face in skate videos became burdensome, so he gave up on anonymity. "And also, I was like, girls ain't even gonna know who I am."
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Like many artists throwing fans off their scent, mythology is part of the game. "I have been misportrayed, but I also like it," he says. "Because it just keeps the mystery going. If everyone has all the fuckin' answers, nothing else to see."
He's had opportunities to sell out and cash in. But behind the raw style and haphazard flow, an uncompromising artistic drive is in charge. "I always look at myself and the projects I approach as an outsider and I'm like, 'Man, imagine if the dude I looked up to did this....' Everything that I do I back 100 percent," he says.
At his poorest, living on $5 a day in New York, he turned down $70,000 for an album cover — "it would've been the last money I ever made," he says. Now you can buy skate socks on Amazon emblazoned with his tomato-red devils — a death knell for art stars who peak early and burn into oblivion — but his street cred remains airtight, his longevity up to him.
"I promised myself a million times, when I was broke or not broke, I'm gonna do this forever. And it's because I love doing it. I don't give a fuck if someone's buying it or not. I'll fuckin' do it and throw it away. ... That's the ultimate feeling, when you do something, and you see the outcome of it and you're like, I did that. I ... did ... that. No money, whatever. That feeling, I did that."