Interview: Hershel Baltrotsky of Girl Skateboards
If you ask anyone who has ever stepped on a board “What company makes the best graphics?” we are willing to bet money that nine out of ten will say Girl Skateboards. As they celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, we caught up with Hershel Baltrotsky — part of the team responsible Girl’s iconic, graphic identity — to pick his brain about new products and collaborations, his favorite “top 10” boards, and what went into installing their latest exhibit/retrospective at Known Gallery in Los Angeles.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Girl?
A. We don’t really have titles here at Girl. I’m part of The Art Dump, our nickname for the art department. There are eight of us and for the most part each person handles a brand. I take care of Girl, board graphics, tees, wheels, catalogs, office party invites, bad chain emails, etc. Everyone helps each other out when we can with graphics, photos, whatever.
Q. The exhibit at Known Gallery was basically a multimedia mash-up, including boards, photography and video. Who curated all of that content and who controls the archive?
A. The archive is really just Girl’s collection of all the sample boards ever made from day one. For a long time, one of each board was hung on the wall and the office was lined with decks. I think after they moved buildings probably 13 years ago, they we’re boxed and only a few we’re hung. For the Known show, Andy Jenkins, Rick Howard, and I went through all eight palettes of decks to narrow it down to just under 400 for the wall. It was a tough process. There are so many good (and terrible) designs from the years that need to be shown, but we had to narrow it down to about one palette’s worth. We would need a much larger space to display them all, which was a very small percentage. After installing the show, I really wanted to figure out a way to have them all displayed.
The photos were harder to curate; there are so many and so many photographers. We missed a lot of things for sure. We’re working on a book project, so this is a great start at digging in the archives. Sarah Christoph, who is our visual director for all things awesome like this art show, helped us by creating a layout design for the show so we could begin to narrow down the content. We asked Manolo’s Tapes to edit down our video history and he did a stellar job documenting our visual history into a 13-minute tearjerker.
Q. What was the installation like? Was it a tedious process?
A. Anytime there is that much stuff, it’s tedious. A lot of planning, a really good layout skeleton, and a lot of drywall screws. Honestly, the planning is almost harder than the install, just making sure all the measurements are correct and everything will line up. It took us about four days to get it fully installed. The board wall and the photo history took the longest. The photos were laid out chronologically and the boards were laid out visually, just by what looked good together. We wanted to mix them all up and really emphasize how graphics change over the years.
Q. How did the Ed Banger collaboration come together?
A. Pedro Winter (Busy P) has always been a huge fan/supporter of Girl as well as a bunch of the Ed Banger family. We’ve linked up with them in the past for various projects and this year, they were celebrating their 10th anniversary and us our 20th, so a special anniversary series was perfect! So me, the designer and producer/musician with Ed Banger, created some amazing collab boards featuring Girl skaters as Ed Banger artists.
Q. What kind of special product did you guys work on for the anniversary?
A. We worked on a bunch of cool projects for the 20th. I was super excited to collaborate with Benji Wagner at Poler on a tent! We wanted to make something special and the tents are a coveted product. They came out amazing! Everyone at Girl is a huge fan of Poler Stuff. The Stance project was amazing because we again created something that we could never make on our own. Stance makes great socks and dye sublimated socks with full color graphics aren’t an easy thing to produce. I’m really excited on how these came out and love the three-pack that they come as. It was a perfect way to highlight our classic films.
Q. Tell us a little about the wooden Girl dolls. You have the originals on display, but who else was chosen to create new ones?
A. The first wooden OG was handmade by Evan Hecox many years ago. After that he handcrafted a few more and then they decided to let the skateboard factory take a stab at it. At the show, we had the original OG that Evan made, as well as a bunch of new ones made by the current Art Dump and some invited guests. The OGs are coveted, they are really special and there aren’t that many of them. I think that one of the top three questions that I get at Girl is “Can I get one of those OG dolls?”
We invited some contributing artists and past members of the Art Dump to do some for the show. Thomas Campbell, Todd Bratrud, Bob Kronbauer, Andrew Pommier, and Michael Sieben, just to name a few. Over the years lots and lots of amazing artists have made OGs.
Q. How does it feel to be part of such an iconic brand?
A. I feel really lucky everyday. This company is a family and everyone here is awesome — not just saying that. I get to work with artists and skateboarders that I looked up to my whole life. It’s a lot of fun.
Q. Are you looking forward to another 20 years of Girl crushing it?
A. Totally! Who knows what skateboarding will be like in 20 years. I think it works better one day at a time. I’m looking forward to starting new graphics for the next catalog and that’s as far as I can think.