Legend is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but when your résumé includes designing the Public Enemy logo and creating album covers for the Beastie Boys, it’s well deserved. We recently caught up with legendary graffiti artist Eric Haze at the PacSun NYC pop-up shop for the release of the Haze x Hurley collection. Check out what Haze had to say about the action sports industry, the people who inspire him, cars, and more.
Tell us about the collab with Hurley and how it came to be.
Hurley reached out to me initially to see if I was down to do the collab and I was definitely psyched. We went out to the West Coast to spend a week with them and their team and saw how they do what they do, and it’s really an unbelievably cutting edge company. Yeah, it’s surf/skate, everybody knows that, but they’ve got some of the best trickle down technology with the board shorts and the sandals, so beyond just what we’re doing here with the first simple drop, I’m real excited about what we’re doing for the future. This was just the tip of the iceberg, this is the first hot drop, but we’ve got all kinds of high-tech surf/skate stuff coming out next year — board shorts, footwear, and some sporting gear. People know my East Coast roots, but I put in 12 years in the trenches out on the West Coast, a lot of that in the golden era of streetwear with tradeshows in Long Beach and San Diego, so the more time I’ve spent working with Hurley and building, the more I’m reconnecting to the roots of streetwear.
Why do you think your art translates so well to action sports and streetwear?
I think at this point and the last five or 10 years, I finally reached a balance between a lot of different roles I play and a lot of different mediums. Coming up, I was focused on one thing — it was a design studio — and then it was a clothing brand and then when I got back to New York seven or eight years ago, my mission was to level those playing fields and learn to synthesize all these things.
I also rolled up my sleeves again and started painting and doing things organically because I felt like I had to get out of the box. In most of these projects, what I’ve been trying to do is push that fusion between art and product, design and fine art. This is a good example of how I created a collection as a designer and then I work with Hurley as an art director, and then I’m freed up as Eric, the artist, to do my thing organically to seal the deal. If you say people are reconnecting to some of my past and understanding this fusion, at least part of it’s not an accident. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all these years and still have my own brand.
I work hard to keep my brand live and sexy, but I also realized over the last 10 years that sometimes there’s more power in me collaborating with major industry leaders than there is in my trying to push the rock up the hill myself as an indie brand. I did my decade and a half as an indie brand and I realized instead of me doing all the heavy lifting all the time, I was in a luxurious position with the Nikes, Casios, Hurleys, you name it, where they trusted me to do my thing and they did their thing better than any indie company could ever hope to do. At the end of the day, going all the way back to graffiti, it’s always been about reaching the largest possible audience, so if I can team up with major multi-national corporations who have the money and muscle to get things out there, it actually takes a certain amount of weight off my shoulders and frees me up to just do what I do best and let them share it with the world.
Who inspires you as an artist right now in any medium?
My generation came up when galleries were the only available medium. When we were confronted with being professionals, coming off the trains, hanging our work on the wall was the only road, the only playing field. Obviously, I switched it up and traveled a different path, but when I came back to New York six or seven years ago, I was really struck and grabbed by the roots of my generation. It was like a fork in the road that I took a left turn on and I had to come back and explore the right turn. When I got home, I felt the spirit of Keith Haring and of Jean Michel and the influence of the big painters of my generation. Those were the things that inspired me to roll up my sleeves, practice my Kung Fu, and relearn to be a big painter. That’s the beauty of these big projects. I function as a designer and a brand in the world of product, but I’ve learned to integrate that passion for painting into what’s become a lot of installations to support the projects. In a way, my inspiration comes from the past more than the present.
Do you have any dream collabs?
People ask me that question in fashion and I say Margiela, but there are two things I have in my sights, but I haven’t found the right space for yet. One is I want to do an airplane inside and out from interior fabric to the exterior, and there’s some furniture ideas that I’ve got, but I’m still waiting for the right partner to pop up. When they come knocking, I’ll start doing furniture.
Outside of art, who are your heroes and why?
I’ve always looked to Jim Brown as a hero. He put his stats up and then walked away from the game at the peak, so I’ve always tried to learn from that. Not do a Jordan or something where I come back and miss the shot. I knew when my time as a player was up, so I started my own franchise and learned to become a good coach. Now I’m a franchise owner who knows how to coach and I can always put my game into play or put myself in the game if the team needs me. I’m on deck, but I don’t need to play anymore.
What other hobbies do you have or activities do you do?
I’m a fool for anything with wheels and a motor. I’ve been a gearhead since day one. I’ve got some crazy photo of me on a tricycle with this look in my eye and I’ve had it ever since then. I do a lot of car restoration in my spare time. I just finished my racecar, a 1968 Dodge Dart, which we’re taking to Englishtown for the Mopar Nationals and it’s the first trip down the track for a car I just spent five years building and restoring. Now I’m into vans, too — I went van crazy this last year. I just finished one and I got two more on deck that I’m gonna restore and trick out. Other than that, I just spend time with my lady. We’re big boxing fans, so we’ve been going to the Barclays Center to see the fights and we’re going to see Mayweather in Vegas next month. Autosports, boxing, and spending time with friends and fam, that’s all I do.