“It´s been around ten years ago since I first met Fernando. He was visiting our common friend, Pipas, in Switzerland and they came over for a skate session in the barn. We did not talk much back then and we didn´t have a real connection. He was mostly sitting somewhere drawing in a notebook, while everyone else got stoned when not skating. When dinner time came he sat on the side picking a raw cabbage and I remember asking him what was up with that. He told me he was as a raw foodist and how he got into that.
I knew he was living as an artist but I had no idea what kind of stuff he was making until he gave me one of his books as a present when he left. I was really stoked about the art in that book and I started following his blog and writing emails to him every once in a while.
This summer we had the great opportunity to organize an exhibition with Fernando in my hometown, Konstanz. The exhibition was a great success and getting to know him for a second time was a very funny and inspiring experience. Check out this interview we just made via skype.”
Piper: Is this the right box to type in? Ah ja..it is…looked different some years ago 😉
Fernando Elvira: Yeah, right box, hope my computer holds up, I have been experiencing computer crashes lately.
P: If I don’t read anything for more than five minutes,we stop, OK?
F: OK. This is for the Confusion website, right?
Yes.. let´s start right away with a basic introduction. Name, age , where are you from and where are you right now?
FERNANDO ELVIRA, 43. I am in Algatocín right now, where I live but I am from Algorta, Basque Country.
You traveled to Germany with a lot of art and did some exhibitions. Now that you are back home and look back, was it worth it?
Yeah totally worthy. I had a great time, made new friends and got to do some side travels.
Traveling within traveling… where did it take you?
I went to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Belgium… in between shows. Plus I got to know new places in Germany like Konstanz, Heilbronn and Köln… loved it (for the most part).
It sure was a lot of work putting up the shows. What was the typical day off when you were traveling?
Walking around, taking pictures, waiting for buses, trains and ferries… stuff like this. I really enjoyed traveling with only a small backpack.
Did you bring a skateboard?
I brought two skateboards to Germany but none on my side travels, I don’t skateboard all that much anymore.
For one who doesn’t skate much anymore, you still have some good skills. I witnessed you doing some crazy lines when we met in La Kantera this summer. I was impressed, how long were you not skating before that?
Fuck, that was like 10 months of no proper skating. I used to have much more tricks and much more consistency when I skated often, but thanks anyway. I think as we get older you really have to skate often if you want to keep your skills alive, otherwise they rust. But I am cool with skating little. I have a variety of other interests in life besides skateboarding.
To me it looked like you had great fun!
I always have fun, remember inventing tricks at the Gallery in Konstanz?, that was so much fun. I just don´t skate now as much as I used to do it before.
Those guys are really good skaters and very generous with their time, they helped us so much.
Ja. And they loved it, too.
You brought three big boxes full of stuff. I was really wondering how this would turn out. Did you have the idea with the wall full of frames before you came or was it spontaneous action?
Haha… I brought too much art! I really wanted to make a massive collage but the final composition of it was totally improvised. By the way, you broke the glass of one collage so… just kidding!
I was surprised how different the pieces were that you brought. A really wide spectrum of techniques compared to what I saw when entering single exhibitions before. How long did you work on what you brought?
That was about 5 years of work.
I noticed that for someone who is shooting lots of photos you don’t exhibit them just as prints, you always work on them. Be it on the frame or adding things to the print. Why is that?
I used to hang simple photos on my shows, but then I realized that they were not that strong, so I started to do collages with them, I was very pleased with the results. Now I always “mess” with my photographs.
Was this before or after you came up with those massive journals full of collages, poems and what not? They seemed almost like diaries to me.
I always did collages on those journals, now I do collages directly to be framed. I still like to put a collage book together every now and then… it takes a lot of work, massive photo printing and collecting of junk, souvenirs, etc.
The people at the show reacted pretty strongly to them. Pretty much everyone ignored the “do not touch” signs… like they wanted to take a look in some secret book.
Yeah, next time I will put them inside a glass box… people, they get very curious about them.
Once everything was hung and it was about to open the doors to the public, how did you feel?, were you nervous?
Yeah, I felt like I was exposing myself naked, it took me awhile to calm down and put myself together. The last solo show I had was five years ago, so I was clearly out of practice.
And then people who bought books wanted you to sign them when they realized that the artist was around. Surely a strange situation, did you ever have this before? You painted them some funny stuff directly in the book and they were stoked!
Yes, sometimes people are too shy to approach me, but I really like hearing their opinions… in the end, the exhibition is for them.
Let´s take a big step back in time and talk about the first art related job you had. I am talking about the 360 Skate mag. When was that and how did you get involved?
I was writing articles for a magazine called “Skate Magazine” (very original name) in Madrid. Some surfers in the Basque, who wanted to start a skate mag, liked my writing style and offered me a full time job, so my first job EVER was running a nation-wide distributed skateboard mag. I had to do everything: photos, texts, layout, art and they gave me complete creative freedom (since they did not know shit about skating). That was 1990-1992, I think.
But where did your skills came from?, school?
Well… I drew a lot in school, naturally. Then I started a black and white zine, the first one in Spain about skating and gossip. I am self-taught, I guess.
And 360 was later then?
Yes, I dropped out of college (Chemistry) when they called me and moved to Getxo. The job was done the old fashion way, like a zine but in full color. I used the photocopy machine a lot, also took photographs from video stills… everything pretty artisan but really a beautiful way of working.
Like almost the same style you work nowadays, right?
Exactly, but now I´m much more experienced.
You are pretty much like a dinosaur stepping into a design bureau showing up with some scissors, colour paper and prints. When you work for big companies like Zero or Salomon, how do they react on this?
Last year I went to Annecy in France to make snowboard graphics at the Salomon Headquarters. I worked on the floor with scissors and papers while everyone was on their computers. It was almost a performance. They loved it. That’s why these companies sometimes call me, because they want something different, not only in they way it looks, but in the way is executed.
When I saw on you blog that you did those pro models for Zero I wondered how this came together. Do you know Jamie Thomas from any of your american trips or did you e-mail him like:”hey, I have some cool ideas…”
No, he approached me like this: “Hi, my name is Jamie Thomas…” He saw some of my artwork somewhere, found my email and wrote directly to me.
And you did know him by name?
Well, of course, he is one the greatest skaters ever. And I knew he had a large company. By the way, I sold all my Zero boards in Germany this summer.
I thought you were maybe a bit off the skate scene at that time, but you are right, not to know who Jamie Thomas is, as a skater, would have required an extraordinary level of ignorance. He ripped over a decade.
Still, I am always a bit off the skate scene.
Was there ever something like a decision to be made like: I want to be a artist or live as an artist? or did this just “happen”?
I met Thomas Campbell in the Basque and we lived together for awhile, he was the first person I ever saw living his life as a full-time artist. When the skate magazine was about to close down he told me “you should become an artist“… so I did.
Did you ever regret your decision? I mean, you told me that you moved to Algatocín because it’s much cheaper to live and that it is hard to survive as an artist these days in Spain. You could have been a regularly paid art director or something with the career you once started.
I am an art director already… just of my own company. But no, I don´t regret moving to Algatocín, my best work was produced there. Sometimes is it tough? Yes, but I can’t complain because I do with my time as I please.
And the area around Algatocín seems to fit the healthy lifestyle you practice, as I saw on some of your photos and stories on the blog. How is a typical Fernando mountain day going down?
It keeps changing, sometimes is hardcore, sometimes is relaxed. I am working now on emptying my house and reducing my personal belongings in half, just getting rid of a lot of stuff via donation or destruction.
A hardcore day, please.
Climbing the mountain twice in a day, hitting the gym, painting all night, sunbathing naked, collecting 100-150 cactus fruit a day…
When you were in Konstanz you did this performance of eating 40 bananas in a single day for the honour of a friend having his 40th birthday. You called this a monofruit day. Is that a concept that you do often?
Hehehe, here we go… if you do it for one meal, it’s called “monomeal” and that is eating one type of fruit only (no mixy-mixy). I do that very often. The reason of this is because different foods require a different digestion processes, so when you throw in many different foods in your body that causes confusion and digestion is not as good as when you eat one single type of food (fruit) at a time.
When was the last time you ate meat?
Maybe a year ago, I ate some jamón. I did not really enjoy it because it was disgustingly salty. Meat is so overrated.
You are not as strict with the vegan life as you used to be when I first met you like 10 years ago, why is that?
I did not want to become a vegan taliban or a food fundamentalist… I am only militant now about smoking.
Or “talibegan” (I just invented the word).
Yeah. I remember when you saw people lighting up a cigarette, you were like: “don’t do it! ” like to the gastarbeiters… Lukas stopped smoking… for a day.
I do that with everyone… even to you!
I know… it is friendly advice, thanks for this one!
Somebody is getting really rich right now, maybe even buying an island, by selling you poison.
Smoking is a bad habit, I know… and so addictive. Do you have any “drugs” or let´s say some mind-expanding substances that you use? Like some frog-licking or cactus stuff up in the mountain, mushrooms, anything?
I have smoked the poison, a DMT compound, from the Bufo Alvarius, a toad of the Sonoran Desert. I have done mushrooms a few times, a lot of hashish and marihuana smoothies.. .all produced useful, sometimes frightening, experiences.
I use coca leaves and coca leaf powder regularly, but that is not really a drug, is more of a plant with such nutritious content that your body gets a kick from it… much better than coffee, if you ask me.
And a lot of Indians or Bolivians would certainly agree to that, too. Where do you get this powder from?
I buy it on the Internet, I am also a member of a European association called “Friends of the Coca Leaf”, and we get sometimes bags of coca leaves in the mail… now we are having some legal problems.
I bet you have!
Indians have been using this stuff in South America for 5000 years and some people want to illegalize it…but I say, why don’t illegalize instead Coca-Cola or McDonald’s? that’s really harmful stuff!
Agree! I just heard McDonald’s opened their first vegan store in India!
That’s kind of cool, I want to open the first McCoca´s Café in Europe! We would sell only coca leaves and fruits, salads and smoothies.
That would be cool, but I guess that would bring you straight to jail!
I would go voluntarily to jail if they´d give me a private cell, coca leaves and fruits.
You traveled to a lot of different countries. What was the most dangerous situation you were in? beside entering McDonalds…
Haha… maybe riding a bus in the Andes? or climbing coconut trees in Hawaii? …fuck, I look at it now and it was crazy. If something happened to me back then, I had no money, no insurance, no visa.
What is it like to climb a coconut tree?
Very vertical, I only climbed small and medium sized ones, the super tall trees… that took some serious balls and perfect technique. I started climbing because I saw a surfer dude climb a 30 meter palm tree all the way to the crown, that was a revelation to me. It seemed so natural and beautiful so I practiced a lot and ended up climbing a few big ones myself. Girls loved coconuts and it was the perfect adventure because I will get the adrenalin rush, plus hang out with really cool people and I got to drink as many coconuts as I cared for. Best beverage in the Planet!
You told me that you collect stamps from all foreign countries you visit. Do you know how many already?
Definitely not as many as I would like to! I make a modest living so I only get to do serious travel maybe once a year now.
And we forgot to go to Liechtenstein, now that we’re talking about it.
Yeah, maybe next summer, don ´t you think? I want to go there but without the 300kg of artwork… also Austria!
Yeah, that would be nice! You know you are always welcome in the 2nd floor headquarters! Are there some real winter where you are?, any ice or snow?
Not really snow, but it gets cold, for sure… the thing is when it’s sunny you can be naked even in winter. Winter sunlight is fantastic.
So, don’t you miss the Basque Country? Not even for the winter? It has good climate and the sea, do you surf by the way?
I miss having central heating in the house, that’s for sure, and I miss the Basque Country for friends, family, the ocean and stuff… I eventually will move back there. I “surfed” last summer with my brother Alfonso, just once, but it was fun.
Maybe you get into it when you move back there.
Anything is possible.
Anything but a cigarette smoking Fernando, right?
I am really looking forward to your second exhibition in Konstanz. We have a date, right?
I guess that will be in 2014. I can’t think that futuristically, but it would be awesome! This time we do just Konstanz and Berlin.
Sounds good to me! Any last words or shout outs?
Peace, love and understanding.
Fernando Elvira in Eusk8di:
Fernando Elvira’s Chocolate commercial:
Fernando Elvira – Faith Software Actualized – Germany 2012