A couple months ago I got the chance to spend some time with Brian Lotti at his studio in Echo Park. I was super stoked on the chance to sit down and talk with Lotti. I’ve been a huge fan of his skating ever since I can remember, and he’s also an amazing artist with an interesting story. I knew it would be a really cool conversation, but this interview really flowed—and that’s coming from someone that’s done hundreds of them. Brian was equally hyped on everything we talked about, so hopefully you enjoy it too.
48 Blocks: Your roots are from Salt Lake City and Vegas. Tell us a little bit about your history.
Brian: I lived in Salt Lake City in Utah. It snowed there a bunch. But I had relatives that lived in California. My cousin lived in San Jose, and one Christmas my aunt got me a skateboard. She sent it to Utah, and it was under the tree. I was into BMX at the time. Then, I got into skateboarding. It was just the funnest thing ever. I saw the Bones Brigade Video Show, the first Powell video. Watching Lance Mountain slappy curbs and stuff, and skate ditches. Then, I saw Thrasher and Transworld magazines. Street skating was starting to be a thing. I lived in Utah. So I did’t really know anybody. But somehow I started meeting kids, and street skating in Utah.
Then, I moved to Las Vegas and experienced that whole crazy scene—skating ditches and bank to walls. It was Vision Streetwear, Gonz boards, jump ramps, and then H-Street. I skated Vegas and got sponsored. There was really good stuff to skate in Vegas. I would travel to California to skate in little contests and stuff, or just to skate with friends. My family was big on me going to school. I had to get good grades to skate. So at a certain point when I graduated high school, I was like, “Alright, I can move to California and skate with the big boys. But I gotta go to school at the same time.”
48 Blocks: So when you moved to California, you were skating for H-Street.
Brian: Actually, when I was a senior in high school, I was living in Las Vegas. I was skating for H-Street, and the H-Street guys decided to start a new company with Chris Miller called Planet Earth. For some reason they thought that I would be a good fit for that. I was into nature and animals. I think I was vegetarian at the time, or becoming vegetarian. I thought Chris Miller was rad. So I got on Planet Earth. I turned pro for Planet Earth, and Sal Barbier turned pro for H-Street. I was still a senior in high school. That kind of sealed the deal. So when I graduated from high school, I was like, “All right, I’m going to school, and I got a job. I’m gonna be a pro skater in California. Let’s do this.”
48 Blocks: Let’s talk a little bit about that time period. What was skateboarding like back then?
Brian: I guess skateboarding in the late ’80s and early ’90s was pretty undefined. Everyone kind of knew everyone, and the scene was small. There were two magazines, Thrasher and Transworld. Maybe one video would come out a year from some company. Everyone knew everyone. The scene was small, and skateboarding wasn’t cool. My friends used to get beat up in high school for skateboarding. When I turned pro skateboarding, wasn’t that cool. There weren’t a lot of people that did it. It wasn’t really that defined. It was more about just having fun. It was like, “What can we do today?”
48 Blocks: What about art, when did painting come into play?
Brian: I always drew, painted, and messed around with stuff in high school. I went to this school, and for whatever reason, I didn’t really get along with a lot of kids in school. I would spend lunch hour in the art room by myself making stuff. I was pro for a couple of years, and had always kind of dabbled and drawn. But at a certain point, I broke my shoulder really bad. I was really messed up. That’s when I got really into photography and painting. I remember buying a bunch of oil paints. I was like, “Ah, these smell good.” I got a canvas, and started painting. I was like, “Wow, this is sick. There’s something to this.” That was when people like Jeff Tremaine were working at Big Brother along with Marc McKee and Sean Cliver. Those guys were really cool. They were like, “Oh, you’re painting. Why don’t you try this or do that? Here’s a roll of film. Go take some pictures.” I got pretty interested in that stuff. I was around people that were being pretty encouraging about it too.
48 Blocks: It seems like that Big Brother scene influenced you artistically, but at the same time you’ve said that you were not completely psyched on World Industries and Rocco.
Brian: In hindsight, it’s really just my own stuff that I was dealing with. I was just an insecure kid who basically had a bunch of shit that I had to deal with. It was tough being in that scene cause you kind of had to have thick skin to be in the Rocco camp. Yeah, I don’t know. What was the deal with Rocco, and the whole World Industries thing? It was awesome. They made the best boards. They had the coolest graphics. Big Brother was totally fun and awesome. I loved all the guys that worked there. I guess I was just bummed. Some of the graphics that would come out would be a joke on you. You’d be like, “That’s cool.” But in the end, you came up on the short end of the stick.
48 Blocks: Directly after that, you went on this introspective philosophical pursuit. You went to Hawaii and studied Zen Buddhism.
Brian: I had my existential crisis because my dad passed away when I was fifteen. I always moved around when I was a kid. I had stuff that I had to deal with. I probably got as serious about skateboarding as I did because my dad passed away. I was kind of in a quandary. When I couldn’t skate the way I wanted to, I was like, “Fuck!” I started freaking out. So yeah, getting into meditation, and getting into making art and stuff—it wasn’t because of skateboarding. I love skateboarding, and I think skateboarding is awesome. It was because I had some life lessons that I had to deal with.
48 Blocks: What was life like during that time period while you were in Hawaii?
Brian: Sessioning man, I was fucking seasoning. I was working at this retreat center, the Zen Buddhist Retreat Center. Cooking, I was one of the cooks there. And meditating, doing sitting meditation, and just kind of getting a grip about who I am. Taking a look at life, taking a look at life and taking a time out. I was taking a breather.
48 Blocks: After that you went and finished art school in Northern California, then you returned to skateboarding in 2004. How had your perspective on skateboarding changed after taking that break, and finding yourself?
Brian: I think I appreciated skateboarding in a whole new way when I came back. It was like, “Wow, out of all of the things in life that you can do, skateboarding’s a pretty cool thing.” You have a lot of freedom. And as a pursuit in this world, it’s pretty rad. It’s not about killing people, or doing damage. It’s pretty pure expression of freedom or whatever—being alive. I think I appreciated it more. I wasn’t salty about being some little pro that got the short end of the stick.
48 Blocks: I wanna talk about filmmaking. I read in another interview ythat your painting preps you for that. I can see the artistic connection in your landscape paintings and your films—which depict people cruising the streets, and adapting to their environment. How do the two mediums play off of each other for you?
Brian: Painting and film for me are both about seeing things. Seeing the landscape, what’s cool about the landscape. It’s just cool to see skateboarders. I think with the context of skateboarders, it’s cool. It’s like that guy’s doing a trick. But what if he’s doing a trick in relation to this other thing, this hill, building, or something. For whatever reason, when I came back to skateboarding after being away, it was always like, “How can you make skateboarding seem interesting to people that don’t skateboard.” Show it in a way so people understand it as this pure thing that’s pretty rad.
48 Blocks: That sort of ties into your concept of the new natives?
Brian: Yeah, right! Like skateboarders, people that ride bikes, people that ride motorcycles, we’ve been out in the landscape for so much of our lives that we know areas really well. Some people know every city in California, every part of it totally well. Day after day, people are out skating, out in the landscape. I think a big part of what we dig in skateboarding is not just doing tricks. It’s our relationship to different places, and how we kind of move and journey about. That’s a big part of our life. So yeah, in a way I would say skateboarders, they’re like the new natives. We’re like the new Indians. We have a relationship to places. For a lot of us, that’s probably more meaningful than the things that we have, or any little thing that we do. A big part of our lives is where we play, and our relationship with the landscape.
48 Blocks: Awesome. Tell us about your film project Mountains to Sea, is that still in production right now?
Brian: Shoot man, I wish. We did a pretty big push to try and raise funds to get an actual production into gear. But man, it’s hard to get money for videos these days, especially for alternative videos. I mean the spots, ideas, and plans are still there. But we gotta wait for the right benefactor.
48 Blocks: What else are you working on currently, and what do you have planned for the future?
Brian: I’m working on a series of paintings right now. It’s kind of a mixed series—landscapes, portraits, and kind of imaginary landscapes. Some are landscapes that have skateboarding in them. The are paintings based on film stills or photographs. Basically, I’m painting and working on some more skate graphics.