When I got in touch with Balthazar, world-reknown artist and psychedelic surrealism icon Mati Klarwein‘s son, he mentioned how he had been a hardcore skater since he was a kid in Mallorca, and how that’s why the art his dad did for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew LP ended up as a collab with Western Edition -the amazing little story is all explained in this article.
But you know how people like us (nerds?) go: we need to get to the bottom of things. It’s a disease, almost. So when Balthazar mentioned Paulo Diaz’ and Quim Cardona’s random and impromptu visit to his dad, I couldn’t help but reach out to Quim and have him explain how it all went down, and where his passion for Mati Klarwein’s art came from. Cazart!
When did you start to get interested in Mati Klarwein’s artwork?
Quim Cardona : We grew up with a close friend whose dad was a well-known Jazz promotor, Teddy Powell. We listened to The Last Poets, Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, P-Funk, and many others. Mati created cover art for many of those artists… Before recognizing who the artist was, we knew his art.
Also, there was this skateboard company that Teddy skated for, it was started by Chris Pastras from New Jersey. In the early ’90s, I remember they printed a Bitches Brew board in Everslick. I bet that’s something a lot people forgot about.
Did anybody in particular introduce you to Mati’s work?
I met Paulo Diaz when I first turned pro in 96 In San Francisco skate contest for the first time. A couple years later met again while we shot the commercials for Adidas in 98′. Later we travelled together to places like France, Finland, Prague, and throughout Europe… On this tour, Paulo was studying an art magazine called Juxtapoz and there was this article about Mati in there, titled “The Most Famous Unknown Artist Alive”.
We had instruments with us, staying at hostels, touring through Europe. The article totally reintroduced us to Mati’s art and now we realized who his name was. The craziest thing was that his phone number was at the end of the interview! So Paulo picked up the pay phone and called. Low and behold who answered? The man himself.
The funniest thing was that Paulo introduced himself and I as two pro skaters. Mati said, “If you guys are pros, then my two sons should know who you are.” Both Salvador and Balthazar knew who we were… The next day or so we called and he invited us to visit Mallorca. He gave us directions and we hopped on a cruise boat from Place de Colom in Barcelona. We bunked with a musician from Argentina who played the guitar.
When we got there we caught a taxi to the part of the island where they lived. One thing Mati told us to look out for was the orange gate at the driveway. The sun was hot, and the land had a dry, arid climate in August, filled with these beautiful old olive Trees. We walked up a windy dirt road and the house of Mati appeared. It was a very beautiful place. There wasn’t much to skate but a slab of cement from the foundation of a room.
Enjoying the company of Mati’s children, we talked and admired the view of the landscape and ocean with no other neighbors or cars in site. Later that day, he cooked for a whole party of people. Invited a circle of friends, artists, musicians from the neighborhood. Music played all night, everyone ate, danced, there was wine. Paulo serenaded everybody with one of his song on the guitar. Mati was dressed in a long white robe, and he played the African drums to the music and we danced. The night we stayed over, he put us up in the studio where he worked. Waking up to a Mati painting in your face was surreal!
In the two days we spent we didn’t have the experience to get to know the man that well, other than he was really sweet and kind to welcome Paulo and I as guests in his home. We spoke shortly in the morning before we took off to Barcelona to continue our journey. Mati Klarwein and family are really good people and I’m glad to have crossed paths.
Bonus round : The Ian Johnson interview
Putting jazz artists on skateboards is nothing new to Ian Johnson, Western Edition’s art director -it’s even become somewhat of a trademark. Thing is with the Mati collab: this time, it was fully official.
Did you know/worship Klarwein’s artwork besides Bitches Brew‘s cover?
Ian Johnson: I was aware of his work on that album and other albums but i did not know his name or how prolific he was. I didn’t worship it, I thought it was cool but wasn’t really into pyschedelic art when I was younger. But getting to do this project and learning more about him has led me to be more fond and appreciative of his work, which is hopefully what happens to other people.
What are some of his pieces that you like most?
I think the Crucifixion is pretty amazing. I also like the Yusef Lateef and Eric Dolphy Iron Man ones to quite a bit but thats probably because I’m big fans of theirs as well. He has a pretty amazing body of work, so many rad pieces.
Concept-wise, how did you decide to go this way with bitches brew’s artwork?
Well, it seemed to be the most obvious interpretation on decks for me really given that that is how it was laid out on the cover. it would have been a bit much to do an 8 deck series, but this was you can make it like that if you choose by getting 2 sets or just get one and flip it around as you choose.
Did his son Balthazar submit a bunch of pieces you picked up from?
Yes he had a few, this one just made the most sense for us. It’s also a bit of tip of the cap to an old Blue skateboard deck that was out around the time I moved to SF so its a bit nostalgic in that way also. The others were cool to though, and I would love to do a one off in the future…
As a jazz fan, is this collab more special than others?
It is more special for sure plus it’s a big series and done in a style that i don’t remember ever seeing before, the double sided series. I’m not a huge fan of the album, truth be told, but it is obviously a seminal and important record in Miles Davis’ evolution and transition into fusion. It’s always great to be connected to one the greats in anyway, both Mati and Miles.
Can you give me a few examples of jazz artists or their estate being pissed off at WE for using their image on skateboards?
I never got any pissed ones really, we are so small compared to a majority of skate companies that most of the time I don’t think many people in jazz really see them. I think I remember hearing Don Cherry’s daughter saw one, I don’t think she was pissed.
The only other time was Jimmy Cobbs people were kind of bummed at first about not being compensated for the Miles series we did a while back but we apologized and explained that we aren’t doing to steal or get rich and gave him a set and a percentage. Then they were happy and wanted to do something in the future.