We're kicking off a new monthly event at our brick and mortar store - the HELM Artist Series. To start the whole thing off, we sat down with the very first artist to be featured in the event, Adreon Henry, and asked him about how he first got started, how he works best and what keeps him motivated.
Tell us a little bit about The Factory - what was it like opening a skate shop at that age?
Oh wow! You guys dig deep! I opened The Factory my 11th grade year of high school. This was the early 90s... I had been designing and selling t-shirts/posters/stickers out of my locker for a few years, so this seemed like a natural progression. If there was one thing I wanted to do it was open a shop. It was one of the best experiences ever! The Factory was the center of my social life; it was like a club house that sold skateboards and stuff on the side. It also connected me to the skate industry and introduced me to the manufacturing side of things, which I’ve always had an interest in.
What are some of your favorite memories from that time? Do you have a design that sticks out in your head?
I had The Factory for 7 years, so there are a ton of great memories there. Early on I was in a band (Kneegaskit) and we would practice in the back, which was a ton of fun because the back of the shop opened up to a common alleyway shared by a few local bars. People would walk by and peek in... it was like playing unofficial shows, which got us so amped!
In ’96 or so I officially started Scapegoat Skateboards with Lathan McKay. Since I was in College Station and he lived in Austin he would drive up and we would concept designs and scheme stuff for hours at the shop. I loved to design boards and graphics, and even the postcards and catalogs. Having a skateboard company gave me the opportunity to do these things; it was like my own special degree plan.
I used to draw in the dark a lot. Once I was drawing with my left hand in the dark and came out with this little guy... to me he looked like he was carrying a good bit of blame around and that he was getting tired of it. Later I put him in a flame and he became one of the main Scapegoat logos...
How did you transition from owning a skate shop to creating fine art?
In 2000 I was admitted into the Advertising program at UT. I had half-heartedly applied and didn’t expect to get in due to my lagging GPA and string of junior college credits. Somehow or another my portfolio caught the right eyes. I decided to close the shop, move to Austin and focus on school, sort of... We were still making skateboards and had scored a few key accounts at the ASR tradeshow (is this still a thing?) One of the largest accounts was a chain of shops called MAX in Taiwan. I can remember staying up late and faxing with them about inventory. It was like Christmas every time an order came in! They tended to order what seemed like a massive amount due to shipping/customs. I had been trying ways to make cool displays that would portray Scapegoat to be just as big as other American skateboard companies like Birdhouse, etc. This is how I discovered vinyl as a medium for painting. I sent some point-of-purchase displays over to Taiwan, which were made of vinyl. A few weeks later I received a fax asking for more — they had been selling the displays, which were out-selling our boards! Around this same time Lathan introduced me to Paul Jones who happened to own an art gallery on East 7th Street called Science 102. He agreed to let me show work in his stair well during an opening. I ended up moving a majority of the work and began to focus on art...
Traveling with the band Single Frame, did you ever see art on tour that inspired you/stuck with you?
Traveling in a band is one of the best experiences! There is so much to take in — from the architecture of cities, the popular brands and logos of the area, the common features of the locals, and of course the creative communities. Having the opportunity to visit large museums with large contemporary and modern art collections was cool, but I seem to gravitate more towards aesthetics and culture. Two people that really struck me as having their own voice during this time would be Tim Frager and Ethan Anderson. I met Tim in southern France — at the time he was using lots of cool spectrum colors and was honing in on a unique style which incorporates African aesthetics. Ethan was lead designer for Volcom, which had a record label that Single Frame was on... We actually sent our demo to Volcom based on Ethan’s ad layouts! He had a knack for taking bold black and white patterns that read like a cross between new wave and early punk flyer aesthetics and balancing them with yellowed photograph images (think 70’s National Geographic). We had never heard of any of the bands on the Volcom roster but felt like Ethan’s aesthetic truly represented what Single Frame sounded like.
You have such an interesting process when creating your art - how would you explain what goes into each piece?
I tend to work in cycles, right now I am into making radial pieces, which are abstract and geometric in nature. I love working with halftones and very base 2-D geometric images and seeing how I can shift these perimeters into something different through varying processes... capturing other dimensions through process — I’ve made over 100 of these radial pieces and have no intention of slowing down!
For people who are interested in being an artist full time, how are you able to utilize your talents and passion for art and design, making it a career?
Oh, I’d say first and foremost you have to be prepared to wear many hats and be open to many different types of opportunities and experiences. Always try to see how your own projects can fit into your current workload. Last night my nephew sent me a link to a Vice doc on the portrait photographer Stefan Ruiz. When he’s out on a commercial shoot he seems to make the opportunity his own by working on his own projects as well. For me, I do this by trying new techniques or getting different ideas for processes while working on commercial projects.
What challenges do you find when trying to stay inspired? How do you push yourself?
When I am in my studio for days on end with minimal interaction sometimes I can start feeling burned out. Sometimes I open a random book, watch a travel show, listen to a favorite album, play the drums, work on a music project, explore new music, hassle my wife - my main muse, meditate (more), or bumble around a thrift store. Coffee also helps. A lot!
When you're hired for a project, do you prefer to have free reign or would you rather have specific details and direction from clients?
I like both aspects of projects. It really boils down to the situation. Sometimes the client really knows what they want and just needs assistance making their vision come to life. I like helping people be happy and excited and so there is fulfillment there... other times when clients seemed perplexed about certain projects it’s freeing to go out on a limb.
What projects have you been working on recently or are looking forward to in the future?
I have been working on various radial sets for galleries, interior designers and art placement firms, which are booked through the end of August. My wife and I are expecting our first baby in early September, which I’m definitely looking forward to! Talk about the ultimate work of art!! I always look forward to participating in the EAST art tour in Austin as well; it’s great to be a part of a local scene!
To see more of Adreon Henry's art you can head over to his site here, or stop by the Helm store through the end of July and August to see his radial sets in person.