Limitless By Design: Alien Workshop x CCS
September 22, 2022 - Dig deep into the archives for a look at some classic Alien Workshop products from past CCS catalogs.
First Thursdays brings you the signature cut-paper artwork from Portland-based artist Nathan McKee.
CCS recently chopped it up with Nathan to find out about his new studio, his fascination with VHS tapes, visiting Japan, working with the NBA, and his Customs X collaboration.
CCS: How long have you been in Portland, are you originally from there?
Nathan: I was born and raised in Portland. I moved to Chicago in my 20's and made my way back to Portland in 2005 and have been here ever since.
How's the new studio space?
Well the new space is a lil dark & messy as it's my basement at the moment. I just started the beginning of building my new new studio in my garden just in time to get out of the basement for the rain that will be coming for the next 8 months. So, I'll have to get back to you on that one but Im feeling good about it.
When did you start skateboarding and have you made boards before?
I grew up in the 80's and had an older brother who was very cool, so I tried to imitate everything he did which luckily got me skating early around 85. Other than making my own make shift boards I've never been lucky enough to print my own graphics. Very excited for the opportunity!
You're a big basketball fan; Do you play B-Ball, too?
Haha... I can shoot around but other than that Im pretty awful. I enjoy a good game of horse here and there but my overall talent as a b-ball player is pretty low. They would say my handles are not up to par.
How is it working with sports organizations like the Blazers and NBA affiliates for All Star Weekends, etc?
I grew up a Blazer fan so getting to work with the Trail Blazers for art projects was a dream come true! Luckily I'm an all around NBA/basketball fan so working with players & the all star game was amazing. The project I got to do for the 2017 All Star game in New Orleans was probably the best job I've ever had. I got to work with a bunch of other rad artists all weekend & just make basketball related art while players came by to check out what we were doing. It was like a basketball art camp.
Do you have a favorite team, era, player or players?
The Portland Trail Blazers have been my favorite since I was a kid. Id say favorite era is definitely the 80's. Growing up in the Clyde, Kersey, Porter era of the team was pretty amazing. Although they never won the whole thing it was a very exciting time in Portland. The city was so small at that time so having eyes on Portland instead of the Jordan Bulls was wild! My all time favorite player is Rasheed Wallace. Dudes personality is hilarious & over all demeanor is solid. Off the court he does a lot for his community which is rad (although I liked him more as a Piston than a Blazer). My favorite team was the 2004 Pistons with Sheed, Chauncey, Big Ben, & Prince. I lived in the midwest then so watched a lot of that team.
How about favorite musician or genre of music?
Geez that's a hard one. I grew up on new wave & basically have regressed to only listening to everything I listened to in middle school/high school. Depeche Mode & the Cure have always been at the top but I lean heavy on 90's hip hop also. The nostalgia of listening to Tribe or Hieroglyphics takes me back & I can't not mention my home team with the Wipers & Elliot Smith. Basically they sum up living in the NW in the 80s & 90s for me with their music. Lotsa gloom and rain.
I have to ask about your collection of VHS movies, how do these influence your artistic process and do you have an all time favorite must see movie for someone who's reading this?
Another really tough question. A lot of my work touches on nostalgia of my youth & movies played a huge part in that. So obviously VHS is a cheap go to for me & spending so much time in the studio working on stuff its easy to throw on a old movie as background while I work. Collecting them kinda took over for my record hunting. I use to love record shopping and finding old gems at thrift stores but the mark up now is insane so I switched it up and started collecting VHS. I have a weird thing where I only look for original releases and no reissues haha also its kinda a deal I made with my wife so I don't just buy a ton. Makes the hunt better. I like to look at these old movies no matter what era as time machines. I feel like you could be watching something like Desperately Seeking Susan and instantly get transported to NY in the 80's which is completely different than it is now. So it helps me get in the zone when I'm working on certain pieces to set the tone a bit. Reminds me about how things use to be. As far as must see movies there's way to many to pick just one. I'd say basically any old John Carpenter movie: The Fog, Escape from NY, The Thing, They Live, Big Trouble in Little China. They are amazing and his soundtracks are mind blowing.
Can you walk us through the basic steps of how you make one of your paper cut pieces, and / or give an idea just how long they take, maybe the street scene you made for your CCS First Thursdays drop for instance?
I usually start with an idea & just kinda sketch out a concept for it & then similar to a screen print Ill break my sketch down to layers & then just start stacking them up by color. Depending on the size from start to finish if I get in a good groove I can make a piece in a week or so but if I really get locked in it could be a couple days. The idea behind the street scene was just making what I see everyday on my walks around the city and allowing you to create your own street or just take everyday objects and bring them to the front like a mail box or hydrant. Basically just to make you more present in the digital age & really look at every day objects that you may not even pay attention to.
I know you've spent time in Japan, do you miss it and are you excited about getting back?
I miss Japan so much! I have family over there so it always gives me the excuse to go but I just really love that country. It's so beautiful and most people are just so kind and respectful. It's very refreshing. I feel like they also really embrace the craft no matter what you do which I think gets over looked a lot in the states. I can't wait to get back over there to see friends and family and just travel.
You can choose anyplace… what's on the top of your list for an art based travel week?
I mean obviously I'd love to take a couple months and go across Japan and see both sides of the country and how different they are but lately Ive been wanting to do a Euro trip. I haven't been over there in years and feel like Id get a lot more out of it then the last time I went and really just take in the different countries and get inspired to create.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions and for being part of the Customs X First Thursdays project. Have any parting comments or thoughts, can you share details on upcoming projects to keep a lookout for?
Thanks for having me! As far as upcoming stuff Ive been working more with sculptures & murals so be on the look out for that as well as a new solo show in 2023. KEEP CREATING!
Now it's your turn to make something with Nathan's papercuts! Check out all the apparel, deck, and griptape options and tools over at Customs X by CCS. Then show your creation to us (@ccs) and Nathan (@nathan_mckee_art) and tag #CCSCustomsX. Stay sharp!