Intro by Taj Mihelich
Interview by Nuno
It Can’t Be Art, It’s Funny.
By Taj Mihelich.

In grade school I had an art teacher start off the year with a class discussion on the definition “of what art is”. All the generics were listed off; painting, drawing, sculpture, and dance. Any deviation from the norm was shot down. The music of a classical symphony was art, but even rock music was “questionable” as an art form. Frozen with adolescent shyness and fear I couldn’t speak up, but as my new teacher was locking down his narrow classic definition of “what art is” I was screaming inside. What I knew then and what I wanted to say was that art could be anything. Anything you poured your heart and creativity into. Art was much more a state of mind then any tangible result. Your art could be fixing cars, or writing computer programs. Sure, most people might see these things as tasks to accomplish with no artistic value or feeling behind them, but there are those people who take what they do to a higher level. One that means something and is more important then the simple action required to finish the task. The artist-mechanic might connect with his work in a deeper and more meaningful way then you or I could understand, driven to pour his passion and love into the job. Somehow connecting to his work on a higher level. From that point on I spent a lot of my life trying to disprove my narrow-minded art teacher. To the point where I left my classic grade school art career behind and focused my creative energy on bike riding, eventually finding that feeling of meaning in the blending of wheels, mind and body. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t to the rest of the world; this was a corner of my life that meant much more then what the mechanical act of pedaling might seem to. In time I rode my bike well enough that with a pro career and sponsors support it seemed like a good time to start a bicycle company. Through this avenue I met Michael Sieben. The company needed an art director and Sieben needed to get out of his cubicle. I’ve learned that Michael has been through a lot of similar things as me with art. From small town Texas art teachers that gave him repetitive years of training in graphing and enlarging pictures to college art professors that couldn’t accept his less then classic version of art. He even opened an art gallery here in Austin that is quickly proving that art is not just defined by what the rich Westside residents of town like to buy.

He came into my company with a fantastic driven work ethic and a sense of humor that smoothed out all the rough edges of the day. Not only was I laughing most of the time, but also I watched the graphic direction of the company solidify and become much greater then mechanical necessity of logo T-shirts. I’m sure that the work Michael has done for Terrible One is not what he considers his highest art work, but he clearly poured more of himself into his designs then churning out sticker graphics for the sake of a deadline (or a bicycle corporation) usually earns. Though working for T-1, working for Thrasher, doing zines, running his gallery, freelance work for Toy Machine and other skate companies he also maintains energy to keep producing for art shows of his work that seem to be taking place every few months. His art demands that he create for sure. Michael’s “art” varies a lot more then most people realize, but even all the little silly monsters with funny things to say that typify his style come with a real feeling, creative passion and drive that could only be defined as art.
Name and location?
Michael Sieben, Austin Texas
For those who don't know you, what can you tell us about yourself?
I like that band The Mountain Goats.
Your art is very vivid, colorful and character based, Is there any one thing that inspires your work, or do you normally start with a direction or idea?
Well, I really like old books for kids. Science books and story books and books about animals. A lot of my imagery comes from stuff like that. But I also invent imagery in my sketchbook and work with that stuff until I think it's ready to make the jump to a painting or a graphic.
You have a very distinctive unmistakable hand style. Has that developed over time, or was that your style from early on?
No, it was something I intentionally tried to develop. My favorite illustrator has always been Maurice Sendak and I think what I liked most about his work was his signature way of making marks. I tried to develop my own style of line work that could serve as a personal signature of sorts.
What is your favorite medium to work in and why?
I think my favorite medium to work in would have to be straight up ink on paper. I'm feel really comfortable working with pens and I like the immediacy of the process. But... I think my paintings look a lot better than my ink drawings, so I spend a lot of time painting.
I liked the huge wood cut-outs of your characters for the T-1 booth at interbike. How long did those take to create and whose Idea was it?
It was my idea but I had a lot of help with the power tools aspect of the project. The first booth took about 2 weeks to paint and construct, and the second one took about a week and a half.
Speaking of, how did you and Terrible One partner up?
I did a few freelance t-shirt designs for them a few years ago and then I just kept bugging them and sending them stuff. Eventually they gave me a desk. They rescued me from the cubicle and I'm forever grateful.
I understand you skate; do you take advantage of the T-1 ramp?
Yeah. That ramp is a little bigger than what I'd normally ride, but after a few beers it goes down pretty smooth.
Have you ever had a go at it on a BMX bike?
No, but I saw Ben Gilley transfer the spine on one of Sandy Carson's bikes. I don't even think it had brakes.
You are aware that skaters hate bikers, do you get into a fight every time you go to work at T-1 (kidding of course)??
Yeah, Joe totally beats the shit out of me daily.
Fill us in on what you do for Thrasher magazine?
I'm pretty much expected to send them a one page article every month and whenever they need illustrations they give me a call. Occasionally I write longer articles, but since I live in Texas I'm a little removed from the "mainstream" skateboarding scene. I'm Ok with that though.
You seem to be busy these days doing a lot of exciting stuff with skate companies and even Volcom, how do these outside jobs come about? Thrasher connections?
Well, my good friend Mike Aho (who used to live in Austin) got a job with the Volcom art department and he helped me get my foot in the door over there. But I do think that the Thrasher thing has really helped me get my work in front of a larger audience. I also try my best to not be an asshole. I've found people are way more likely to help you out when you're a good person.
Volcom recently went public; did you pick up any stock in the company?
Unfortunately, nope. But I recently picked up a crazy whooping style cough.
As I was thinking of questions for you, I saw the new Transworld Business and there is a write-up about the skateboard brand "BUENO" that you are doing with pro Stacy Lowery. Considering you will be doing the graphics and that you skate, you must be really excited about it.
Yeah, I'm really stoked to be doing Bueno. I was doing some graphics for Toy Machine for the past little bit, but it's really cool to steer the boat myself. I'd always wanted to be the main graphics dude for a skateboard company, but I didn't think that it would happen without me moving out of TX. I'm really stoked that Stacy and the guys at Giant are giving me this opportunity to do this thing from my home base. Thanks dudes.
How do you budget your time?
Lots of lists and espresso.
I was lucky enough to get some original artwork from you a few years back for a shirt design. Do you get hit up by randoms a lot for artwork these days? I remember your old site used to say something like, "if you would like something drawn up, contact me", and now I don't see that on the new site. I'm sure your plate is full though.
Yeah, my plate is pretty full right now. I'm totally thankful for that. And I'm fully aware that I might have put that back on my site again someday. I have VH1. I know nothing is forever.
Do you have to turn down some good jobs on occasion because of what you are already involved in?
Yeah. It's hard to tell people no, but you gotta have time in the evening to drink beer at the local drainage ditch.
What about Camp fig? What goes on there?
It's an art gallery I'm a co-owner of. Pretty much anything goes there. We run it sort of like a Co-op, so if it's your turn to put a show together, you can do whatever the hell you want. We don't make any money off of the space so it really frees up the possibilities. Everybody involved pays to keep it alive and to have a place to show their work (or work they think is awesome.)
How did the name "CAMP FIG" come about? Does it have a special meaning?
It's totally random. We had about 100 names we were choosing from and the word "camp" kept coming up and the word "fig" kept coming up too. My wife put the two together and everybody nodded their heads in agreement. We didn't want the name to be pretentious and we wanted the gallery to be a fun place to hang out. Camp Fig sounded like someplace fun.
Can you spill the beans on any upcoming projects we can look forward to?
Right now I'm working on a collaborative drawing book with Travis Millard that Volcom is going to publish. And next weekend my friend Adam Young is supposed to help me begin construction on a backyard mini ramp. And I think I'm going to start parting my hair really sharply.
Ok, some quickie info:
3 bands you like.
Sounder, Holy Ghost Revival, Willie Nelson.
3 websites you visit frequently.
Fecalface, Slap, Thrasher.
3 artists you admire.
Jeff Soto, Camille Rose Garcia, Rich Jacobs.
3 magazines you read.
Communication Arts, Thrasher, old copies of Big Brother.
Thanks Mr Sieben! Anything you would like to say before we wrap this up?
I'd just like to thank everybody in the world (except the assholes).