Interview by Eddie Lopez
In recent years we’ve seen a rise in smaller skate brands, more radical in their approach than the more established brands. One of them, Polar Skate Co., started in Malmo, Sweden in 2011, has taken its own bold direction in everything it does. The company is a prime example of skateboarders taking back the industry that’s rightfully theirs. Headed by Pontus Alv, once a professional skateboarder for companies like Mad Circle, Arcade, and Cliche, he takes into account how significant a brand can be in representing the personalities of its riders and its perception of skateboarding as a whole.
One predominantly featured artist and co-founder of the company, Stefan Narancic, has had a significant role in shaping the company’s image with work that spurs the imagination. His art reels you into a vibrant world that demands more than a mere glance and makes you contemplate if you should skate the boards graced with his work or hang them on your wall. We talked with him about his process, how he designed the Polar logo, and his artistic passions.
A lot of your artwork seems to relate to the mystifying scenes many experience in dreams. Are dreams a significant source of inspiration for you? Have you ever had one that eventually became a graphic or print?
I did an artwork for Polar Skate Co. on the topic of lucid dreaming but I have never used my actual dreams. What’s more significant for me is going deep into people’s perspectives and ideas, whether it’s mystical, esoteric, psychological, philosophical, metaphysical or scientific. I can listen for hours to great thinkers and experts while I’m working and it becomes a library of idea material. Pieces of these various ideas connect to each other almost magnetically and end up as something new in the image.
In previous interviews you’ve mentioned that inspiration comes from all sorts of places thanks to the internet. Two of the things you mentioned were music and podcasts, what are you listening to now?
My podcast list is long but the ones I keep coming back to are No Agenda, JRE, Grimerica. Currently im listening to a man on YouTube called Stanton Stevens talking esoteric philosophy. I’ve been using SoundCloud for music lately. I am able to just hop on an eternal wave of good electronic music. I also just heard the three released tracks from The Weeknd’s upcoming album and I like it. Other than that some majestic movie soundtrack is nice to work to at times.
Polar’s art direction rightfully earns its praise, expressing the freedom of individual thought that really characterizes the brand. Has working with the riders expanded places you draw inspiration from or given you insight into your work?
As I don’t skateboard myself any longer I rarely meet or have contact with the riders. It’s only been on group trips or if they are in town. I worked freely on my own in my ateljé and when finished presented it to the team.
Correct me if I’m wrong but you’ve known Pontus Alv since you were ten years old and grew up together. Are there any good stories you have from your earlier days together as kids?
Yes it’s correct but I can’t think of any extraordinary story. The stories that come to mind are very personal and only funny to us really. We weren’t wild kids or anything. We just focused on skateboarding and avoided any trouble that would prevent us from skating.
How did the Polar logo come about? It’s pretty neat when you see it animated.
The foundation for Polar Skate Co. were the films The Strongest Of The Strange and In Search Of The Miraculous in which Pontus did a great job presenting his vision of skateboarding. I worked on the animated visuals on The Strongest Of The Strange and knew the Polar film would be an important part of the company so I asked myself in what way could I design the logo that would also open the film in a unique but functional way. I figured the logo itself could have a narrative by going from state A to B. Symbol becomes type or vice versa and worked it out from there. So it was really born out of an animation problem. Aesthetically, I wanted to do something clear and visible. I didn’t want it too seem vain, commercial, or attached to any current graphical trend. I was thinking more in line with something basic like the gender symbols or the peace sign than a commercial mark.
You’ve said that you did not feel like a good artist initially and first did freelance work after earning your bachelor’s degree. From that time to now, how has your work changed? What kind of work did you do before focusing on Polar?
Yes it changed completely. I focused on animations and motion graphics after my bachelors. I only did that type of commercial freelance work for a many years and wasn’t doing any drawing or painting at all. I got to a place where I was solving very technical visual effects problems in 3D for music videos and TV commercials. It was interesting but I was unhappy. Around 2009 I had a deep realization of how valuable time is and that I was not doing what I wanted with my life, which was drawing and painting. So, I decided to make a shift. I left the commercial work and got ahold of a figure drawing book, a perspective book and Picasso’s Vollard Suite and started studying from there. I was really at square one but I had saved enough money so I could just practice, watch tutorials and study art at home for three years. This is still my daily focus.
Pontus has mentioned how many skateboard companies can become prisoners of their own idea, with most companies having a reasonable lifespan of ten years. Do you ever worry about that idea or do you feel like your work still continues to grow?
Because one is constantly evolving as a person it’s hard for me to imagine that your art does not evolve with you. There is so much to learn from just practicing it. I worry about how to find time to explore everything that I can learn. Every day I feel like a beginner and I learn something new. Every work of mine is as much a study as a finished piece. Complacent and comfortable is the last thing I feel when tackling an oil painting. It’s very hard and frustrating but the rewards are greater.
I read that you see your work kind of like a still from a film, a proposal to a story rather than a narrative to one. Like watching clouds until you see shapes and figures within them. This psychological experience is called Pareidolia. Do you find yourself looking at patterns in walls or anything like that and coming up with ideas?
I’m sure it’s happened but not as a tool to generate ideas on a regular basis. It’s something I would leave to the viewer. If I leave out enough data in the image, but not too much, each viewer’s unique paradigm would automatically start working to create their own narrative.
What are you currently working on? When and where can we see some more Narancic artwork?
I’m focusing all my efforts on a series of drawings, collages and paintings for my exhibition. Sometimes I post bits of the process on Instagram. I don’t have a commercial platform at the moment. I haven’t worked with Polar since last year. Artwork on boards…maybe in a few months or maybe never.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists trying to find their own identity in their work?
I’m a big proponent of studying and copying artists through all ages. It’s a very traditional way for an artist to learn, studying masters of the past and get an understanding of what has been done before and why and how. Then take time to do as much academic type of drawing practice as possible. There is so much free or affordable instruction on the internet about this that it can be learned on one’s own. With a solid toolset, one can control the outcome. It’s just like learning the alphabet, it’s a tool, once one learns it, it becomes second nature, and the tool gets out of the way. One can then focus more creative resources on executing his or her ideas and create whatever comes to mind instead of being controlled by chance. I think this is where an artist can find their true identity. My advice is to dedicate yourself and practice always, day and night.