Oi Polloi

Interview: Steve Hockett

Published: Tue Apr 26 2016

Steve Hockett is jack of all trade, and master of all. Not only does he put together our Pica~Post fanzine thing for us, but he paints paintings, makes posters, designs logos for people, crafts sculptures out of marshmallows, puts together short films, plays in a band, clocks serious miles on his road bike and, to top it all off, he’s a world champion cross country skier.

Alright, that last one might be a lie, but the truth remains—he’s a busy chap. Seeing as he works only a little less than a mile away from the Oi Polloi nerve centre, I thought it was only right to go and grill him on the heady subjects of art, science and slime...

Starting with an easy question, what have you been on with lately?

I’ve been designing a cycling kit, which is really exciting... but I can’t tell you more about it yet.

Is this something they’re going to make a few of or is it just a single thing for an art gallery or a museum?

It’s not a vanity project, I promise. It’s going to be for sale. But it will end up in a museum, obviously...

Haha, yeah—the museum of ugly cycling jerseys. So are you designing the shape of it, or is it just the print?

The shape is already done, I’m just colouring it in really. But I can’t say anymore. I’ve been really busy with it for the last few weeks.

If you’re designing cycling kits, doing Pica~Post for us lot and designing posters for bands, you’re sort of all over the place. What would you say your job was?

I’d just say I was confused. I suppose you’d just call me a graphic designer, but I don’t really like that term. I could go on for hours about this—and it’s probably not even interesting—but I’m interested in having a holistic practice, where everything feeds into everything else and doesn’t have to be defined. It doesn’t necessarily need to look the same or be the exact same thing, but it should all come from the same place.

But then it gets really confusing if you’re trying to get work or sell something and you can’t explain what you’re doing—it doesn’t really help you out.

I get what you mean. So how did you get into this holistic graphic design stuff or whatever you want to call it? Didn’t you do a degree in physics or something?

Yeah I studied physics, which makes it even more confusing. But it was through music and skating that really got me into graphics—like Ed Templeton and Toy Machine—I was really into that stuff as a kid, and that’s why I think I do it.

Yeah I always think that about skating or riding—how you can inadvertently get into things like drawing or photography, whereas I don’t think people are getting into this stuff if they’re into playing golf or running. Or maybe they are? I don’t know? Is Mo Farah churning out mad poetry zines like Mark Gonzales?

There’s a whole world to explore there. But yeah, I think skating and stuff was why I was into art. I used to just copy Ed Templeton drawings. And before that I was into Pog. I wrote to Pogman once and he wrote back to me on letter-headed paper signed with a paw-print.

But yeah, I never studied art or design because I fell out with my teacher.

How come? Can you divulge this information?

I think it was because I was really shit so he gave me bad marks. I did do a painting of a Deftones album cover. Maybe he didn’t understand my conceptual standpoint?

So where does the physics thing come in? To a lot of people science and art don’t really blend.

I think people misunderstand it. Science is a really creative thing. I guess it’s seen as a rigid thing but really it’s about approximating things and having models for things, but knowing they’re not real. Don’t quote me on that though. Have you ever heard of Richard Feynmann?

I can’t say I have to be honest.

He’s the quantum electrodynamics guy and he was super creative—he drew and he played music. He swapped science lessons for art lessons with one of his friends who was an artist. He did watercolours and pencil sketches—he was good at it. And that’s interesting in itself.

Does this come back to your holistic thing? Being good at a few different things?

Maybe, but I’d love to do just one thing, but I get bored and I can’t settle. I think it’s just being a bit restless. I’ve got a short attention span... which I blame the modern world for.

It seems that’s fairly common these days. People can’t watch a film without checking their phone a few times. Do you think this is a problem?

I don’t know if it’s a problem, but I think about it a lot.

I think that maybe 50 years ago it’d be easier to be good at painting, because there wasn’t really much else to do.

I don’t think you need to get good at things anymore. There’s nothing new to get good at. I’d rather be bad at a whole lot of things.

Where do you see things going? Do you think people’s attention spans are going to get even worse?

I don’t know, it seems like there’s a kickback with people doing crafts and things. Ceramics is really big these days. People like handmade things.

What are your thoughts on computers? It seems to a lot of people graphic design means sitting on a computer all day.

There’s a sign up here that says, “Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking,” which I kind of agree with. They’re just a tool you can use when you need to, but they’re not the be all and end all. I try and make stuff by hand and not use computers too much. I think it’s important to have actual evidence of your hand, it makes it personable and human.

Yeah, you don’t want to cheat and use that snide hand-written font.

Yeah, but then also you couldn’t handwrite a full issue of Pica~Post.

Haha, you should though. How do you go about doing something like that... designing a magazine like Pica~Post?

I don’t know, it just kind of builds up. That’s not a very exciting answer though.

Fair enough. It seems a lot of people these days want to have some sort of creative job and be their own boss. What’s the reality of it?

I think you’ve got to be disciplined. At the moment I’m eating a lot of potatoes. I always get by and almost manage to pay the rent, but there was a lot of time when we were just eating noodles. I think it seems like such a desirable thing to do at the moment that a lot of people are studying it, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when there’s even more people competing. But yeah, I think people expect they’ll just get a job really easily. Although I probably wouldn’t have had to eat so many noodles if I’d have done it sensibly.

What do you mean by that?

I think the stuff I’ve always been into... I think normal people wouldn’t want you to make things look like that. I just can’t seem to make things nice, which makes it difficult. People don’t want things that are rough around the edges or ugly, they want things they can put up in their kitchen. I think with me it comes from being obsessed with Ian Mackaye as a kid. Being overly idealistic doesn’t help.

I like how Ian Mackaye is still doing the same thing now—posting out records from a damp warehouse in Washington. Moving on, what’s your fascination with that shade of pink you always have in your stuff?

It’s partly from an obsession with Ghostbusters and the psychomagnotheric slime that runs underneath the city. Yves Klein made International Klein Blue—it was his own colour—I liked the idea of just having one colour to work in, so I blended my own pink paint. There’s pigs blood in there to get the colour right.

What do you call that?

Psycho-reactive Pink, or Hockett Pink? My bike, which I look stupid on, is this colour. And I’ve got five pairs of socks this colour too. It’s like the leader’s jersey in the Giro d’Italia. The other thing the colour comes from is marshmallows.

What was sculpture you did with the marshmallows?

I wanted to make a giant marshmallow man. I made it with my friend Daniel Pickles. We joined a wholesale supermarket near Ancoats and spent £500 on marshmallows. I had a Ford KA at the time and it filled the back. We melted it all down and covered this structure in it. It smelt amazing.

How do explain this sort of thing to people? Say if you’re at the pub and your girlfriend’s friend’s boyfriend, who works at a brokerage firm, asks what you do? Do you tell them about the marshmallows?

I usually just make stuff up. I had a Soprano’s phase where I said I was in waste management.

Haha, that’s probably easier than explaining everything. Okay, we’ve talked for a while here, have you got any wise words you’d like to share? Maybe a proverb or something?

I’ll give you something to think about... Where does my fist go when I open my hand?