On Skateboarding, Magic and Animation: An Interview with Joe Ledoux

I don’t skateboard, but have always been attracted to the sport—maybe it’s the sneakers or the boards themselves or my fascination with concrete structures, but when I met Joe Ledoux through a mutual friend, I had a feeling I would feature him on The Evolving Critic someday. Joe Ledoux is a skateboarder, an emerging artist and magician based in Boston. Ledoux attended the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, graduating in 2006 with a major in animation and his work has been featured in Genii Magazine and Concrete Wave Magazine. He has performed at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston as well as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and his animated short, The Day I Disappeared was shown at the New England Whaling Museum in New Bedford, MA. I met with Joe on Tuesday July 12 in the newly renovated Boston Public Library to talk about his work, skateboarding and magic.

The Magic of Skateboarding

Cover of “The Magic of Skateboarding,” Image courtesy of the artist.

Anulfo Baez: Can you tell me about your work?

Joe Ledoux: Usually I go by the phrase magician when someone asks me what I do, but I tell them that I think about it as more than entertainment, so I really try and focus on magic being an art. I’ve combined three passions of mine into the magic that I do, so it’s skateboarding, animation and art to create the most “me” kind of magic.

AB: What do you mean by “the most ‘me’ kind of magic?”

JL: Well, I think that art is about self-discovery, so when I started doing magic, it was very commercial—walk-around kind of magic, weddings, corporate gigs—and as I got further into doing it, I felt I was lacking some sort of…I felt my soul was missing from what I was doing and I think it was the artist side of myself. I had gone to MassArt, I grew up being a painter. At my heart, I am an artist and one of my favorite magicians, Eugene Burger, once said that to find your true self it is really more of an under-covering, instead of covering up. What he meant by that, was that a lot of times, people try to put the top hat and the suit on, and with me being a skateboarder, I tried to hide that aspect because I thought they would be like “this punk/delinquent can’t be good at magic.” I was embarrassed if someone knew I was a skateboarder. I decided one day why not show that off because I love skateboarding and I think about it as magic. I put a carpet on the skateboard with tassels on the end so it looks like a flying carpet that I ride around. I started wearing skateboard clothing when I would perform and instead of putting things over myself, I would even wear some of my skate hats—things I would wear behind the stage in front of the public and show my true self, so that’s what I mean by ‘the most ‘me’ kind of magic?”

AB: Who are some of your influences?

JL: Ralph Bakshi is definitely by biggest influence. He made the first x-rated animated film and what I one thing I love about him is that he made animation not-for-kids and to be a respected  medium for adults. I find I’m really drawn towards people who are the real deal and he’s known as the “wizard of animation,” so that was my go-to magic teacher. Let’s see, Jeff McBride—he combines a lot of shamanistic magic with what he does and has that real quality where what he’s doing is questionable—you know, is it real magic or not? The idea that magic doesn’t have to be this little suit-and-tie thing, that you can connect on a personal level. So he’s a huge influence. As for skateboarding, Rodney Mullen. I love Rodney Mullen, he took skateboarding to a completely new level as an inventor.

AB: At what point did you start incorporating the concept of magic in your work?

JL: I started as a magician around ten years old. It was right from the beginning that I fell in love with magic. I started incorporating magic and the other elements more recently as I felt that kind of lacking in the other arts I love like animation and skateboarding.

AB:For your MassArt Senior Animation thesis, one of the characters in it was performing some sort of magic, so you incorporated it into your work early on.

JL: So when I was at MassArt, I wasn’t doing much magic, so I made animated films as a way to perform. I made films about magic. Some of the first animators were French magicians and it was seen as magic. And then when skateboarding was invented the kick flip is called the magic flip. I think the arts I’m natural drawn to already have so much magic in them, it was recently that they all clicked together.

AB: So do you see your work as performance art or a better question is, how do you see your work?

JL: So that’s the kind of thing I am trying to figure now. When you are in the middle of something, it’s really hard to pin point it and I can see that I am evolving and breaking out of a mold that other people have created. I usually tell people that I am more of a performance artist, just to get that across, but I think that has some sort of bad associations in the sense like someone dumping paint on themselves. Not that I’m dissing that type of art, I just think that it’s difficult because it’s not as experimental as a lot of performance art, but it is more philosophical. I’m trying to be really unscripted and natural and be able to express myself through the tricks, show animated films in the shows that I do; maybe have my paintings up in a gallery and I would do some strolling magic. I’m trying to create a performance art atmosphere. I like the term artist better.

AB: You just talked about doing shows and showing animated films. Are these your animations or are they other people’s? How do you incorporate that into what you are doing?

JL: I usually go by the name of “The Animator of Spirits” and I show animated films that I’ve made doing some puppetry or telling a story that leaves the audience feeling animated. So I let the audience know in the beginning what to expect during the show.

AB: How did the name “The Animator of Spirits” come up?

JL: I was trying to pin down the essence of what the intentions of my art is and I think a lot of it is about movement. Skateboarding is a lot about movement, painting really is too. I think a skateboard is so similar to a paint brush in the way it makes marks on walls. It’s almost like ice skating, if you look at the lines ice skaters make, it’s all about energy-making marks. When I went to MassArt, I kept asking “what am I going to go to school for? There’s no major in magic,” so I chose animation because it was what resonated the most within my interests. I started to realize that there are other ways I could explore the term “animation” and that really fascinated me. I think the one thing that really excites me more than anything is seeing somebody get on that train where they are heading to some place where they are passionate about, where they feel that motion and animation.

AB: You made a zine titled “The Magic of Skateboarding” and in it you illustrate seven magic tricks and how one can apply those to skateboarding. How did this idea come about and how do you think the medium of zine helps communicate your ideas about skateboarding to people?

JL: I knew people would read a comic and if it was a short format, not only it would fit in into the skateboarding culture, but people would get the content if they had no time to read a huge book. Skateboarding and zines share a lot of the same mentality, there is freedom, individual style, expression. The way looses of the handwritten quality and the way the worlds break right out of the frames, the pen skated around the pages just like a board, the zine art captures the magic.

AB: And you illustrated everything?

JL: Yes. That’s another reason why I wanted to do a zine,  I wanted to start drawing again since I hadn’t been doing that much and I really wanted to lose myself in drawing again. It’s really rough and loose, its handwritten.

AB: I think that’s the beauty of zines in that they are handmade and they come across as rough and loose.

AB: One of the things you talk about is the transformative qualities in your work. Can you talk to me about that? What does that mean so that anyone who is not familiar with your work can walk away with a better understanding of it?

JL: If you look at the history of magic, it goes back to Shamanism and there is an artist named Alan Moore, he did Watchmen and he became a ceremonial magician and he came to the conclusion that the closest thing to being a shaman in today’s world would be an artist. When you alter images and symbols, you can transform the reality around you. They are sort of two conflicting viewpoints—scientists say that the world is made out of particles and matter and magicians think the world is made out of languages because if you break up something down small enough, you sort of have a word. I think why a big part of magic is a transformative art form is because when you see something mysterious it reminds you that life is mysterious and if you realize that you are living in the middle of a mystery, that is transformative. The transformative part is more for myself; just by being a better person, people around you will become nicer—it’s more of transforming the world and things around you by transforming yourself through your art.

AB: Do you have any other projects in the works now?

JL: I’ve been researching fairies a ton. I’m working on a new piece about fairies that I want to start performing. It’s a piece of magic and I wanted to think about what I could do to get people to see something closer to a real fairy.

AB: Have you been skateboarding for a long time?

JL: Oh yeah, about just as long as I have been doing magic.

AB: Since about ten years old or so?

JL: Yeah, around that time.  My first skateboard was an Alien Workshop (Alien Abduction).

AB: So where do you go from here? What’s next forThe Magic of Skateboarding

JL: My big dream would be to perform with it—maybe with skateboards and fingerboards and show the tricks in the zine. I also just got sponsored by company called The Magic of Balance in Canada so I’m going to play that direction for a bit and see how far I can go with skateboarding, magic and the performance aspect of it.

AB: Thank you, Joe.