Insane UK

Ged Wells Artist, Designer

To any skater of a certain age the graphics of Ged Wells and Insane clothing will be instantly recognisable and will need little introduction. To those who are younger or with a bad memory, in the late 80's and early 90's Insane led the way in irreverent skatewear and arguably created a legacy that forged a path for other British street/skatewear companies to follow. Ged's still creating today and Insane is back once again.

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Who or what were your influences when you started working commercially in the 80s and when you were getting Insane going?

It was a combination of parental art nurturing combined with ideas from Punk DIY – those two things really provided the spark to have a self-determining career. As a teenager, skateboarding and art were my obsessions, it was all about DIY, ramps, boards and then even the clothing. I didn’t start the Insane brand until 1984 but all its elements were forming even in the late 70s when skateboarding had, more or less, gone underground. The creative influences and the art I loved prior to this came from a broad spectrum: Surrealism, cartoons, fine art, everything really. I was mainly searching for originality and humour.
In the early 80s there was a lack of creative career opportunities for teenagers interested in making art and I don’t think anybody had a big plan – we just needed to make something happen. If you did, you stood out.
The DIY nature of projects make them feel inviting. Creativity with heart – even if commercial, can feel inclusive and I believe that’s very different from ‘starting a brand’ with the aim of being consumer aspirational. I see that as ‘exclusive’, which seems manipulative and somewhat joyless.

Seems like you’re really productive again and the new work’s great, what’s inspiring you nowadays?

Relaunching Insane is about having a platform for all my art projects. I can be a cave-dwelling, obsessive creative, so it helps me to step out. I love how the world has changed for creative types, so many avenues, new industries etc. In the cave, I’m pretty much following the same path, outside I’m inspired by new artists, galleries, new skate brands growing an original identity and new technologies, which enable easy production. I like the growth of collaborations, especially the way Andrew Bunney worked with TFL and partners in his direction of the Roundel brand, that’s clever and fun.

Do you have a typical working method, what’s the balance of traditional and technology in your work?

Drawing is my key activity – pencil and ink. After that I’m open to any media and like to have variety. Ideas wise, anything can spark a direction, the brain storm of ideas is usually quite frenzied. I write lists. These inspire tangents of coincidence. I look for these coincidences and like layering them. Perfection for me is a coincidence which leads to another coincidence, which takes you back to the first coincidence: Like a Mobius game of chance. You have to have at least three elements to be able to twist meanings upon themselves – a treble entendre.

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When we met at your recent exhibition in Hove I committed a classic faux pas and said I loved your fire hydrant graphic, which you rightly pointed out was actually a Deathbox design (I think I was nervous) So in my defence I guess that period had a distinctive style, were you all feeding off each other creatively or just the environment created that look?

Yes, that was an extreme social blunder! Actually, all artists feed off each other, I think that there are similar strands in a lot of late 80s skate graphics, pop iconic, bold line, iconic images. Mac did the Deathbox graphics. There are cartoon influences, some very sketched, others are worked, bold icons. He has his own wicked sense of humour with that work. My influences included MC Escher (not a DJ). Then it was about writing and illustrating ironic stories around animals and inanimate objects. A bold line gives opportunity to scale images and simplification is eye catching.

What designs or prints from your archive are you particularly fond of?

I have some of my early screen prints and the original screens from the mid-80s. I’m fond of these as they represent those early days. Having friends’ works is great – early originals from Gasius, Pure Evil, Etch, early stickers and zines from the UK skate scene.

You were heavily involved with RAD magazine. Personally I can’t tell you what an influential outlet that was for me growing up. What’s your favourite memories of those days?

The whole experience was great, everyone involved came from a DIY zine background. TLB (Tim Leighton-Boyce) was the perfect editor – we had creative freedom. Tim was also great in that he wanted to include the readers, not just to print letters but to actually travel all over the country, check local spots, feature local skaters. We went everywhere, skated all the strange spots and DIY ramps. My best memory is being commissioned to write a feature and traveling around Europe with Gavin Hills on scammed Euro Rail cards, selling stickers to gain any money, staying with skaters or in train stations.

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I guess you still skate, what tricks are you confident you can still pull out the bag if necessary?

I still love skating although I’m crap. It’s just loads of fun, a great outlet for the brain too. The only trick I’ve learned in the last few years is ‘backside layback grind revert’, sketchy like Duane Peters, but not half as Rad.

What’s was/is your favourite skate shoe?

The Hawaiian Vans high tops I had in the mid-80s and the Half Cabs I have now.

Any good records you’ve heard recently that you’d recommend?

The Bees, Dirty Soul Rockers, Asbo Kid, Kills…….

Your sandwich of choice? (mine’s usually coronation chicken)

Bavarian smoked cheese, dill pickles, mayo, crisps in fat, seeded brown slices.

Geds also recently worked on the rad DeckChair project which you can read more about here

Visit www.gedwells.com