Jeremy Fish might be one of the coolest guys on the planet. Not only is he this week’s Urban Beardsman, but he’s also been described as a trailblazer for artists who grew up within the skateboarding/hip-hop culture over the last two decades. He’s inspired generations to earn their own successful independent art careers, and has even collaborated with heavy-hitters such as Nike to launch his own limited edition SB Dunks. His longtime friendship with rap artist Aesop Rock has produced a multitude of projects that blend music and art on levels that one can’t even imagine—not to mention, his distinct style of cute and creepy artwork has been exhibited from New York to Tokyo.
After his move to San Francisco 20 years ago, Fish’s been officiated as a hometown staple and Bay Area legend. Where some interviews take place over the phone or Facetime, Fish invites me to his North Beach neighborhood to have coffee in a nearby park. While walking up, his standout style is immediately spotted at the local café; his beard commands other beards to bow down, and makes you wish you had the guts (or the ability) to pull off such an edgy type of look. Walking through the neighborhood, people continuously recognize him and pauses are made for handshakes, or a quick shout out.
We immediately start ranting about our mutual love for San Francisco and how it’s evolved since the 90’s. Fish originally moved to SF from Upstate New York at age 19 to skateboard, but convinced his parents to let him move to pursue his art degree at the San Francisco Art Institute. “I was very much focused on skateboarding, and SF was indisputably the skate capital of the world at that time. I was way more into skateboarding than art. However, with a few outstanding loans, my parents were on to me and didn’t think what I was doing was so cool. I didn’t necessarily want to skate pro; I just wanted to do it as long as my body could take it, and honestly it was the best thing I ever fucking did.”
While Fish popped ollies till graduation, he accomplished something most graduates don’t achieve right away—he landed a job in his field. “I got REALLY lucky. I studied screen-printing and painting, and within six months I got a job working in the print shop that’s owned by DLX, Think and Thrasher. I was suddenly overseeing board and shirt graphics—stickers and posters for Juxtapoz—it was a dream-come-true. I got to work for some of the best skate magazines and art brands from our generation, and I worked my balls off for 10 years.” Fish ended up as art director for Think, but didn’t intentionally map out his career, explaining, “I back-doored my way into the print shop /screen printing jobs. By the time I got my gig at Think, I had established a relationship with them that eventually earned me a two-page spread at Slap drawing comics.
The combo of doing boards for Think and comics for Slap gained Fish mass cred during the late 90’s; prompting him to start his own brand called The Unbelievers. He began doing freelance work with urban boutiques such as Upper Playground who carry his art and apparel assortment to this day. In reflecting on his success he explains, “I’ve always been a firm believer to not knock on doors to get what you want. (It’s easy to say now) but at that age I felt if I stayed true to what I was doing, worked really hard, and put a ton of shit out—good or bad—you had no choice to recognize that I was doing something. I learned if you think that way—things come to you—and you don’t have to apply for shit.”
Although Fish’s success can easily be measured by his loyal fan base, he notes another highlight as being validated within his own genre. “I don’t really listen to any other music besides hip-hop. Eventually I attended functions seeing Murs wearing one of my sweatshirts, or Aesop Rock would shout me out in the crowd. That stuff has been the most gratifying in my career—and sadly will never be surpassed by anything. Having the subculture you identify with justify you—you can’t explain how incredible that feels.”
Aside from receiving nods for his underground contributions, Fish’s fans have been known to get his work tattooed proudly on their skin, often begging him to design a piece. (FYI out of respect to tattoo artists he doesn’t typically oblige such requests). Fish responds more than humbled, while also observing an allegiance that carries on the torch. “I now get opportunities from kids that have followed me since high school and are now successful in their own art careers. It makes me prouder than any money I’ve ever made or product I’ve produced. I’ve affected people, and that’s something you don’t really set out to do when you go to art school.”
While Fish states his initial success came by luck, he shares a few words of advice, “if you want to pursue an independent career in the arts, go-head, but being independent is really being independent. Be good at trusting people along with preparation for having your heart broken if they rip you off. Making your art is the easy part, but in order to stay afloat you need to learn the skills to be a businessman.”
Following suit from the 90’s to present, Fish’s beard has always anchored his look, sharing, “I run into people that I knew from college and they’re like, ‘holy shit I can’t believe you still have that beard!’ I remember when I was a teen always wanting one, but I was a real late bloomer and didn’t have any facial hair. At one point I even dyed my peach fuzz and shaved it in a way to make it look like I had sideburns. I’m a believer that you either grow it or shave, but for me, it’s a personal thing that expresses myself to the planet.”
Since it’s inception, Fish’s beard has become a mainstay to his individuality. In 2011 he also won Best Beard for the Barburry Coast 2011 Contest and hasn’t turned back since. “My beard began to say, ‘I really don’t give a flying fuck about you or anything you have to say about me.”
Fish tips off a personal growing secret as, “you just grow it as long as you can and let nature take its course. I also love the element of going to a nice restaurant and they’re like ‘call security,’—and then when they realize I have a custom tailored outfit and handmade shoes, they see I’m not a bum. I love having that social contrast to smash people’s preconceived notions. My beard is clean, wonderful, quite healthy… and it’s soft as fuck.”
Although Fish might not be too concerned with how others perceive his appearance, in speaking with him you instantly realize he’s a man of passion, wisdom, and a genuinely kind person. He explains that he spends so much time on his art (along with his wife who is also an illustrator) that there isn’t much time for anything else. (Aside from attending a local hip-hop show or taking a camping trip in his awesomely-livable van).
Be on the lookout for more of Fish’s projects and exhibits coming to a city near you, and stay dialed into what he’s up to at: Silly Pink Bunnies.com.