Pin It
Ed Templeton: The Spring Cycle4
‘Sunbather, 2020’Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles, California

Ed Templeton’s paintings capture the ‘hyperbolic’ beauty of everyday SoCal

The artist and skater’s The Spring Cycle exhibition shines a light on 21st-century suburban life with a California twist

“I joke that I grew up in the shadow Disneyland. You could see fireworks every night,” artist and skater Ed Templeton tells Dazed of his childhood in Anaheim during the 1970s. While TV shows like The Brady Bunch broadcast a picture-perfect image of southern California suburbia at that time, real life was no fairy tale. 

After Templeton’s father ran off with his babysitter, his parents divorced. Templeton, then eight, moved with his mother to Huntington Beach – where he lives to this day with his wife, the photographer Deanna Templeton. In a new exhibition, The Spring Cycle, Templeton pays homage to Huntington Beach and the world that made him.

Located in Orange County, one of the wealthiest areas of the United States, Huntington Beach got its start in 1901 when real-estate developers decided to create a west coast rival to Atlantic City. As Hawaiian athletes arrived stateside, they hit the beaches of Huntington Beach and introduced surfing to the locals. The sport took off, shaping the image of southern California as a world of laid back, beautiful people searching for the perfect wave.

By the early 1970s, a group of young surfers known as the Z-Boys brought the sport inland when they started riding concrete waves on skateboards in empty backyard pools in west Los Angeles. With its aggressive energy, street style, and DIY ethos, skating soon became an underground phenomenon.

As a young teen living in Huntington Beach in 1985, Templeton found himself in the right place at the right time. “In southern California, it seemed like every kid was either surfing or skating,” he says. “I saw some kids skate down the street in front of my apartment, jump off one curb, cross the street and Ollie up the next curve at full speed without missing a beat. I needed to learn that.”

And learn he did – going pro just five years later. “I was addicted. Prior to skateboarding, I was completely aimless. As a kid I had no idea what I was going to do and had zero identity of any type. I was just drifting through life,” says Templeton, who got into punk at the same time.

“In southern California, it seemed like every kid was either surfing or skating” – Ed Templeton

“There were these punk guys at school; one had a Mohawk and it was really scary,” he remembers. “I wouldn’t even look at these guys for fear they would kick my ass. But when I started skating, everything changed because I had a skateboard with me. Suddenly those guys were like, ‘Hey, you skate. Cool. Come hang out with us.’ One of them gave me a tape with Dead Kennedys’ ‘California Über Alles’ and a bunch of other punk songs and that was my introduction.”

Templeton credits his wife Deanna with putting him on. “When I met Deanna, she was musically way more advanced than me. Her brother was a record collector and worked in a record store so she knew everything. I had that first taste of punk through friends at school and then meeting Deanna, it was just like BOOM – the world explodes,” he says.

As a kid, Templeton loved the fast, frenetic energy of punk, but the music alone was not enough. “The lyrics spoke to me. I wanted to understand what that meant,” he says of “California Über Alles,” which name-checked California governor Jerry Brown, President Jimmy Carter, and George Orwell’s 1984 in a bass-heavy castigation of the “Zen fascist” wellness culture that had already taken root.

Punk, which got its start in Detroit with bands like Death and MC5, quickly hit big in New York and London, before making its way back west and flourishing in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orange County – home of Huntington Beach. But the emerging hardcore sound didn’t resonate with Templeton the same way Washington DC bands like Fugazi, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat did. 

“We were probably were drawn to skateboarding because it was individualistic. We didn’t mess with team sports. We were just the weirdos in the corner who like to go skating all the time” – Ed Templeton

“Part of what I’m exploring in my work is that all these punk kids were the product of parents who were part of the ‘white flight’ out of LA during the 1950s and 60s,” Templeton says of the mass exodus of middle-class white families who moved to the suburbs just as the local Black and Mexican populations were on the rise.

“They created this idyllic space outside the city with a four-bedroom house and a white picket fence to have a family,” he says. “But that’s been a breeding ground for people like me, as well as the punk and skateboard scenes. In the 80s, everyone I hung out with, their parents were divorced. We were probably were drawn to skateboarding because it was individualistic. We didn’t mess with team sports. We were just the weirdos in the corner who like to go skating all the time. Now it’s flipped: if you’re a pro skater in high school, you’re king of the campus. Back then we had to watch out for jocks who kicked your ass.”

Standing at the vanguard of a new era, in 1993 Templeton launched Toy Machine Blood Sucking Skateboard Company. Fusing his passion for graphic design and sport, Toy Machine has grown to become one of the industry’s leading brands. But Templeton didn’t stop there. In 1994, he had his first solo exhibition at Alleged, Aaron Rose’s iconic Lower East Side gallery. He catapulted to fame in the art world in 1999 after exhibiting Teenage Smokers, a collection of photographs that has since been acquired by the Orange County Museum of Art.

Working in photography, painting, drawing, and sculpture, Templeton’s art is an extension of himself and the world he knows, with Huntington Beach playing a pivotal role. With The Spring Cycle, Templeton offers a fascinating look at the 21st-century American pastoral replete with paved streets and concrete walls. The California sun makes everything shiny and bright, but in Templeton’s paintings, there’s a sense of something rather uncanny at play. 

“The paintings became a way to present some of the things I miss as a photographer – things you see as you drive around” – Ed Templeton

Templeton began working on The Spring Cycle after the pandemic sent him indoors and away from his usual haunt, making photographs on the Huntington Beach Pier. “The paintings became a way to present some of the things I miss as a photographer; things you see as you drive around,” he says. “Seeing it from a car is one thing, and being there and being able to get a good photograph of it is another.”

To recapture the world he had lost during COVID, Templeton began making mental notes of photographs that he had missed that would make a good painting. Although he had previously been against painting for photographs, Templeton softened his stance, revisiting his huge photo archive with a new eye to compose these works. He could take scenery from one photograph, pair it with a background wall he shot on an iPhone, do a separate drawing with the action, then make a composite of all the different elements as the starting point for the painting.

Templeton’s paintings, which he describes as “hyperbolic reality,” are filled with details, symbols and signifiers of 21st-century suburban life with a California twist. There are religious pamphlets, psychic ads, American flags, skaters, sunbathers, cat ladies, bikini-clad moms, teen girls, and leering older men with receding hairlines. Each detail reads like a clue, inviting us to tease out meaning for ourselves. 

Fascinated by the dichotomy between the polished facade and what it hides, Templeton uses the walls of Huntington Beach as a metaphor throughout the work. “It’s a choice to paint it from that side,” he says. “I could have painted the inside where it’s just the house but I like the idea that what you see is just a glimpse from the cars’ view as you’re driving by, as if you are an outsider looking in.”

Every now and then, a car will drive into a wall, leaving an impromptu window into a private world. Templeton used a photograph he made after one such crash to create a metaphor of daily life Huntington Beach. He added a couple of traffic cones, police tape, and young boy to the scene.  “He’s peeking to see what’s in this backyard,” Templeton says. “I added the edge of a pool in there. In another painting, a girl is sunbathing next to a pool, so it’s almost like he’s looking at her and saying, ‘Yeah, this is the life.’”

Ed Templeton: The Spring Cycle is on view at Roberts Projects in Culver City, CA, through March 5, 2022