Jim Phillips 25th Anniversary Artist Interview
Dec 16, 2010 8:54 PM CST

Since I’m well aware that there will be quite a few new jacks stumbling upon this interview, please allow me to school all you young’ens on one undeniable fact…

Legendary skate artist, Jim Phillips, is single-handedly responsible for creating some of the most iconic skateboard graphics of all time! And that’s a fact little ones.

You see, Phillips began his attack on the world of skate art when he was appointed art director of Santa Cruz Skateboards back in 1975. He went on to produce countless iconic logos and graphics that have since become fully embedded in the skate culture we know today.

In honor of the CCS 25 Year Anniversary deck & tee featuring Jim’s own Screaming Hand graphic, we spoke with Mr. Phillips about all things surrounding the legendary severed hand!

Where did the idea for the Screaming Hand come from? It started when I was a kid. I used to draw a lot of surfing pictures and then I would have this clenched hand sticking out of the water somewhere like a drowning surfer. Sometimes there would be a shark fin circling. It got to be a character that I would draw on my schoolbook covers and notebook doodles. Let’s face it; I used to doodle a lot more than pay attention to the lessons.

What year did you first draw it? Sometime in the late 1950s, in fact you can see one from 1959 in my book Surf Skate and Rock Art of Jim Phillips on page 16, it’s sticking up behind the mob scene. Of course it didn’t have the mouth yet, that came along later.

Were you trying to convey anything in particular with the creation of the image? I just thought it was cool. When Santa Cruz Skateboards asked me to make a logo for the Speed Wheels Santa Cruz wheel line sometime around 1985, I remembered my old character. I posed around with my left hand and sketched it. I was digging the raw emotion that it seemed to exude, and then it hit me, what if I put a screaming mouth on it? Artists through the ages have used hands to convey emotion and how much more emotion is a screaming mouth going to make? I like to say that it expresses the inexpressible, because there’s no word for, “AAAAAARG!” The word angst doesn’t seem to cut it…like, “I have angst….?” So people like it because it says what they feel and don’t have a word for, even though it has never really said or screamed anything.

Did the original image go through various changes and revisions before it was fine-tuned to the final Screaming Hand that went into production? The sketch was approved soon enough and I made the original ink drawing, which was about six inches high. The original sketch and ink are hanging up down at the offices. It didn’t have a wrist yet then, it sort of popped out of some spinning letters that said Speed Wheels Santa Cruz. Later we decided to make it stand alone without the spinning lettering and we put the severed wrist on it. The Screaming Wrist is hanging up down there as well. Soon enough we added the bloody Santa Cruz on the lower palm as if it was road rash.

What were some of the early reactions to the illustration? There was some immediate rejection but I’m fairly persuasive when I know I’ve got something good. The first uses were t-shirts and stickers and there were pretty strong sales with those so it stuck and it went on to be a good friend.

Are you surprised at the longevity of the image and how it’s lasted through so many changes in skateboarding? Yeah, it has surprised me; in fact it’s bigger now than it ever was. They say nothing is as fleeting as fame, but Screaming Hand’s fame has a special place in people’s hearts around the world, and I don’t think it will ever die.

Why do you think the Screaming Hand has not only lasted through the years, but also gone on to become so iconic in skateboarding? Just because it’s cool, it expresses the inexpressible, and it has come to represent the rebellion of everything that’s wrong in this world. But an image can only become an icon after everyone in the world has seen it so many times that they are sick of seeing it…where people will say “I’m sick of seeing that thing,” but unfortunately by that time they are hypnotically induced to go out and get one.

How many different variations of the original have you created through the years? I’ve done plenty of variations, wait until you see the 39” Screaming Bigfoot cruiser board; it’s due out any day. I sort of let Lucas down at NHS go nuts with the hand decks, different backgrounds and colors. And there’s getting to be almost anything you want with Screaming Hand:  jewelry, lighters, beer openers, flip-video cams, headsets, USB devices and iphone covers, surfboards, snowboards, underwear, rubbers, you name it. My name’s on the list for the upcoming blue Screaming Hand Dodge Charger.

Which have been your favorites? I love ‘em all; because it’s like my offspring…even Dr. Frankenstein loved his monster. But I think the topper was the blue vinyl Screaming Hand costume that Holly our sales manager made and wore down at ASR Expo in San Diego.

How do you feel about the countless Screaming Hand tattoos that are currently in body part circulation throughout the world? I must have received hundreds of digital photos from all over the world…and when I’m traveling I have an instant friend whenever I run into someone sporting one. It is really the ultimate compliment, for someone to commit to it for life.

Are there any particular tattooed body parts/variations of the tattoo that have struck you as most memorable? I’m always amazed when girls get ‘em. One guy showed up at Terry Campion’s Santa Cruz Boardroom on 41st Avenue, he had just returned from Scotland where I guess Screaming Hand is holding strong…he had a big blue Screaming Haggis tattoo on his arm! And his leg had a gnarly looking Slasher wearing kilts. So you just never know what’s next.

How do you feel about the Screaming Hand gracing the bottom of one of CCS’s 25th Anniversary boards? Very appropriate, both celebrating 25th birthdays.

Visit the CCS Shop now to get ahold of the limited edition CCS 25 Year Anniversary Screaming Hand Deck…

All Images Courtesy of Jim Phillips.


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