From an unassuming Midtown live/work warehouse space, 20-something multimedia artist Conor Flynn emerges to open the metal gates to Shangri-La. No, Flynn didn’t name the space, but the smell of paint, wood and metals wafting out of an open-concept studio space deeper inside hits me, and I realize this is paradise.
But let’s go back a bit.
Flynn has called New Mexico home since 2003 after stints in California, Texas and Delaware, the latter of which is where his father’s from. His time in New Mexico is the longest he’s lived anywhere, which, he notes, makes it feel most like home base. Flynn also made it out of the Santa Fe University of Art & Design with a degree in general studio studies shortly before it closed a few years back. He’d long held an avid interest in the arts, but attending the school bolstered practices in illustration, painting, printmaking and woodworking. To be fair, that last one was instilled by his mother, an Indian immigrant who came to the states in her mid-20s and, according to Flynn, has “a passion for woodworking and...just making things.”
“I remember she built this window seat when we first moved to New Mexico,” he says, “and I remember thinking, ‘Why would you do that?’ Then I saw it—she had this idea in her mind that it would be perfect to sit there, so she made this thing that changed how you experience the space.”
Flynn’s college career was a bit more open than one mere focus. Leaving high school, he says, he “just wanted to make and share art with my friends.” More interested in what he calls abstract image-making, Flynn says teachers at the school like Linda Swanson, Karina Hean, David Leigh, Julia Catron and Jane Lackey opened his eyes to illustration, graphic arts, printmaking via woodblock and linocut, and other styles. He’d go on to do assistant work for notabl Santa Fe printmaker Michael McCabe and conservator Steven Prins, both of whom passed on knowledge and know-how. Someplace between his own burgeoning print, paint and illustration practices, a thought occurred: “Skateboards could bridge those gaps,” he tells SFR.
The world of skateboarding boasts a long and proud lineage of both graphic and fine arts. Even Santa Fe has a footnote or two in the skate/arts biography; curator Bobby Beals’ Kamagraph brand, for example, collaborates with artists to raise money for various organizations both local and not—and the boards are skateable or hangable. Flynn’s on a similar mission with his own brand, Packrat, though he readily admits he’s a little more interested in people shredding with his boards than hanging them.
“If people want to hang them on the walls, I guess I’m happy with that, too,” he says with a laugh. “I want to do the art side of it, but I want them to be skateable, strong enough, affordable enough.”
Most decks run $55, though more complicated styles and designs cost more. Graphically, Flynn illustrates designs for his decks, makes his own screens and then prints them by hand. It’s been a trial-and-error process, including building his own press, importing Canadian hard maple wood and finding a flow that works, but he’s zeroed in on a one-man assembly line situation. Each deck is hand-hewn and seven-ply, according to Flynn, which results in 14 total wood faces. Of those, 12 must be glued within a brief (and intense) 15-minute period or, Flynn says, “Usually about half a record.” As we sit and chat, he breaks down a whole list of wood considerations, ranging from resin content and moisture concerns to availability, sustainability and beyond. In the end, he says, it’s about sharing his own passions while enjoying what he does, but in a way that emphasizes quality.
“Society wants us to have an identity based around our careers being our passions, but it’s hard to fit all one’s passions into one career, one identity,” he explains. “I’m trying not to limit myself with the things I do, but within reason.”
To wit, in a corner of the studio beyond the skateboard assembly line sit a few paintings based on Flynn’s grandfather on his maternal side. He built fishing boats, Fynn says, but also worked in construction. Using old photos from his grandfather’s job sites unearthed just recently, Flynn has married abstraction and representation with muted blues, whites and beiges. Looking to the photos, a more discernible picture emerges, without them, the paintings become something else entirely. It’s beautiful and almost familiar, but dreamlike and distant. Flynn’s illustration practice is thriving as well, both on and off his boards. One recent drawing, for example, features a potato overgrowing with sprouts; another finds a mother rat with her babies attached that Flynn says he saw skitter up a sheer wall—ratlings included.
For now, you’ll find Packrat decks at Initiate Skateboarding (2882 Trades West Road, 490-8226), or you can reach out via Instagram for pricing and commissions.Still, it’s early in his career and he’s yet to show many places. I tell him I think that should change. He kind of shrugs that off. Even if he could wake up tomorrow with a brick-and-mortar skateshop for Packrat, he says, he isn’t sure that’s what he wants.
“I think if I could continue to work out of this space and maybe reconfigure a little to facilitate a higher production level,” he says, “that would be my dream. I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Flynn moved to New Mexico in 2013 and that Stephen Prins is a printmaker. Flynn moved to New Mexico in 2003 and Prins is an arts conservator.