Perspectives // Words: Amanda Hankinson
MIKE RAVELSON: Inside a Spiral Mind
Originally published in the latest Volume of TransWorld SNOWboarding Magazine.
In an era of influencers and uncertainty, the existentialists among us can find solace in the prolific wanderings of Mike Ravelson, David Steigerwald, and Christian Buliung. The trio has been on an artistic crusade across the country, leaving a rainbow in their wake. Zen lunatics of a Kerouac conception, these creative gurus value expression and collaboration above all else. Fueled by passion and cardboard, their journey has propelled them from humble beginnings into unique artists, each with uniquely recognizable aesthetics. Their mastery of style is apparent across the canvases that painting, snowboarding, and music provide—an achievement made possible by the support they've offered each other and found among the spiral of inspiration burning within the core of the snowboarding community. I sat down with Mike at his home in Salt Lake City to talk about inspiration, encouragement, and ultimately the importance of expression, which proved to be a powerful reminder of the potential we all have to make a difference in this world.
Tell us about the cardboard.
It started back in Plymouth [New Hampshire], just wanting something to do. We used whatever we had to make art. There would be a bunch of cardboard lying around, and you're always capable of drawing on a piece of cardboard. People would come over to the house, and we'd encourage them to draw something and put it up. Sometimes they'd give us the classic "I'm not an artist" response, but everyone is. Once we realized how powerful it was to have art on the walls, cardboard was everywhere.
Why is art powerful?
Art is a way for people to get energy out, you know, creative energy. You're conveying what's happening in the world in one specific moment, and you can reference that exact time in your life. I made a painting a few years ago, during a summer when I was working at a restaurant and dealing with a breakup. Now, I realize that time in my life was so important. I was really figuring out who I am. I have that painting hung above my bed because you have to be reminded of these periods you go through, the good and bad, because they go hand in hand. It's a reminder of where you've been and where you are now. It might sound crazy, but I believe you are controlled by the stuff that's around you. You could just go buy something to put on the wall that doesn't mean anything to you, or you could use it as an opportunity to build your environment. When I see stuff that people have made—that my friends made, that I made—on the walls, it's a reminder that you can create something and that you should create something again.
How does art influence your snowboarding?
It's all the same. As my snowboarding gets better, my art gets better. My art gets better, so my music gets better. My music gets better, and my skateboarding gets better, and so on, and so on. They're the same thing.
How are they the same?
It's expression, true expression. In snow-boarding tricks are just the framework. The harder the trick, the more finely tuned your body is, so the more able you are to use it when fully expressing yourself. Same with art; you start with cardboard, then you can put together something more intricate. They tap into the same world. You're not just trying to do a trick or paint. It's about using your environment, everything around you, to pro-duce something that can live on or progress your life or maybe someone else's life. In the end, it looks good too. It's just art. A stamp of someone's time, you know, like Dave's art (references the wall at the foot of his bed), Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix…
Those are two of the best.
Yeah, they really are, and they're in my room. A lot of energy comes from those two paintings. When you start making your own art, you realize that other people's art really makes you feel something; its like magic. I've been playing bass for Hot Vodka recently, so I'm learning how to play songs. Now, all of a sudden, songs mean so much more to me. You understand the creative process and appreciate the time someone else put in to creating something. It's a spiral of someone inspiring someone to inspire someone else.
How important is it for people to express themselves?
Expression is what we're most valuable for; it's what I value the most. That's where snow-boarding and art come in, so you can express yourself as you. You learn how to grow because you can see who you are through your art, through your snowboarding. If you can't tell yourself who you are, then someone else might be telling you. But you can control your own world just as much as someone else can tell you how to live in your world. I think people need to follow their own drums, listen to them-selves, and it's so hard to do because you have to really trust yourself.
What about collaboration?
It's the most important thing. Everything is so individualized these days when, in reality, it should be about the people you're creating with. When like-minded, truly individual people come together to create art they believe in, there is nothing stronger.
Do you ever experience a "state of flow"?
100 percent. What happens to me in those moments, it's like my world zones in on where I am. If I'm making art, the pages get super big, and I can see more. With music, the fret of the guitar, it feels bigger; my fingers have more room to get to where they need to go. In snowboarding, I'm zoned in, but my spectrum is bigger. I have more room to navigate, and I can move differently. You see details you wouldn't otherwise see—cracks in the ground that only become apparent when you're skating, you know?
Do you have any advice for someone inter-ested in living in a world full of expression?
Go do it. With snowboarding, you realize that you're in control of your days; it's what you make of it. You control your snowboarding—your sessions, who you snowboard with. That's one of the underlying things. Say you want to live in a scenario like this; it's not going to manifest like that (snaps his fingers). It has to start with you. You have to inspire yourself to inspire the people around you. Be the catalyst; it's not going to appear out of nowhere. Make art. Hang it up. Draw on a piece of paper, and put it on a wall. See what it feels like. People just need to know there are other people doing stuff like this so it won't seem that far-fetched. I mean, if you can't express yourself, then you don't know who you are, and if you don't know who you are, then who are you?