Mark Landvik wears a lot of hats. Literally. The pro snowboarder has a bit of an obsession and enough disposable income to indulge in stacks of hats, like the authentic fox-pelt dome piece that's a fan and personal favorite.
At 36, Lando is old in the game, but he's still a top dog. Films with the best in the industry: Travis Rice and the Brain Farm crew. He's on that other level, riding around in helicopters, while being filmed by other helicopters—Hollywood-type shit. He occasionally gets recognized in public, but he's far from a prima donna. Ask any snowboarder, they'll tell you he's as legit as they come—and one of the industry's most stylish.
Lando's a character, too. He's at ease in front of the camera, often inspired, quick- witted, and always ready with some comic relief. He's the life of any party. That dude in the funny hat.
Now he's wearing a new (figurative) hat. He's an art gallery owner.
Last summer, Landvik opened gallery space in Bellingham, Washington, for N-Grained Inc., the hobby and side business he founded a few years ago. The business had its origins in less than ideal circumstances: an injury he sustained in 2011 while filming The Art of Flight with Brian Farm in the Wyoming backcountry.
"When I blew my knee out filming for The Art of Flight, I turned my garage into a woodshop and started the business," he says. Landvik has been working with wood nearly his entire life: his first jobs were on construction crews, building houses alongside his dad, and wood has been a medium of expression for him ever since. These days, some of the furniture he produces could easily be classified as art. Oversized live-edge tables are his specialty. The bigger the slab the better. Need something that'll seat 16? He'll build you that.
That knee injury and the subsequent recovery process not only gave Landvik the time to start N-Grained; it inspired him to change his life.
Lando liked to party, and snowboarding is an industry with a lot of it. He even had an alcohol-fueled alter ego named Hank. Hank earned a reputation that, eventually, Landvik wasn't so proud of. He realized that heavy drinking and multi-day hangovers didn't bode well with a job as physically demanding as professional snowboarding. He knew it was time to say good riddance to the bottle.
So he did, just like that. He quit cold-turkey. And while quitting drinking made him a healthier man, it came with a new set of challenges.
No longer comfortably numbed, Landvik found himself dealing with creeping anxiety and depression. Last winter, while on his way to Alaska to shoot Brain Farm's newest film, The Fourth Phase, Landvik became completely overwhelmed. He describes the feeling as 'tripped out.' Deeply unsettled, Landvik pulled the plug on the trip, flew home, and started seeing a therapist. That was last spring.
A few months later, he started scheming new plans for N-Grained Inc. Up until that point, Landvik did most of his woodworking alone—a stark contrast to the way he spent his winters, working closely with a tight-knit group of snowboarders for months on end. He missed that connection, that all-in-it-together mentality. He loved working with wood, but the isolation wore on him.
"I spent a majority of the time in my garage by myself," Landvik said. "I loved doing it, but at the end of the day if you're not sharing it with somebody, or you don't have people that you're working with, it's just, well, for me it's way more enjoyable to be working on collaborative pieces."
He made some calls to old friends and assembled a crew of like-minded artists, turning his place into a sort of commune almost overnight. I live down the street from Landvik and spent some time at his place in the midst of last summer's art partying. "Inspired" is probably the best way to sum up the scene: all these dudes cranking out all kinds of art at all hours of the day and night. Everything turned into a canvas. Sleep was an afterthought.
Among the N-Grained crew was Landvik's fellow Lib Tech team rider Jamie Lynn, who's done the artwork for all of Landvik's pro-model Lib Tech snowboards. On Lynn's recommendation, Landvik brought Matt French into the fold. He also hit up James Johnson, who grew up with Landvik in Juneau, Alaska, and whom Landvik credits with teaching him how to snowboard.
Johnson is Native American, a member of the Tlingit tribe. He learned traditional wooden mask carving and formline art at a young age, and as he got older he started trading Landvik masks for snowboards. In addition to making art, Johnson has taken on other duties at the gallery, including programming the website and managing the social media streams.
For Johnson, art is a way to build on the tradition of his tribe, to both literally and figuratively continue the lines his ancestors laid down. But, as he'll tell you, it's more than that—it's a path to blissful mindlessness.
"Every day, you can get so caught up in the business of life and it's easy to get stressed out by that, but artwork is that release. It brings you back and puts you right in the moment," Johnson said. "I think it's really important for everyone to have something like that in their lives."
For Landvik, the focus and attention to the craft also provide an escape from life's distractions.
"It brings me back to a more centered state," Landvik said. "It's a form of meditation that everybody can benefit from. To say 'Fuck everything' and just sit down, quit running around, quit thinking about stuff, quit trying to do so much and just focus on one thing, that's important."
For pro snowboarders, the off-season can be corrosive. Dopamine levels fall way off. An athlete's sense of purpose vanishes, and most are left with an overabundance of free time. In some cases, the idleness can inspire an unhealthy amount of introspection. Having an outlet is essential, and that's where art enters Landvik's life.
He draws similarities between snowboarding and working with wood. Each endeavor begins with a blank canvas, a rough idea of how to get to the end and the understanding that success ultimately hinges on commitment. Most importantly, he says, you have to make peace with failure.
Johnson agrees and believes that accepting failure is of the best lessons art can offer.
"You're going to fail and most people can't handle that," Johnson said. "I think every artist goes through that period of doubt. And that's the beauty of it. With artwork, you mess up, but you have to say, 'That's OK, that's fine. I've got to keep moving forward and learn from that.' And then that'll carry over into anything you're doing."
That's how Landvik is approaching N-Grained. He admits that, although he finds art therapeutic, the realities of expanding the business have been more work than he anticipated. But, as he says, he's going for it, and he'll deal with problems and challenges as they arise. If there's anything that professional snowboarding, struggles with alcohol, and his foray into art have taught him, it's that the only real failure is not trying at all.
"If you fail 100 times and don't look at the reasons that you're failing, you're not taking advantage of being a human," Landvik said. "Trial and error and failure, those are the best things we have as humans."
Winter is fast approaching. In a month or so, Landvik will be back in the mountains with the Brain Farm crew for the final year of filming for The Fourth Phase. He says there are plans to open the gallery for some special events and weekly art walks this winter, and that Johnson will continue to help run things at N-Grained Inc. as Landvik's day job, snowboarding, requires more of his time. As he sees it, the hard work is done—the seeds have been planted.
"Now we're just kind of letting it go," Landvik said. "We'll see what happens."