Blondey McCoy Has Swapped All-Nighters for Art Books
Blondey McCoy in Piccadilly Circus
"Skateboarding is the only sport where the more of an utter plonker you are, the more celebrated you'll be," says Blondey McCoy, accurately, in a quiet little square just off Soho's busy Brewer Street. "Being a young person in skateboarding, it's not all that cool to be sober."
We're talking about skateboarding and sobriety because, at 20 years old, Blondey, a skateboarder, decided to stop doing drugs. Not the kind you buy from the back seat of a Skoda – he'd already quit those, along with alcohol – but the clinically-approved pharmaceuticals he'd been prescribed for his bipolar disorder.
"When they're prescribing this stuff, they don't ask if you have any past issues with addiction, and I quickly started taking a lot more than I was prescribed," he says. "Like any other substance I've ever known, I pushed it to the point of some huge dramatic life or death situation – as you know, thankfully, it was life, but it was a drama – and I was very lucky to get away with it. I went cold turkey and had about a three-month comedown following an overdose on a plane, which I have no recollection of whatsoever. For about ten days I wasn't eating anything, not drinking anything, losing so much weight. I've never, ever been in a worse place."
The eventual payoff to Blondey having the absolute worst time of his entire life is what I'm in Soho to talk to him about: a collection of artworks that was first an exhibition and is now his debut art book, Us and Chem.
"I was stuck at home – I certainly didn't have the energy to go out skateboarding, or even leave the house at all – so I photographed all the objects in my house that I'd gotten so familiar with and UV-printed them on mirrors, and then got all the things you need to leave the house to enjoy and printed them on mirrored windows. It was about self-reflection... it's not a particularly complex metaphor," he laughs, "but it acted as a much-needed full stop on that period of my life."
In contrast to that grim period doing a whole load of nothing, Blondey has a fair bit on right now. Later today he's off to Japan with Palace Skateboards – whose team he's been on since the early days – to shoot a new video. Back in London, he'll be launching the book. After that, there's his first collection of art merchandise to design, manufacture and promote. "It's a bit of a balancing act at the the moment," he says.
We meet in Soho Square on a day that dozens of hobbyist painters have gathered to do their best renderings of the Tudor-style hut that sits at its centre, not that we stick around long to admire their brushwork. When I suggest we take a walk around Soho – the home of Blondey's studio and the inspiration for much of his artwork – we're immediately off towards St Patrick's Church, whose stained glass windows and notice boards are referenced in Us and Chem.
Like many artists – although, admittedly, mostly those who died before synthesisers were invented – Blondey clearly has a romantic view of Soho, stemming from a childhood spent travelling in from his home in suburban south-west London to visit his dad at work in the area. "I think I was too young to truly understand why all these men were walking around in mackintoshes with the pockets cut out of them," he laughs.
As anyone who's visited Soho recently will know, the area in 2018 is half cobbled-Westfield, half-incubator for small-plate restaurant concepts. These days, you're more likely to encounter a suburban teenager in a Supreme puffa jacket than a pervert in a trench coat.
"Actually, the whole streetwear boom has changed the area more than anything else I've noticed," says Blondey. "You can't fucking move for those North Face jackets."
He's not wrong, but I'm surprised at his honesty, partly because of his close ties to Palace, and partly because Thames – his clothing brand – is popular with the same crowd of mostly young men who spend their time bouncing up and down the alley between Brewer Street and Peter Street, Palace and Supreme. The same alley, as Blondey points out, that used to be home to Old Soho institutions like The Revue Bar and Madame Jojo's.
"What do you make of that... I'm hesitant to call it a subculture, because it isn't really," I say of the teenage boys who religiously buy Supreme and Palace and Off-White, and all those other brands you see marked up 200 percent on Depop.
"I don't think that 'subculture' is quite the word, no," answers Blondey. "As far as I know, a cultural movement completely dependent on 'buying the T-shirt' has never existed."
And what of Thames' place in that?
"I'm only human: I get a little boost when Thames stuff sells out," he admits. "But I never wanted young people valuing their self worth on whether they own a rare item of clothing or not. It's not something I totally understand. It's not, strictly, from the school of skateboarding. But one of my big resolutions is to stop overthinking. I get so enraged about things that I've decided to only give certain things airtime."
Of the things he's giving airtime, I ask, which does he find most gratifying: making art, making clothes or skateboarding?
"I really love making clothes as an extension of making art," he says, explaining that Thames came about because he was making art he preferred to see on T-shirts and stickers than on walls, so printed some of that art on some T-shirts and ended up "accidentally" creating a brand. These days, there's more going on than tees – Thames is stocked in all the kinds of places you'd want it stocked, regularly collaborates with Fred Perry and releases full collections of proper clothes, like work jackets and joggers and satin pyjama sets.
But Blondey's not fully satisfied with the current state of things.
"I routinely bite off more than I can chew, and I'm constantly overwhelmed," he says. "I'd really like to get out of the seasonal system… I'd love to take the time to really nail one print, make a handful of bespoke suits out of it and then not feel the need to release anything until the next idea that I get obsessively excited about hits me. I appreciate what brands like Palace and Supreme do, but I don't necessarily want to follow in their footsteps. My internal struggle for quality over quantity has been going on as long as I can remember!"
While he loves designing clothes, he says, doing so also has its limitations: "With clothing, you have to bear in mind whether people are actually going to buy it, and a T-shirt is ultimately a fairly limited canvas. With art, you're encouraged to go bigger and wilder and, in many ways, potentially less commercial."
Blondey's art career started as a child, when he'd regularly submit drawings of SpongeBob to the SpongeBob Squarepants Magazine – drawings he posted on Instagram earlier this year. "I found them and it made me think how easy it is to lose touch with what you're really into, and to all of a sudden be 'too cool' to be a super-fan," he says. "That's been my big epiphany in my art – it's not about what other people think is cool, it's about what you can actually stand back on and say, 'It's as unlikely as anything else that this will exist in 100 years in the National Portrait Gallery, but it's something I'm genuinely very proud of.'"
From the sounds of it, Blondey has plenty of time ahead to continue doing exactly that.
"All those hours a week I used to spend drinking or doing drugs... I still very frequently pull all-nighters," he says, "but it's not around a coffee table anymore, it's in my studio."