Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Skating, Creativity and Art

Back in the day the RWC crew used to have a different blog and spend all day writing pretentious ARTicles. We kinda miss those days. So for the next week or two, we are going to re-post some of the old blogs.

Skateboarders are not like normal people. To become a good skateboarder you ultimately have to spend a lot of time on your own; the repetitive nature of learning new tricks and hurting yourself over and over shows a level of dedication beyond that of the average person. Skateboarder's also have a very unorthodox way of thinking, they will look at the world in a different way, using obstacles in the street and re-appropriating them for their own use and giving them new meaning. If you've ever watched a skateboard DVD in great detail you'll understand the level of creativity (and destruction) at play as the skaters negotiate various objects in the urban metropolis.

Bobby Puleo's part from Static 2: Music - The Invisibles by Josh Stewart

This re-appropriation of objects could be paralleled (tediously) to the art of sampling were the DJ/producer will butcher up an existing record and create something new; or Pop Art were artists such as Roy Lichtenstein recreate found imagery and produce something that has a new meaning. Like a DJ/producer who is constantly after new hooks, a skateboarder is constantly scanning the streets for new ledges, steps, banks and curbs to re-appropriate.

I also believe that this alternative way to view your surroundings has heavily influenced the artwork I make now. The street can be a canvas for art as well as for skateboarding and I'm constantly aware of my surroundings and on the look out for interesting textures, shapes and locations that will influence my art.

When it rains skaters have to find something else to channel their creativity into, so it is not surprising to discover that a lot of Skateboarders are creative in other areas such as art, photography, film and design.

The reason I'm writing this blog is that this week I saw a piece of artwork made by a skater whose nickname is 'Strictly Business'.

The piece is a collection of 100 used skateboards, each with it's own story and battle scars. The way it is displayed is reminiscent of a museum display and quite rightly too, each one of these decks is a work of art and in future could very well be displayed in museums around the world as documentation of our popular culture. The only downside is it'll probably all get lumped into that whole 'urban' thing. The graphics on these boards are worn out and damaged and yet this artwork tells a more important story than the original graphics of the deck.

On seeing this piece I was flooded with memories from my youth and it occurred to me that along with BMX bikes this was part of my life that has shaped quite strongly who I am today. Anyone who has skated for even a brief period of time can remember the graphic on the bottom of his or her favourite deck. The deck artwork became a part of your story…why you picked that board to skate, and why it spoke to you.

Strictly Business' collection of 100 decks reminded me of my own fascination with collecting. I think our generation is a generation of collectors, it's in our blood. As a kid I'd collect stickers, records and Star Wars toys; and now as an adult my collections of Star Wars toys, art, fortune cookies, trainers and records are still going strong. The theme of collecting reminded me of the work of Bobby Puleo. Bobby Puleo is an artist and professional skateboarder who was born in New Jersey and currently resides in Brooklyn. Skateboarding for twelve years Bobby began collecting found objects from the streets eight years ago as a natural reaction to his 'constantly looking down at the street' while skateboarding.

His collections have since evolved into various categories of things, items that naturally repeat themselves in the curbs and gutters of the world. Items such as prayer pamphlets, broken cassette tapes, discarded directions, found photos, found negatives, various product packaging, post it notes and American flags.

I feel a little uncomfortable theorising this subject as most of the artists involved in Skate Culture share a common string: a need to exist creatively in a world full of "business as usual" types. The do-it-yourself approach of most skateboarders has made it possible for a spontaneous explosion to thrive in a scene that is/was truly underground. These individuals took the initiative to make it all happen for themselves simply because they wanted to-and had to-have fun and express themselves. Most skateboarders who make art care little for the 'Art World' and are truly outsider artists.

For the past several years, skateboarding, like never before in its fifty-year history, has grown exponentially and has thus influenced mainstream culture in myriad ways. This wealth of pure creativity that has been floating up from the streets and into the galleries recently has, and is still influencing a new generation of young artists like Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, Evan Hecox, Thomas Campbell and many more.

The Alleged Gallery in New York first opened its doors in 1992. Sure, it was a gallery, but the disclaimer was inherent in the name: Alleged.
With its hand painted sandwich board signs and banners there was no mistaking the iconoclastic agenda. This was pure Carney on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side, an exhibition space for the less savoury social margins where skater kids could mix with hookers in the name of art. The Gallery was run by Aaron Rose, who operated in a less then professional manner but ALLEGEDLY had a heart of gold.

At this time Ludlow Street was still just another pill and powder fuelled Lower East Side gutter of low rent tenements that just so happened to have a phenomenal demographic of artists, musicians, film-makers, designers, writers and all around hoodlums.

Some of the first shows at Alleged are now notoriously known as being parties for the entire neighbourhood to get drunk and misbehave in ways that would have sent any fine art collector who might have accidentally stumbled in there running for their lives. The art openings featured some of the best urban folk artists from the early Ludlow Street scene that have know gone on to form the whole NYC anti-folk scene.

Alleged was far from the glitzy art world of NYC but no less a potent stew-pot of raw creativity. It's misfit artists were truly outsiders barred from the hallowed halls of an ever more institutionalized art market.

In 1993 Aaron Rose launched Minimal Trix, an exhibition of skateboard art, a show that would come to define an entire generation of art-making before it made the full transition from the streets to the galleries. Many of the artists came from the Mission School on the west coast to join many of the NYC artists. Subsequently this exhibition created a scene that had been fragmented and had only existed in isolation. Many of the artists in this scene went on to become household names in the worlds of folk, fashion, film, performance and art including Glen E. Friedman, Phil Frost, Spike Jonze, Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills, Shepard Fairey and Sofia Coppola

Barry McGee

Ten years after the Minimal Trix exhibition Jeffrey Deitch's gallery in New York held an exhibition entitled 'Session the Bowl'. Session the bowl was an exhibition and performance project in which the central element was Free Basin, the enormous handmade wooden sculpture/skateboard bowl created by Simparch. An exhibition of new painting, drawing, photography and video by thirty-three artists associated with the skateboard culture was presented on the surrounding walls including work by many of the artists from the Alleged scene, these included Thomas Campbell, Larry Clark, Phil Frost, Futura, Evan Hecox, Todd James, Chris Johanson, KAWS, KR, Ari Marcopoulos, Barry McGee, Ryan McGinness, Mike Mills, Steve Powers, Ed Templeton and Tobin Yelland. The project also included a series of organized and impromptu skate demos. Free Basin was part sculpture, part architecture and part stage for performance.

Free Basin

During the late 90's Ed Templeton was one of the most famous pro-skaters in the world. Outside of skateboarding, Ed Templeton is an artist and photographer. He began by painting the graphics for his skateboard company, Toy Machine.

Ed Templeton

Ed Templeton is a featured artist of "Beautiful Losers" a travelling exhibition organised by Aaron Rose, which includes the work of various contemporary artists. A lot of the art included in Beautiful Losers provides skateboarding and other urban themes. Templeton and some members of the Toy Machine team skated on ramps setup at the base of the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center in the summer of 2003 for the temporary showcase of Beautiful Losers.

The Beautiful Losers exhibition brought together all the artists from this scene that had begun to create art that reflected their lifestyles, most of which related to skateboarding or street culture in some way. The exhibition made clear some unifying traits among these artists including a vocabulary of pop culture iconography and a strong D.I.Y ethic. Most of these artists worked in areas that were contrary to academic trends. Because of this, it was necessary to develop alternative avenues of communication and distribution for their work. Many of these artist are now mainstream names in the art world as the major galleries start to tap into the underground scene.

One of the latest artists to jump on the skateboard bandwagon is Jeff Koons, Jeff Koons creates what's been dubbed Neo Pop artworks and sculpture. The American born artist, and ex Wall Street broker, gained international notoriety in the 1980s by taking popular culture items and turning them into controversial, yet highly valued pieces. Koons explores and blurs the distinction between low, commercial aesthetics and high art.

In line with his capacity for creating accessible sculpture, Koons recently collaborated with Supreme the uber trendy skate boutique in NYC to produce a new variety of monkey imagery with surreal backgrounds on a set of skateboard decks.

If you want to find out more about some of these artists simply buy the Beautiful Losers book by Aaron Rose and read it.

I hope this blog offers a brief a window into what is essentially a subculture within a subculture, and to show the huge talent and diversity in genres and style, that makes it impossible to pigeon hole the artists or artwork.

Hopefully it also proves that youth is not always wasted on the young.


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