Skateboards: Art on Deck

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Artwork by Fotis Gerakis

 

“I consider skateboarding an art form, a lifestyle and a sport.” –Tony Hawk

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Artwork by Annie Owens

Today, skateboarding is a sport which is practiced worldwide, and its participants, while often young, are typically focused and determined and work hard to create a community of acceptance and freedom.  Skateboarding has never been a mainstream sport, and as such, many defining characteristics of the skateboard culture are quite different from those in other sports activities.   As a skateboarder is unable to participate in his sport without a skateboard, his equipment is of great importance.  The board is seen as a visual representation of the skater’s identity, and much attention is paid to types and styles of boards used.  Skateboarding is a culture that prizes individuality and participants have an emotional connection to their skateboards.  Therefore, the decoration of the board, or deck, is of the utmost importance.  Many skaters prefer decks with illustrations by specific artists, or they may choose certain motifs, or even decorate or personalize their deck with drawings and stickers.  As such, creativity and artistic visual expression is an integral part of the skateboarding culture.  This is a trait which is not found in many other sports.

s5Batman logo skate deck by Mike Alcantara

s8Evan Hecox Street series for Chocolate Skateboards

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Evan Hecox for Chocolate Skateboards

Due to their tendency to be maligned and shunned by society, most skateboarding cultures are a bit insular, but they often provide outreach programs and initiatives to bring positive publicity to their sport.   Within the past few years, museum exhibits of deck art and public events devoted to the creation of board art have become more common.  Skateboarders, on the whole, are supportive of each other and many of their actions are focused on encouraging those already within the sport.  That’s why skateboarders prefer to buy boards featuring art work done by other skateboarders.

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Foundation Skateboards by Andrew Groves

 

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Goldfinches by Jan Duschen

As skateboarding has become more acceptable in mainstream society, more people have become aware of the value and visual impact of skateboard art.  Decks have been created by artists as famous as Damien Hirst, and graffiti artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey.  While much of the work done by earlier, pioneering skateboard artists is still quite popular today, many newer artists have discovered the challenge of creating art on such a constrained canvas.  As a result, there are no limits to the types and styles of art that can be found on skateboard decks.  Due to the small surface area of the deck and the innovation of the idea, many collectors have turned to deck art, making this an exciting area to explore and expand upon.

s12Jeff Koons Supreme Skate Decks

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Keith Haring skateboards by Alien Workshop

Despite its short history, skateboarding does not have a clear origin point.   Skateboards descended from crate scooters, which were built and ridden by children in the early 1900s. They were made using wooden boxes and boards, with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom of the board.  These scooters underwent changes and modifications over the years, but it wasn’t until the 1940s or 50s that children began to ride the wooden board without the crate, for a hands free experience.  At around the same time in California, it is said that surfers, looking for an equivalent activity to partake in on days when there weren’t any ocean waves, turned to skateboards.  No one knows who created the first true skateboard, but they initially appeared on store shelves in 1959.  Consisting of metal roller skate wheels attached to a wooden board, they were referred to as “Sidewalk Surfers,” as they were meant to emulate the motion of surfing while on land.  By the early 1960s, professional skateboards were put on the market, and they were promoted by teams of professional riders who demonstrated how to use them.

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Artwork by James Jean

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Takashi Murakami for Supreme Skate Decks

Although they were quite popular at first, skateboards soon fell from favor as they were discovered to be quite dangerous.  The metal wheels which were first used made the board difficult to control and susceptible to jolting over any unevenness in riding surfaces.  The later use of clay wheels was not much of an improvement as they lacked traction, and the clay often broke apart which led to many injuries.  However, in 1969, Larry Stevenson patented the kick tail, the turned up back part of the board which makes many skateboard tricks possible.  The kick tail, coupled with the 1972 invention of urethane wheels, which gripped the road and provided a smoother ride, meant that skateboards were safer and their popularity surged once again.  With the creation of skateboard specific trucks, the axles which attach to the front and rear of the board and give the rider the ability to turn, the design of skateboards became standardized.  Since the mid 1970s, minor alterations have been made to board shape and different materials have been utilized for the board, but the skateboard is much the same as it has always been.  Today, skateboard decks are made of thin layers of maple wood which are molded into a slightly concave shape and the graphics are typically applied using a screen-printing process.  Add two trucks and four wheels, and the skateboard is complete.

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John Fellows for Hessenmob Skateboards

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Mike Perry and Damien Correll for Zoo York

In the beginning, most skateboard art was similar to that found on surfboards as they were closely connected at the time.  As skateboarding evolved to become the realm of the rebellious youth culture, popular deck art reflected an obsession with gore and a focus on shock value.  Although boards featuring skulls and dragons are still plentiful today, the market for deck art is not limited in any way.  Thanks to technology, a skater can easily create and apply whatever image he wants to his board.  Blank decks are also widely available for an artist to cover with their own images and materials.

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Miles Davis Quintet by Ian Johnson for Western Edition

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Milk Skateboards

 

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WWII Fighter Plane Skateboards by James Tuer

As skateboarding has gained in popularity, a problem has arisen in what to do with old, unusable skateboards.  Due to the roughness of the sport, skateboards do not have a long shelf life and must be replaced quite often.  As such, several designers have created furniture which utilizes old boards, and several artists such as Japanese skater Haroshi have repurposed old boards to create beautiful sculptures and pieces of art.  The quick turnover in skateboards also means that they have become a popular area for collectors of the art, and many skateboard manufacturers feel compelled to bring out new lines of deck art and feature new artists quite often.

s21Artwork by Olivier Binamé

 

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Places You Can’t Imagine by Chuck Anderson

 

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Apple sculpture made from old skateboards by Haroshi

The short history of skateboarding is rife with repeated declines and resurgences in popularity.  Despite this, each time it returns to the realm of acceptance, it gains a greater toehold in mainstream society than before.   Each inception of skateboarding has resulted in advances to the sport and added depth to the art it produces.   Today, skateboarding is no longer the counterculture activity it once was.  Instead, it is a valid and unique sport as it integrates art and action in a way that no other sport does.  Throughout its existence, skateboarding has remained true to its roots.  Its defining characteristic is still its insistence on promoting individual expression both through the sport itself, and through the tools utilized to take part in it.  As such, skateboarding is an art form, and it is an art form that is continuing to expand its appeal.

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Skateboard Cowboys by Paul Friedrich

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Structure NOLA series by Jeffery St. Romain for Structure Skateboards

 

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Surviva Skateboards by Lukas Karasek

s27The Lady and the Unicorn by Boom-Art

 

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