Wednesday, August 8, 2012
The art of the skateboard
The first boards were homemade sliced-off chunks of 2x4’s with roller skate wheels attached to the bottoms.
You see the signs in every town. They say, “No Skateboarding,” “No Skateboarding Allowed.” No. No. No. Not here; not there; not anywhere. Not now; not ever. And still, you see the skateboarders riding down streets and rolling through culverts. In answer to the need, cities, churches and businesses have invested in skate parks.
The Noble E. Young Municipal Skateboard Park in Tyler was one of the first skateboarding parks in Texas. Now there are hundreds, from Brownsville to the Panhandle, from El Paso to Texarkana. The city of Arlington recently unveiled a citywide skateboard plan. The First Baptist Church of Longview has its own skate park.
Skateboarding was once thought of as an outlaw sport, and now it has gone mainstream. Skaters range in age from the youngest preteens to grey-haired grandpas in their sixties. As skateboarders have matured, so has the art and the culture of skateboarding.
The idea for the first boards came from surfboards. They were little more than seriously scaled-down rough-cut surfboards on wheels. The first boards were homemade sliced-off chunks of 2x4’s with roller skate wheels attached to the bottoms. They evolved into skateboards that were simple wooden boards with steel or clay wheels. The closest thing to skateboard art was the type of wood or early surfboard inspired shapes.
When commercial boards began to arrive on the scene, graphics were simple logos of the sort you might have seen on your little red wagon made by Radio Flyer.
But in the early 60s, skateboard manufacturers began experimenting with new materials. Fiberglass, plastic and even aluminum boards appeared in bright new colors, but dedicated skaters kept working with wood, adding the kick tail (the bent-upwards end of a skateboard) designed by Larry Stevenson to current maple creations.
By the 1970s, the creativity of these “outcast athletes” started to take shape. It was at this time that the seeds of the American Spirit of Innovation began to take root and grow into the multi-billion dollar skateboard industry.
With an eye toward innovation and the independent spirit of the sport, the skaters took the reins. Skaters like Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta and Jeff Wooten added their personal flair to the boards. These unique, innovative artists realized the boards needed to be bright, clear and complex in order to be seen as the riders flashed by. Manufacturers took notice.
By the mid 70s, Wess Humpston was designing for the skateboard company Dogtown based in Venice, CA. He was one of the original Z-Boys who skated for the Zephyr Skate Shop team. At first he produced hand-drawn and hand-painted designs that were influenced by the Venice Beach street culture. His designs included crosses, wings, bats and other dramatic images. His boards are still sought after today.
Another designer of the 70s was Tony Alva, whose graphics resembled rebel street art or were tags that simply said Alva.
Skateboarding in the 80s was at a high point. Some of the more iconic companies began to take shape. Three major companies ruled the scene. These were Powell-Peralta, Sims Vision, and Santa Cruz.
There was a certain clean quality to the artwork of Vernon Courtland Johnson, who was known as VCJ. He designed for Powell-Peralta. His designs took earlier swords and skull images and made them more mainstream and acceptable.
Sims Vision was known more for logos and pop art by artists like Mark Gonzales, John Grigley and others.
Santa Cruz Skateboards used the talents of Jim Phillips with contributions by Robert Williams. While they still designed for the “outlaw athletes” of the skateboard market, their graphics took a wilder approach. They used darker images including monsters, melting backgrounds and graffiti art. Although their designs were less “mom friendly,” and more “skater friendly,” they were still tame compared to what came next.
One important company that survived from the 70s into the 80s was Gordon & Smith, whose best-known skater/artists were Neil Blender and Chris Miller. Neil Blender’s innovative style was seen both in his artwork and his skating. He was always creating new ways of doing tricks and new ways of designing his boards.
Zorlac Skateboards of Texas started out in Dallas during the late 70s. Jeff Newton featured skaters like John Gibson, Craig Johnson and the artwork of Brian Schroder, also known as Pushead. His graphic designs were definitely not mainstream. They were extremely hard edge, and some people even thought they were visually demonic. This really was not true. They simply reflected the sort of things teenage boys like to draw. While the skulls and skeletons of Powell-Peralta had a happy image, these were exactly the opposite. They spoke to the rebel attitude that was popular in the skateboard culture. Bands like Metallica, the Misfits and even the Rolling Stones had skateboards released under the Zorlac name.
Designs changed as the 80s blended into the 90s. Economic conditions caused the sport to move back to the streets. The big three companies fell. Boards were designed by individual skater/artists. The trend was toward copying images without permission. Cartoon characters and company logos were compromised. Everything and anything was ripped off until the “cease and desist” order arrived! Steve Rocco of World Industries became famous for his misappropriated images.
With the rise of the new century, computer graphics and clip art have become so easily available that the amount of original artwork seems almost limitless. Artists like Kris Markovich and Ed Templeton keep the feelings of originality and the unique spirit of the culture alive. One of the newest trends is the desire for retro designs.
Skateboarding is no longer a sport that is limited to preteens and teens. As older and more affluent skaters make their way back to skate shops, they want to buy the boards their moms would never let them have. Some of the old, original boards now sell for thousands of dollars if and when they become available.
Skateboarding is an ever-evolving sport. Trends come and trends go, and nobody can tell what the hot new designs will be. Take a look at the margins of some teenager’s notebooks, and you might just find some clues to the future of this truly American art form.