Skateboard art is naturally pegged as ratty and lowbrow. Of course, most people who skateboard can affectionately be lumped into the aforementioned categories. But what exactly is skate art? Is it art made by skaters? Is it art made for skaters? Can it be both, or neither? As much as I love skateboarding, I'm generally skeptical of skate art and its intent. I'm involuntarily attracted to skate related events, demos, premieres, screenings, etc. Usually it has to do with being in the same company of fellow skaters or nerding out when I see one of my childhood idols. But sometimes when I'm at these events, I'm faced with a nagging voice that tells me, "This doesn't have anything to do with skateboarding. Let's get out of here and go skate."
Over the last two decades, street skateboarding has risen exponentially in popularity, spawning a number of undesirable cultural side effects, i.e., the X-Games, Tony Hawk Bagel Bite commercials and Bam Margera, to name a few. But it's not just the commercial world that has an interest in skateboarding. The art community has taken notice and opened its doors to skate related work.
The Market Street Gallery's current exhibition, Skate This Art, is a benefit auction and fundraiser for Roaddawgz, a drop-in center for homeless youth in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. The exhibit features over 50 artists including Jeremy Fish, Pobrecito, Matt Gonzalez (former San Francisco mayoral candidate and 2008 Green Party presidential running mate), Terry Marashlian, Jason Norelli, and Ah Young donating mostly custom-painted skateboard decks -- a pretty literal interpretation of skate art, hence the title Skate This Art. Unfortunately, I visited the gallery on their second day of the exhibition and the majority of the work had yet to be labeled with artist info and baseline bidding prices. A few workers were still busy hanging more boards and moving larger works around.
When I first walked into the gallery much of the artwork instantly reminded me of Haight Street. Many of the 100 plus skateboard decks hanging from the walls seem like they could also be for sale at a head shop, next to a Jerry Garcia t-shirt or a flaming 8-ball bong. You've got your dragons, sunsets, pop-culture stencils, amorphous blob doodles and even some dolphins. The decks on display are simply used as a canvas without much of a unifying theme. Art work is presented on long boards, short boards, broken boards and also furniture, including a chaise lounge comprised of 10 decks set at staggered heights. Most of the artists choose to draw or paint directly on the boards while a few use mixed media techniques or decorate them with stickers.
Ah Young's contributions, yet to be labeled with a title by the curators, were definite standouts among the rest. Opting to use pieces of skateboards rather than a complete deck, Young constructed a vivid, multi-dimensional scene of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline. Although depicting the Golden Gate Bridge has become over trodden territory, Young's execution makes it a success. The bite-size wooden scraps collected from colored skate decks are layered in a messy manner, giving the work depth and an almost animated quality. Since skate decks are typically made by gluing and pressing seven thin sheets of wood together, they become unusually splintered and cross-hatched when broken into pieces. This is what makes the work most engaging; instead of painting on decks, Young broke them down to create something entirely new.
Artist Pobrecito employs a retro brown, yellow and red color palette with profile drawings of a few Latin looking, big-lipped, scraggly haired cartoon characters. I've seen his work before in San Francisco's Mission district and regularly walk by one of his murals on Balmy Alley. Although his work is not blatantly comical it gets a laugh out of me every time. His characters look like they've been through the ringer but still maintain a hunger for life. Their twisted mugs ooze expression and glean a hint of hope.
To be fair, since the exhibition and auction benefits Roaddawgz, it would probably feel like a disconnect if the art was too clean and stuffy. The Haight Street vibe fits the stereotype of what a homeless youth drop-in center would be like, but let's not jump to conclusions. It's still a stereotype. Who knows where these kids come from or what their stories are. Not all of them have a pit bull on a chain and are asking you for money to buy weed. Roaddawgz helps struggling youth to develop technical training, job skills and offers art and literary activities where kids can receive cash payments for completed works. It's just too bad Skate This Art couldn't have included more quality work. I'm sure Roaddawgz could use the funds.
Skate this Art is on display at the Market Street Gallery through May 31, 2009. For more information, visit marketstreetgallery.com