SK8R Die! decks out skateboards
If Atlanta's Cow Parade celebrates middlebrow taste in art — cute, pun-oriented, accessible, unthreatening — then the customized skateboards in SK8R Die! tap into the disorderly vibe of the no-brow.
Fueled by youthful attitude, rude wit and the occasionally gassy political comment, SK8R Die! features 57 local and national artists who have imprinted skateboards with their individual vision.
As would be expected from the Youngblood Gallery, SK8R Die! offers work by artists steeped in all things below the radar, from anime and thrift store culture to graffiti and comic art. For many of them, the tongue-depressor shape of the boards alone provides a welcome opportunity to think outside the confines of the canvas. Ryan Lincicome shows a verve for experimentation with his imaginatively retro-stylized deck, replete with kitschy '60s-style graphics executed in ceramic and wood veneer.
Reappropriating inane pop culture for comic effect (much in the way other countercultural artists use figures like Andre the Giant), Gordon Gyor offers a board painted with a stencil of Mr. T threatening "Skate Fool." Shannon Bain also has a wisenheimer's attitude with her painting of a hulking monkey wearing gold rings advertising "Bad Ass" and the taunt (or boast) "Mother Fucker." Works like Gyor's and Bain's show a familiarity with the intentionally ambiguous, including outre graphics, obscure brands and snarky posturing of skate culture — all the better to throw off parents and the squares.
Several artists take skateboarding's countercultural philosophy to comic extremes, as in Wade Thompson's Tom Sachs-inspired application of gold Fendi and Gucci logos to a basic black skateboard. And David Naugel also humorously inserts an ironically slick, Madison Avenue value system onto his board with a magazine-style mock advertisement for a multi-purpose deck. In three images, a woman demonstrates a skateboard that can be used as a kite, as a raft for riding wild rapids, and, in the most absurd version, as a serving platter for popcorn.
The artists of SK8R Die! use a variety of customization methods. Terry White builds up black, red and blue layers of paint so thickly, they drip down the side of the board like frosting. Allyson Petty's slip-covered board features a ghostly silk screen of a skateboarder in action and Jenn Brown creates an ethereal landscape stitched onto her more traditional cityscape with green floss. Bean Worley offers an ornate heavy metal collage of rams, pentagrams and skulls rendered — in creative deference to the material — via wood burning.
One of the most imaginative boards is also one of the most technically simple. Errol Crane's board looks like the outcome of a frustrated artist mistakenly placed in a knuckle-dragging shop class. Crane cuts shallow lines into the wood, as if acting out some repetitive teenage frustration, then stains the board a depressing nicotine brown. The suggestion of suppressed anger or frustration channeled into distracted doodling immediately calls to mind other expressions of youthful frustration: initials carved into desks, or Converse sneakers and notebooks customized with ball point pens.
If Crane suggests a skate or die mentality, John Simmons suggests the sensations. He painted his head shop trippy, ultra-glossy board with parabolas of electric green lines disappearing into a vortex of orange. Simmons' board suggests the physics of skating and all of the swooping loop-de-loops and heart-in-the-throat jumps and dives of skaters teaching gravity a thing or two.
SK8R Die! is a novel idea with uneven results. There are great boards and others that suggest something only slightly more calculated than a doodle. Some of the artists have clearly made an effort to comment on the skateboard mentality or rethink their aesthetic approach. And others are just along for the ride.