Without the presence of artists in skateboarding culture, it would be a far less attractive thing to do – both figuratively and literally. Without the presence of artists as athletes and designers, snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing would become strictly regulated and regimented sports similar to the national baseball, football, and soccer leagues we see today. Aesthetics play into the documentation of skateboarding, and creating tricks and finding unique spots add to the creativity. For visual art, though, the most marketable aspect is on board and fashion design. And since the start of the millennium, skateboarding has become more and more of a popular market, especially amongst the younger generations.
Fads usually come and go, and skateboarding is going through its second wave of popularity. Invented in southern California during the 1950s by a group of surfers, after a slight lull of sales in the 1960s skating became marketable again and stayed strong until the late 1970s. Skating up until this point did not really have that much of an edge to it. Skateboards were still considered toys for the most part, and street skating was not established. The public started taking notice that skateboarding is dangerous. Obviously! As a result, insurance on public skateparks became sky-high, forcing many skateparks to close indefinitely. With this development, skateboarding went back to its avant-garde roots and attracted a different type of character. People were now forced to breaking into old abandoned parks, building their own ramps, or learning how to street skate; a more intense division of skateboarding that strayed away from the pools and ramps for found man-made features of rails and ledges. To the less motivated general public who wasn’t willing to build their own backyard ramp just to end up with seemingly endless bruises and scrapes, there was no longer any point to buying skateboards. Suddenly, skateboarding was now in the hands of a more rowdy and brave DIY crowd. Big companies stopped producing boards and dropped all of their pros, and in order to keep skateboarding alive, small companies created by skateboarders became the norm.
The new economy of skate companies created by skaters, for skaters, instituted a healthy competition for creativity to thrive. Punk music’s aggressive, angry and general feeling of discontent resonated with those skateboarders let down by huge companies – and official institutions more broadly. This punk influence introduced skateboarders to underground culture and zines, or a small magazine that is produced cheaply by one person or a small group of people and is about a subject they are interested in. These zines soon became major publications like Thrasherthat are still around today. Now that skaters had a platform, the competition grew thicker, and skateboarding really gained its voice as an art form through board design, film, graphic design and architecture while still remaining its image of the punky poor skateboarder – until now.
As we approached the 2010s, especially after the 2016 US Presidential election, Americans began dividing and younger people needed a way to identify themselves in a sort of rebellion. This led to an over-fetishization of skateboarding and its counter-cultural ideals. When you walk down a street or into any college building, one is guaranteed to see someone in a “Thrasher” tee or maybe a Supreme sticker on a laptop or signpost. You can also likely guarantee that most of those people wearing the skate brands or have the stickers on their laptops have never even stepped foot on a skateboard. At most, they may have tried it before, but it was not the dangerous plank of wood on wheels that attracted them to try it; it was the “skater” aesthetic. Brands like Nike and Adidas have taken notice and are back on the skate scene. When the big corps are back, that means money is back, and curators and art dealers are starting to take notice as well. The brand Stateroom, for example, prints contemporary art onto skate decks and sells them for up to $5,000 with only a limited quantity of each. The profits from this though go to multiple projects around the world, from building skateparks and providing skateboards to Afghani youth, a project also sponsored in partnership with Louis Vuitton. The most notable of the Stateroom’s projects is the New York City Aids memorial project featuring skate decks designed by Jenny Holzer that each sold for a whopping $7,000, which is cheap for work by Holzer, but for a skateboard that is very expensive. In a partnership with Artspace, they have raised almost $23,000, and the sale is still ongoing. Back in January of 2019, a private collector sold his entire collection of “Supreme” skate decks at a Sotheby’s auction for an estimated 1.2 million USD. Regardless of the art market, skateboarding and its culture is a popular subject in a lot of young and contemporary works.
Art and the counterculture have always gone hand in hand, and most — if not all —of the popular art movements taught in art history stem from a counterculture of some sort – the “avant-garde” in artspeak. In the book The Making of a Counter Culture by Theodore Roszak, that counter culture is defined by its “opposite,” mainstream culture. This opposition stems from elements in middle-class values and different political agendas. Eventually these counterculture ideas “germinate, grow and eventually die and become appropriated by the mainstream culture, however leaving their lasting imprint on their successors.” The 60s left us with Psychedelic rock posters and Pop Art. Even the Italian Futurists were a counter culture whose ideas were developed and left behind by the Italian Fascist regime. Skateboarding and the culture that follows it is a very marketable counterculture movement different like any other before it, and its multi-faceted mediums create an interesting dialogue on the 21st-century dilemma.
Jules Magistry’s work focuses on an anti-establishment idea that stems from his experience with teenage masculinity and angsty rebellion. Magistry, a Paris based illustrator grew up in a time in the ’90s watching over saturated cartoons and redrawing them at his leisure. Once his childhood was over and the teen angst set in Magistry stopped drawing altogether and pursued a new hobby of drinking and partying. In order to keep his parents from worrying too much, he decided to enroll in law school in which he quit in a month. In his own words about his law school experience
“Reality wasn’t really like defending the oppressed and innocent and the mentality of the students was so square I couldn’t bare it. So I started to do the only thing that I could really do: drawing”. After dropping out he went to school for Graphic Design only spending approximately an hour a week on Illustration which Magistry found frustrating but tolerable. Upon graduation, he went and worked at publishing houses but after a couple of years, his draw to his past adolescence called him to pursue illustration full time.
Magistry became obsessed with the ties that violence, masculinity, rebellion, and youth all share. “I really began to focus on adolescents because it was hard for me to live it and to let go,” Magistry said about his work. Magistry became obsessed with Columbine, The infamous 1999 High school Massacre by two out-casted students that inspired devastating shootings from there on out. He was interested in the fight for authority that young people have and their idea of never being taken seriously until they feel the need to take drastic and violent action. Also, the new fears that young people have and a violent world that seems to not be taken seriously. You can see this influence in his piece MFOL an acronym for March for our lives, a student-led demonstration for stronger gun restrictions. The painting features a teenage aged male in the center wearing a March for our lives shirt and shotgun shells getting loaded in the side imagery. The subjects gaze seems to be focused on the shotgun shells while on the other side an image of a sun fazes in and out blood red in a washed out cohesion with the shotgun shell blasts. This commentary on the fears or maybe desires of almost encouraging violence by authority is terrifying but real. You really cannot tell if the subject is having a PTSD flashback from violence or is inspired by the media around him.
Skateboarding is at often times a very strongly masculine (currently the stereotype is being broken; look at skate kitchen the film 2018 feature film) and Violent activity. In his piece “98 stalkers” (i) you can read on one of the Internet Explorer pop-ups on a nostalgic Windows 98 desktop he painted in a google image search for “sk8erb0y” below is a typical picture of a teenager sitting on a railing. This can be interpreted as a fetishization to be something the reader desires to either be or is attracted to in some way. Whether its attraction for themselves to become their own “sk8erb0y” or to find themselves a “sk8erb0y” to have sex with. The framing of a Windows 98 Internet Explorer page is a very short-lived thing that only a few people had the blessing of actually seeing, but to the people who remember the age of dial-up, this is something we may have done literally or figuratively, during our respective formative times with the media we were exposed to.
Magistry also did a series of re-appropriating skate imagery by re-illustrating photos of Pro skateboarder Brian Anderson (I.E example 2, 3 below). Brian Anderson who was Thrashers Skater of the Year in 1991 and had an elite list of sponsors came out in September of 2016. This was a huge deal as skateboarding before this was very polarized in a toxically masculine tornado that people seemed to remain generally quiet about. Anderson is a skateboarder who is on the legend level and is a household name on many peoples favorite skateboard list, so this forced people to think about does sexuality really mean anything negative after all. His Skate style was infamously aggressive and angry. He told vice in 2016 “I think a part of me was so irritated and angry from holding that in, so it made me more of an animal on my skateboard,”. Magistry is playing with this idea of pent up aggression by illustrating him skateboarding.
With his intentional choice of oversimplification, bold primary colors and cartoon childlike style, it’s almost like he’s creating a comic book about every day of a modern rebellion that most teenagers experience. While skateboarding may only be featured in only some of Magister’s work and rarely is the main subject, I think the idea of his work embodies what people find so appealing about skate culture as a whole.
Jeffery Cheung and Unity Press
In the mid-1980s a movement amongst marginalized artists formed and it forced people to ask questions about race, gender, and sexual orientation. This Idea of Identity Politics is just starting to emerge in skateboarding culture within the past 5 years. One could argue that It has always been there but if you ask a skateboarder who does not fall in the white male bubble they will tell you about how many steps it takes to even feel comfortable walking into a skatepark environment.
Press is the brainchild of Jeffery Cheung a Multidisciplinary artist from The Los Angeles Bay Area. Cheung’s work is inspired by the many figure drawing classes he took after high school with his friends. He draws figures that have many different shapes, sizes, colors, and genitals often intertwining and interacting with each other. First Chung did these figures on canvases then moved to zines (mini magazines made by artists) and finally to Skateboards.
Skateboarding even though it is known for its anti-establishment roots was and still is in someways a marginalized sport up until about 2016. Brian Anderson the first openly gay elite skateboarder told Vice in his 2016 video interview that hearing gay slurs all the time made him think at a young age that it was “really dangerous” to talk about his sexuality. Cheung seeing what women skaters and companies were doing with creating their own decks and branding, he put himself in the shoes of a younger self. If he lived in a time where the first pro skater came out and there was a company devoted to queer skaters like him it would make a terrifying and challenging time so much easier.
There’s a certain level of respect that comes with being able to skateboard impressively. The act of skateboarding well forces the straight white cisgendered males who predominantly the perpetrators of discrimination toward queer people to question their morals and kind of creates a level playing field that forces perspective on to how they perceive a certain group as a whole. Zine culture does the same thing, in a world with a lot of crowded media zines force you to focus in on a certain subject or media. They can be serious or playful but they’re totally free from censorship allowing an artist to share their ideas revolutionary style without major companies or brands stepping on their toes while doing it.
Cheung not only hand paints and screen prints skateboards to a mass queer skate community, but he inspires and teaches a queer art community as a whole. He has given the queer community of Oakland a creative outlet with free Printmaking and other medium-specific classes but also skate meetups once a month. He has also given queer skaters a platform and a voice in a very rigid heteronormative culture. Because of skateboarding’s natural tendency to draw in people of many subcultures in our society, Cheung’s unity press not only introduces skateboarders to queer culture but vice versa.