With the upcoming Czech national skateboarding championship we have decided to write an article about the intersections of this sport and fine art. And there's a lot to write about! As a matter of fact, the skateboarding subculture has been intertwined with fine arts even more than the surfer one over a long period of time.
Skaters live everywhere
The skateboarding half pipe appeared, for example, at this year's documenta in Kassel, one of the most important contemporary art exhibitions in Europe. It was installed by a Thai non-profit organisation Baan Noorg. On their part, it was an artistic intervention which took up the form of an international skateboarding workshop. Its main objective was to connect distant cultures through this sport.
"When I was younger, I used to skate. I returned to it only recently. I wanted to connect art and skateboarding to show how skateboarding has grown over the years and what influence it's had also on music, design, fashion..." says Iman Ismail, the curator of the touring exhibition Cannot be bo(a)rdered which was introduced in 2017. It was first installed in Singapore, then in Malaysia and finally in Paris. It introduced dozens of artists whose works relate to skateboarding.
"I've realized that skateboarding is a universal, international topic and it also serves as an interesting conversation starter for people who aren't that familiar with fine art," explains Iman. "Some people associate skateboarding with troubles, skaters are considered vandals. I've tried to bust these stereotypes a little, too."
The exhibition brought to attention, for example, the artist Rémy Chateau, who first discovered skateboarding when he was eleven and who says it was love for the sport which has led him to art. Sabihis Md Pandi from Malaysia almost obsessively turns back to his childhood; to the moments when he was killing dragonflies for fun – the species which has disappeared from the vicinity of his village due to the climate crisis.
Ismail's exhibition has drawn attention to another very interesting representative of the skateboarding art – originally a graffiti artist and skater Julien Earl Cadou (b. 1974) is now also a graphic designer, illustrator, painter and sculptor. Only a few know it's actually him who's behind the legendary Prague graffiti. It's said he used to make ceramics since he was eight years old; he used to make his own toys. Then he forgot about this technique for a long time, but later in 1995 came back to it during a lengthy recovery from a subway injury. Ceramics then assumed an introspective role in his career. Since then he's been developing figures with strong, provocative, and authentic aesthetics. His pieces don't strive for perfection, his domain in spontaneity.
Skateboard print and hand painting
Cadou's style and expression resemble the paintings of Jean-Michael Basquiat. After all, Basquiat's painting reproductions adorn skateboards sold e.g. in the shop of Museum of the Modern Art in New York. Similarly to surf boards, skateboards, too, provide an ideal surface for artistic reproduction. One can get skateboards with limited edition prints by the brothers Dinos and Jake Chapman, Robert Rauschenberg or Chris Ofili; among classic prints are reproductions of pieces by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst or Banksy.
There are also artists who hand paint directly on the boards. "Whether as a skater on the streets, or a surfer on a wave, everyone has their distinct style. It’s the same with painting on a canvas, it’s like an imprint of your soul," says Jules de Balincourt, a painter, skater and author of hand-painted illustrations. Balincourt collaborates with a Brussels platform Skateroom, which has been connecting skaters and fine artists since 2014. They use this connection for similar reason as the above-mentioned group Baan Noorg. The platform Skateroom donates ten percent of their profit to organize skateboard workshops from poor children and teenagers around the world.
But Balincourt isn't the only artist who illustrated the skateboard for the Skateroom – among others are e.g. the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara or American conceptualist Jeff Koons. This summer, the platform Skateroom has also begun to collaborate with the legendary artist Cindy Sherman, whose ground-breaking photographs have been addressing representation and identity in contemporary media for more than forty years. The skateboards with her reproductions were autographed by the author herself. The proceeds from the sale of these skateboards will be used to support the education of young refugees in Athens, Greece.
Another influential artist whose work decorate the Skateroom's skateboards is Louise Bourgeois. Proceeds from this collaboration support women in need.