Ask almost any tattooer, new-school artist or low brow artist working today or…y'know, ask almost any artist under 70 (with obvious exceptions!) about what brought them into the field, and they'll almost certainly cite the graphic/artistic design found on skateboard decks when they were growing up.
These weren't these artists' sole inspirations, of course, but as something that grew more sophisticated as the sport expanded into the consciousness of the world, skateboards became a ubiquitous feature of everyday life through the 1980s and '90s (with a tip o' the helmet to the 1970s, obviously); so, too, did the artwork expand, and the concept of fine art skate decks has only become more refined over time.
The Tate Modern, for example, has been known to sell decks featuring work by Basquiat and Warhol and a cursory Google search reveals countless projects, exhibits, galleries, one-offs and artists working with skateboards—so what's all the fuss from the fine art world when this shit's been going down for years?
"I've had a few artists turn me down because they didn't want their fine art associated with skateboarding," Bobby Beals tells SFR. Beals has been a curator, gallerist and art consultant in Santa Fe for years, and the upcoming fourth anniversary of his skateboard company Kamagraph proves on a local level—and don't forget that we're, like, Art City, USA, basically—that it's possible to merge fine art with skate decks for intriguing results.
"It's like if you paint a mural and then go back to canvas? I think there's a cool change in the dynamic," Beals continues. "I've done murals with fine artists [who usually work smaller], and they've said they really enjoyed going that big. Working on skate decks is kind of the same thing for some artists—plus it allows them to find collectors who couldn't normally buy the work."
You know? Because art is insanely expensive a lot of the time? No judgment, just saying.
Decks from Beals' latest series are screen printed and run $50-$65 for the most part (not counting a few original pieces that can jump up to $300, which is still affordable) and are fully skate-able. Further, he says, while a good number have already sold to real-life skaters who are out there shredding the gnar, some of his fine art collectors have picked up a deck or two as well.
"They're going to unexpected places and hanging next to these $12,000 pieces and sculptures," Beals says. "For those new contemporary collectors, they look kind of fresh."
"I don't do, like, oil on canvas," says featured artist Felicia Gabaldon (Choctaw and Chickasaw), whose deck "Alibrijes" is the sort of centerpiece of the new series. "I do work on wood panels, though, so it was something I was kind of used to, painting on a skateboard was not a different idea for me."
Alibrijes is inspired by a sub-genre of Mexican folk art featuring strange, mythical creatures rooted in reality but stylized in unexpected ways. Gabaldon's deck is a howling coyote, but with tribal pattern and design imagery inspired by both her Indigenous and Spanish sides.
"I consider most of my artwork, my style, to be very inspired by folk art the indigenous cultures," Gabaldon says from her home in Oakland, California, "these mystical symbolic images and depictions of animals, stories from folklore. I feel like a lot of old folk artists were so stylized you could pinpoint each, like Frida Kahlo or TC Cannon; a lot of my animals have this abstract, symbolic reference—they're more decorative than just representing [the animal] completely."
Gabaldon, a regular at Indian Market when it hasn't been canceled, is a prime example of a muralist shrinking down her process to work in skate decks. To frame it like an art snob might, one might say it's almost like going from long form poetry to haiku, where space is precious and concision is paramount.
Elsewhere in the show, pieces like "The Corn of Our Love" by Field Studies Editions or Doran Austin's "Jam Time!" run the gamut from Southwestern representational to delightfully silly.
"I've been studying a lot about the beginning of skateboarding," Beals explains. "Or the mixed media collage advertising [skateboard companies] use for magazines or clothing, and a lot about skateboarding has influenced our culture. Even music. Even in New Mexico. It's just so heavily influential."
"I feel like everyone I grew up with skateboarded," Gabaldon adds. "It's fun and they're very sellable pieces of art, functional or not."
Kamagrpah Alijibres Art Show
All day Friday, Sept. 4. Free
Iconik Coffe Roasters, 1600 Lena St. Ste. A2, 428-0996