Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Rolling Gallery - Vol. 1

Skateboarding is one of the best things we walking, talking apes have ever conceived of. A plank of wood, two trucks and four wheels (with some smaller bits thrown in to keep the whole thing together), and you're having yourself a mighty good time.

While other "extreme sports" try to superficially ape skateboarding's aesthetic, they'll never replicate the heart and soul that goes into it. BMX-ing, snowboarding, rollerblading, Razor Scooter-ing; these activities aren't punk as fuck, and never will be.

Skateboarding is a rogues endeavor, through and through - smashing, destroying and debasing this asphalt-encrusted vanilla environment our society has convinced us we want and need. Skateboarding represents self expression, rugged individualism and personal freedom. Skateboarding is art.

Yeah, no shit! Art.

Flip that board over and what do you see? Some of the best, most clever and often times hilariously satirical graphic art ever conceived of. Something about the shape of a skateboard just makes for a perfectly disposable canvas (or for you fanatical collectors out there, "wall art" your wife or live-in girlfriend puts up with).

Here then is the first batch of my favorite stuntwood graphics:

Vision Mark Gonzales "Gonz & Roses" (1988)
The first time I saw this board was at a demo in Fair Oaks, California. Oddly enough, it was being ridden around at blinding speed by the guy whose name was on the bottom of it. Gonz was annihilating the rinky-dink course, and he had this plank kitted-out with blue griptape. Glimpsing at this board's graphics when Gonz would take a moment to catch his breath, I was instantly smitten the artwork on the belly of this deck: a limp-wrist-ed guy in a suit surrounded by flowers with "Gonzales" written above his head. Seeing this board's graphics made me realize that skateboard graphics didn't have to be all skulls and tits and cynicism; they could also be fun and creative. To me, this has to be the best skateboard graphic of all time.

Schmitt Stix Joe Lopes "BBQ" (1988)
This was Joe Lopes' second pro model for Schmitt Stix, and man have these graphics held-up splendidly over the years. Seriously, they're clever, spacial and witty. You can just look at this board for hours, taking in the scene depicted (Joe, expertly manning three grills at once while an eclectic - and hungry - crowd of people waits in line behind him). It also doesn't hurt that these graphics were drawn by the legendary Neil Blender. Vision reissued this board a couple of years back (when they were still actually making boards, that is) in a bid to cash-in on the nostalgia craze that's also held Powell Peralta and Santa Cruz in a creative holding pattern. I hope Vision at least donated some of the proceeds to the Lopes family. It doesn't seem quite right to collect money from a dead man's name if your not paying royalties, right? And Joe Lopes was/is a legend!

Real Salman Agah "Camel Stripes" (1992)
Salman Agah's first pro model reflects the Father Of Switch exactly as he was in the mid 1990's: he loved his striped rugby shirts! Agah was an instant favorite of mine, and I dug his style instantly upon seeing him and Jovante Turner's shared part in Powell's Ban This video. He just had this super smooth, yet aggro style. I actually met The Man at a demo in Pleasanton, California where I filming a bunch of friends skating the course. I asked Salman if it was cool if I filmed him and he said, "Sure!" Then he added, "my name's Salman," and shook my hand. "Just send it in to Real." How cool was that; taking time out of his day to be cool to some goofy kid with a video camera? The next day, I bought this board (and a couple of striped rugby shirts at Target) and practiced nollies until the sun went down.

Dogtown Karma Tsocheff "Freed Puppet" (1990)
Karma Tsocheff was another skater that I looked up to when I was a wee teenager. He just had this "barge everything" skate style. Kitted-out in bleach blond curls, cut-off military shorts and tube socks, he was working class punk set to a soundtrack of No Means No (a band I got into because he used their songs so frequently in his video parts). This was Karma's second board for legendary Dog Town Skateboards, who, by the early '90's had updated their graphics from crosses to more iconic, story-telling elements. This board featured a blunted nose, dual front truck hole mounting and an overall "what the fuck are you gonna do about it?!?" shape, perfect for both quarter pipe and street skating. It's the graphics I dig the most; a man in a suit, scissors in hand, free from the strings that controlled him. I had the orange version.

World Industries Jesse Martinez "Robot Jail" (1991)
This is the board that seems to have pioneered the way most "street" boards were shaped in the mid-'90's (the "Golden Age" of street skating boards, perhaps?), before the 'popsicle' shape took hold: straight rails, squared tail, tapered nose blocked-off at the top. Oddly enough, I wanted one of these boards simple because of the first couple of seconds of Jesse's part in World Industries' Rubbish Heap, were he came trotting out the door of his house, slaps the board on the ground and cruises down the sidewalk (he just made that look so cool). Graphically, this graphic of a robot in a jail cell taking dump on the can was sequel to Jesse's previous board graphic featuring Rock-'em Sock-'em Robots. Man, justice is swift. (This board was later reissued by Cease And Desist).

Alien Workshop Steve Claar "Bird Portrait" and Duane Pitre "Olives" (1991)
At the inception of Alien Workshop, Chris Hill and Neil Blender pioneered a lo-fi, thrift store graphic art approach to the company. It was a breath of fresh air from all the satirical rip-off graphics popular at the time. Hill's photocopied and multi-color screened Claar graphic is reminiscent of straight-up indie-rock (al 'a the soundtracks to the Workshop's video output), while Pitre graphics are very Neil Blender, right down to the lines straying-off and over the top olive (and seriously, who other than Neil Blender could think of and pull off using olives as a skateboard graphic?

G&S Neil Blender "Rocking Dog" (1986)
Since I've mentioned Neil Blender in two reviews so far, it seems only fitting to talk about one of his boards (honestly, any skateboard, scrap of paper, used canvas, or pizza box with Blender's artwork on it is worth praise). My favorite Blender board is the G&S Picasso-esque "rocking dog." I love the presentation on this plank: Blender's art framed in the middle, with the large, bold "Gordon & Smith" below, and "Neil Blender" upside-down on top - both in typewriter font (which I'm guessing is from an actual typewriter, and not a computer).  Neil Blender is a fairly fearless art-maker, and that's what I appreciate most about his artwork. He just goes for it, and his pieces reflect his personality perfectly. Why isn't there a coffee table book full of this man's artwork out yet? Or perhaps even a documentary? C'mon people!

Blind Danny Way "Nuke Baby" (1991)
This knock-off graphic was so genius, I'm surprised it took anyone as long as it did to come up with it. This was Danny Way's second board for Mark Gonzales' Blind Skateboards (and also Way's last, as he would soon return to H-Street - and subsequently miss the legendary Video Days boat). Blind's Nash Skateboard's "homage" was pitch-perfect. In fact, I don't think they even altered Nash's original graphics, like, at all, save for adding Danny's name and replacing the company's name in the sun-swirl logo. This board was not just hilarious, but - at the time - nostalgic: what kid in the '80's didn't start out skating a generic board? It was either a Nash "Executioner" or a Variflex "Vectra." The bearings or hardware would eventually rust and seize, and you'd go to your local skate shop to replace 'em, where the older dudes behind the counter would heckle you into replacing your generic rig with a entirely new legit set-up - one without ying-yangs, Alf or unironic nuke babies on the bottom of them.

Blind Jason Lee "Schiffer" (1992)
The story behind this board is skate industry legend: graphic artist Sean Cliver gets shit-canned from a flagging Powell-Peralta (in a move many consider to be but one of many signs of the once great company's waning dominance) and takes his skills over to Steve Rocco's up-and-coming World Industries empire. Upon learning the ins-and-outs of George Powell's laborious graphic design decision process (!) and this graphic which Cliver was working on before he was dismissed, Rocco has the young artist re-draw the graphic and rush it into production (Powell tried to counter the board, to "meh" results). All industry drama aside, this Blind board for Jason Lee is simply beautiful. This graphic succeeds in mastering the key element of graphic design perfectly: it makes you want to look at it again and again. Sure it's a knock-off of a perfume advertisement, but Cliver's artwork is impeccable (as usual). And Lee's name in the middle? That's all you need. You know who he was and who he skated for. Simply stunning.

101 Nata Kaupas "Cat Eye" (1996)
It seems only fitting that this list started with one of my all-time favorite skaters, it should also end with another one as well. Natas Kaupas was basically on the other end of the candle from Mark Gonzales in terms of revolutionizing street skating. All the talent and moxie in the world though couldn't stop people from noting that Natas' name was "Satan" backwards. Natas - aided by graphic artist  Marc McKee -  would eventually capitalize on this name reversal notoriety with the infamous 101 "Satan graphic." But it was the 101 "cat eye" board that I really liked the most: the cat in silhouette with one eye open (or was the other eye winking at you?), Natas' name big and bold, with the "N" is red for no apparent reason - but still cool, regardless. Simple, elegant and awesome. So much so, in fact, that Black Label Skateboards reissued this deck in limited quantities. I know Natas has his hands full with his Designarium line of limited edition art decks, but man I'd love to see him relaunch 101. Such a great company, and this deck is but the tip of the iceberg.


  1. Excellent post! thoroughly enjoyed your personal anecdotes. Moreover a refreshing change from the more obvious classics! I had never watched Tsocheff skate being a 28 year old Brit! can see why you hold that part in high esteem. Regarding the Natas board (a personal favourite skater of mine too) a cool interview with Lenny Kirk; (, turns out his hill bomb gone-wrong, on this very deck was the pivotal factor in him turning to God! (and also the stimulus for me finding your blog, lol). Anyhow keep up the good work, I also enjoyed the Pabst entry, someone had to set the record straight! salutations from across the pond ;)

  2. Thanks Hard. It's great to know that I have a reader from across the pond.

    Say, has Top Gear Series 16 wrapped-up over there? I'm horribly addicted to this program and cannot wait for it to come out on video over here.

  3. Hey Toby

    So its true that Clarkson and the gang are revered State side!.. Season 16 finished over here for there summer break on the 27th Feb! I assume it will return in the Autumn as per usual, more assuming would lead me to think the DVD will be available around Xmas 2011/Spring 2012. Although as with everything these days there will be high quality copies available via our handy friend the torrent! (Cough, cough ...720p too lol);

    As with many others my age over here, I grew up watching the show with my Dad before it was entirely Clarkson's baby, for all it was generally a lot less entertaining, it had somewhat more integrity compared with this world of pseudo-reality TV we live in today! if your ever bored take a look at what was the highlight of my Tuesday evenings after school :):