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Street Camp Art Show Rolls On

Posted by Scott / June 29, 2006

Back in the day, I don't think an exhibition of skateboard-related art would have been possible, or seen as a good thing. The continuous cycle of deaths and rebirths of skateboarding brought about a healthy mistrust of anything remotely "establishment" getting near the skating action. When Hamburglar rolled by on TV and skating was used to sell the new McDonalds McShred Sandwich, as guardians of skateboarding's purity we were meant to hurl disdain his way. Fuck you Hamburglar, our dirty, largely illegal pastime is not for sale, asshole.

And I have to think that any art exhibit displaying decks priced at $900 would have brought about scoffs from the skateboard community of the time. I sort of had to suppress a surprised chuckle or two.

However, times change and the Street Camp art show opened down in old Montreal at the Yves Laroche L'Autre Galerie. Featuring the work of 50 artists who have created individual (i.e., not in mass production) works that employ skate decks like canvases, the exhibit showed the both the robust depth and strange limitations of skateboard artwork.

Skateboarding graphics over the years have become unique hybrids of graphic design, album cover artwork, and graffiti bombing, and have formed a sort of consistent and recognizable design voice. Magazines such as Juxtapoz and countless "punk pop" albums or prohibitively expensive t-shirts have greatly benefited from the graphic evolution from Neil Blender and Mark Gonzales, to Dalek and Brandt Peters .

At its best, the Street Camp exhibit showed the crazy skills of each artist compressed into the tiny space of a skate deck, and generally the use of colour wash, delicate line-work and airbrush-style painting by the artists involved had great effect. As an ex-skater, just seeing this many decks in one place fills me with a strange nostalgia, and I realized standing there that I can spend hours in the minutiae of each board. The explosion of the skateboarding industry in the 90s, where the ten-or-so companies were suddenly overrun by hundreds of upstarts, seems mirrored in the exhibit by the range of names, images and styles displayed. The fond combo of cute-but-deadly is in full effect, and there were even a few ol-skool, or completely busted decks all gussied up for the art crowd to see. So, in all, there was an impressive, and perhaps even overwhelming, variety of works in the gallery.

kathie-olivas-boy0in-rabbit.jpgHowever, at its worst, the show displayed skateboarding's still-baffling obsession with skulls. Skulls praying, skulls with horns, skulls dripping, eating things, writing blogs and running for government. I understand the notion of "suicidal tendencies" and all that, but it gets a bit much after 30 years. Perhaps that's why my favourite pieces were by Kathie Olivas, and the collaboration of Timer, Turf One, Porn and Other that was created on the night of the vernissage (Street Camp image at beginning of this post). Nary a skull in sight...

Still, despite how much I enjoyed the show, I feel like it should be noted that none of the graphics would last an afternoon under the feet of a typical skater. And that, I suppose, is what makes such an exhibit interesting: its a brief moment to stop and reflect on the skills of a community that is constantly in motion between death, rebirth and back again, in a way we do not typically see.

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