Uglier Losers

RVCAs New Image skate art show has everything Beautiful Losers doesnt

They've been to Cincinnati, San Francisco, too, and finally on Feb. 6, the fake taggers will come to the Orange County Museum of Art, where they'll spend three months in a window as part of the traveling "Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture" show—as if they've broken in to paint the place up.

Like the yob in the Specials song, they're just a stereotype; they don't really exist. They're mannequins—built by artists Barry McGee (a.k.a. Twist), Josh Lazcano and ex-Dogtowner Kevin Ancell with black clothing and robotic painting arms that endlessly pretend to spray. And they're supposed to symbolize that—just as with hot rods and custom cars at Laguna Art Museum in '93—surf and skate art has arrived.

Anarchy will never be the same, except it hasn't been the same for a long time. Skateboardercas and surfers have always been artistic; the scene's origins go back at least to '60s-era Dogtown—Venice. It's just taken this long for two major Orange County shows.

"Losers" is the main attraction; the accompanying book/catalog has been out a couple of years, but the folks at RVCA (pronounced ruca) Clothing in Costa Mesa are putting on their own piggyback "New Image Art Show"—separate from OCMA, but featuring some of the same artists, plus quite a few cats who didn't make the OCMA cut. McGee, for instance, is in both shows; Ancell is only showing at RVCA—not counting the robot arms he made. Why? Low sales figures, maybe, or a low profile.

"It's just the artists that didn't get sponsored by a skateboard company or for whatever reason didn't get the connection to the museums," says RVCA's Christian Jacobs, massaging his unruly shock of skater hair and crediting "Losers" curator Aaron Rose with the concept. "It was his idea when 'Beautiful Losers' opened to have not just a main show, but smaller, sister shows. These are the real losers. I think, the uglier losers."

But ugly is subjective—and somehow, skaters are alternative-rock pretty now, like their art; like the Chili Peppers. How did they get cute? The two shows differ in content and scope, but share a mission: both show real art by real skateboarders and surfers who are't corporate-owned. They don't paint in their spare time or ride on the weekends. They ride all the time—like the guy you knew in high school who hand-decorated his skateboard, then wore it out 'cause he actually used it for transportation.

There's a singleminded dedication to painting, graphics, sculpture and photography expressed here which leaves no doubt that one day, even artists who are comparative unknowns now—such as RVCA's George Thompson—will be collected and hotly discussed . . . if they're not already.

"Losers" wins your heart by sitting on you so you can't breathe; suffocating in art is not a bad way to go. Here are all-encompassing photos by Craig R. Stecyk III and Glen E. Friedman that were as self-referential as influential; colorful abstracts by Thomas Campbell; compelling, annoying graffiti by KAWS and others; complex paintings and artworks from Ed Templeton; 3D sculptures by Barry McGee; striking native-influenced artworks by McGee's late wife, Margaret Kilgallen; even works that took the next step toward mass consumption, such as Geoff McFetridge's "Virgin Suicides" album cover.

"Beautiful Losers" makes RVCA's "New Image Art Show" instantly a microcosm. It has all these elements—an eerie mobile by Alex Knost; prophetic paintings from Kevin Ancell and George Thompson; scene-defining photos by Deanna Templeton; sad little monsters by her husband, Ed; and surly truckers from McGee. It's just smaller. And while both are being heavily fliered, somehow, the RVCA show feels underground, cooler, more current. Perhaps that's because "Losers" is a couple of years old, or maybe it's because you don't expect a company that makes skate clothing to show art. The smaller size of "New Image" also puts a sharper focus on its art—and holding the show in the same building as works by people such as Russ Pope and graffiti artist Tyke, who aren't even a part of this show but are in the RVCA collection—sparks it all.

A viewer leaves with the impression that "Losers" is the smoke, RVCA the fire.

Minnesotan George Thompson, now a resident of warmer Newport Beach, gets real technical with his art, says his boss, RVCA's Christian Jacobs. It doesn't show. Thompson soft-pedals his graffiti origins, but they bleed through his informally composed cityscapes: part aerosol, part paintbrush, pretty and eerie at the same time. Gotta be the skulls. Thompson, 31, disavows any style: "I'm kind of always evolving," he says. Being iconic: sticking with one style, theme or character would be easier - but "I want to make it exciting." George Thompson shows at RVCA.


Barry McGee is skate art today; unclear why 'cause people say the San Franciscan is a nice guy and not a sell-out and all. Maybe it's the write-ups in all the magazines and the pint glasses on eBay with those heads on 'em. McGee does many kinds of art - among them the sculptures in OCMA's "Beautiful Losers," but he's known for his drawings of floating, grizzled, cap-wearing heads like this one in RVCA's lobby. Think of the scroungiest Teamster you've ever seen, all of them. Barry McGee shows at OCMA and RVCA.

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