The surest way to make a successful art show thesedays is to hit it with a skateboard—jam it all up in there—and if your photographer shooting the opening wears an Army parka and facial hair, you get bonus points. So by this measure, the recent four-day Etnies Spacejunk show of skate-inspired acrylics by two guys from France was a whopping smash hit. By some other standards—like, say, artistic: not so whopping. Or more so, depending upon where you stood.
If you let the light from the wall-mounted flat-screen TVs bathe you in fluorescent images of BMX freestylers and skaters on rail slides—taking time between watching their runs to glance at the canvases sandwiched between the TVs—things looked pretty bright. But if the constant stream of people crossing in front of you wore thin and you roamed away from the muse—the riders, the TV—to where no light was reflected, the art went pallid and drab. This was a problem.
This was a show built around a distorted, fractured view—inherently skate-inspired: French skate/snowboarder Nicolas Thomas’ fragmented portraits of men and women painted the way you’d paint someone you’d seen on the halfpipe, both of you careening past each other in opposite directions, never getting a full look at the other. Interesting stuff. Yet the result didn’t justify the concept; Thomas’ most compelling work was the more conventional Verve Tige, a single-frame portrait of a wide-eyed young girl, its only deconstructions the painted reflections of light falling on her face and shoulders.
His views, distorted or relatively straight, segued well into a series of works from French freestyle snowboarder Leo Accorsi: colorful, cartoony, nightmarish people, animals and monsters closely reminiscent of Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s Tank Girl comics 10 years ago. Which, unfortunately, made you immediately think of how fresh Hewlett and Martin were—their sympathetic devil “a man of wealth and beer”—until Lori Petty made Tank Girl the new Cool World. And how, despite its cultural ramifications—French skaters/snowboarders/painters making landfall in Orange County/another serious venue for board art emerging—the art could have and should have been more.
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This was Etnies’ big night—its first-ever board-art show in a new building designed by the CEO as a temple to boardsports: where arched stairways meandered over an entry lobby with a vaulted ceiling, framing first-floor rooms showcasing assorted collections. And, yes, the white shag carpeting in the winter/snow sports room was a metaphor for snow. It was also a sure sign the skateboard world has matured beyond any Dogtowner’s stoner-iest ’70s dreams.
“The action-sports culture, skate and arts, is a mix, but it’s a microcosm of the whole thing, culturally,” was how Etnies founder and CEO Pierre Andre Senizergues put it; he meant: as goes skateboarding, so goes the world. They used to say that about General Motors, but skateboarding is the new GM: financially ebullient, possessing a bad attitude the automaker amputated with its fins and a youth culture about which it can only dream.
The culture of boards, graphics, clothes and art surrounds much as a similar construct does to hip-hop—pervasive to a degree where you’re forgiven for shrugging, should a beautifully conceived art show fall short of its promise; another will be along within a few months. Not everyone has the luck RVCA and the Orange County Museum of Art did the night before “Beautiful Losers,” when an artist both shows shared became temporarily a guest of the state—but so what? Culture and art have caught up to skateboarding—which only recently became big enough to ignore the faddism of youth that killed it off every few years until the ’90s—and they fully sustain it through any bad times.
“I think it’s going to be huge,” Senizergues said earnestly of the gallery and of board art’s hopes. He is absolutely right; it already is.