DOWNTOWN L.A. — An art show in a small Downtown Los Angeles gallery traces the evolution of skateboarding and the artistic movement it spawned from the skate parks of the East Coast to its blossoming in the fertile cultural soil of Santa Monica’s Dogtown.
“It’s the most important show I’ve done so far,” said John Tracy, the artist and skateboarder that developed the exhibit, “Sk8 Art St.”
It also comes at a critical time, when street art in Los Angeles — often referred to as the mural capital of the world — is under attack by municipal work crews empowered by local statute to destroy works of graffiti and other outdoor art.
Tracy compiled the pieces over the course of several months, reaching deep into the skateboarding and street art community to pull together new works and historic artifacts that evoke the gritty elements of skateboarding and street art’s counter culture elements in a museum-like setting.
The names involved would be better referred to as legends.
Chad Muska, professional skateboarder and DJ Risk, the renowned graffiti artist who recently covered the entire envelope of a house with wood panels painted in environmentally themed messages. Bam Margera, better known for his daredevil stuntwork and stomach-turning “Jackass” exploits than his artwork, also contributed boards to the exhibition.
Skateboards emblazoned with 1980’s pop art sit next to others covered in animal print and peacock feathers, facing a rare Santa Monica Airlines board signed by skater and documentary filmmaker Stacy Peralta of Z-Boys fame.
The prize of the exhibition: a phone booth remade by Shepard Fairey in pop art images with his signature “Obey” message glowing red and pale yellow, which sold for $10,000.
Fairey was heavily involved in the show’s creation. Beyond contributing the phone booth and a triptych of skateboards decorated using collage and laser cutting techniques and finished by hand, Fairey lent the weight of his name to the project.
“Once Shepard signed on, the rest were a phone call away,” Tracy said.
The artist, almost stereotypically punk in his London Calling shirt and jean jacket stuck with Black Flag and Public Enemy pins, felt compelled to help with the effort when Tracy described the project, which blended the rebellious sport of the streets with its art.
“Skateboarding has given me so much, and when he said he was doing a show like this to look at the culture, I had to do it, I wanted to do it,” Fairey said.
“Sk8 Art St” travels through time and space, organized in sections to evoke the board culture and art of New York, Santa Monica and Los Angeles as skateboarding grew from a counterculture rebellion into a mainstream commercial powerhouse with brands, sponsorships and glitz.
Santa Monica-native Ray Flores watched the movement grow and change from his vantage as one of the original Z-Boys, a competitive team begun in the 1970s and 1980s in an area of Santa Monica dubbed “Dogtown.”
Few associate Santa Monica’s Gucci beach vibe with the grunge reputation it earned in the 1970s when kids were jumping on skateboards and going 10 miles out of their way to Culver City to find places to practice, armed with spare change to replace broken wheel bearings, Flores said.
“People think that Dogtown is Venice,” Flores said. “I tell them, no. Dogtown is Santa Monica.”
Flores lent Tracy the Santa Monica Airlines board for the show, but his signature piece is in the Santa Monica quadrant, a surfboard inscribed with the names of the Z-Boys that had died.
“I’m not an artist,” Flores said of the piece. “I design things, and then I commission other artists to create them for me.”
If he won’t claim the title of artist, Flores is minimally the standard bearer for boarding history.
His home is a repository of classic boards, many of which went on display when the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica put on the show Skateboard: California Art and Evolution as a celebration of the city’s contribution to the sport.
For months, skateboarders would gather at the museum at 2 p.m. on Thursdays to discuss their sport and bring the 300 boards together, said Tobi Smith, director of the museum.
Many of those were from Flores’ personal collection.
Much like “Sk8 Art St,” the museum’s exhibit followed the change of skateboarding through the decades.
“As you got to the 1970s, people were decorating their boards. By the 1990s, political statements were being made. A lot of the boards were one of a kind,” Smith said.
“Sk8 Art St” will close Thursday, Nov. 10 at Suede Studios, 133 E. Third St., Los Angeles, after a month-long run, and its accumulated art and artifacts will be returned to their original owners.