French artists create one-of-a-kind skateboards for charity.
Story by Julie Saetre • Photos by Claude Mèdale
In November 2015, a giant 2.3-ton sphere appeared on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, suspended between the first and second floors. Titled “Earth Crisis,” the piece was the first three-dimensional public art installation permitted at the landmark site.
The man behind this display was Shepard Fairey, an internationally renowned street artist. But while many know Fairey’s work — his “Hope” campaign poster for former U.S. President Barack Obama has become a collector’s item — few would suspect the origin of his career: skateboard art. As a student, Fairey worked part-time in a skateboard shop and began using his drawings and resulting stickers on the boards.
This past year, the Kiwanis Club of Ciboure-Sud Pays Basque, France, experienced its own skateboard inspiration in the form of an innovative fundraiser to support its service projects for children. Members invited French artists in a variety of media to create original works that would be transferred to skateboards and sold to the public.
In November 2017, the club debuted an exhibit of one-of-a-kind boards, designed by artists whose specialties range from tattoos and body piercings to graphic art and fashion design. Not surprisingly, the works were as varied as the participants.
Online shop owner Cassandre Djebara (CASSOU) used the rockabilly clothes she sells and the colors of her store’s logo as inspiration. Rémi Polloti (Polo) incorporated the bright, exaggerated, graffiti-like New School style he uses as a tattoo artist. The eerie world of filmmaker and “Twin Peaks” creator David Lynch prompted environmental artist Xavier Ride (Mister Ride) to create his design.
The relationship between each distinctive image and its creator reflects the golden age of skateboard art in the 1970s and ’80s. That’s when time-intensive silkscreen visuals were associated with certain skaters for multiple years, says curator W. Todd Vaught of the greater Atlanta, Georgia, area. Vaught served as guest curator for a groundbreaking 2012 Museum of Design Atlanta exhibit called “Skate It or Hang It!?: The Evolution of Skateboard Art.”
“Graphics were meticulously designed by illustrators,” he says. “These guys were artists and did amazing illustrations, and they would really take their time to get the images right.”
Sadly for fans of funky art, by the late 1990s the pricey silkscreen images gave way to a less-expensive process called heat transfer.
“It saved a lot of time, saved a lot of money, and that speed allowed (manufacturers) to start changing up the graphics all the time,” Vaught explains. “You really lost that ability to create iconic images associated with a particular skater. You didn’t have that longevity. … The true artists of skateboarding now kind of feel like these graphics are throwaways.”
A return to skateboarding’s designer roots proved successful for the Ciboure-Sud Pays Basque club. Sales launched with a silent auction and, at press time, the club had sold 15 of the boards for a total of EUR2,000. Remaining boards can be purchased through a second exhibit organized by the club. Best of all, says the club’s Marie-Laure Levrero, the resulting funds will help members “let a little light and cheerfulness into the heart of a child.”
This story originally appeared in the April/May 2018 issue of Kiwanis magazine.