“PIVOT: Skateboard Deck Art” will change the way you think about contemporary painting.
The new exhibition at Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College is finally open to the public. Originally scheduled for last March, the show can now be seen in person or virtually through a scheme designed by its curatorial team. Rarely has an exhibit of contemporary painting this rich, textured and tantalizing been mounted here in Durango.
Last week, “PIVOT” opened its doors to the center’s membership, and now the public can view 114 works by 28 artists from 13 different cultures and communities. Access is by appointment only, with visitation groups capped at eight people per 45-minute time slots. Throughout the fall, the gallery will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Some Saturdays will also have open hours. Visitors will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. The center’s YouTube channel and social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram will carry a virtual tour and interviews.
Don’t be confused by the title: Skateboard decks have been surfaces for two-dimensional art for some time. Popular with young people, skateboards have morphed into a self-standing genre particularly in Native American art.
And why not? A round-cornered rectangle of wood or fiberglass is as valid a surface for artistic expression as canvas, paper or a mural wall. When you see more than 100 skateboard decks mounted like so many oil paintings in a beautiful installation, it’s easy to see PIVOT as a welcome addition to the canon.
Art materials, not to mention subject matter or even purpose, have changed over the millennia. From charcoal smudges on cave walls to water-based paint in Roman frescoes, media and meanings have shifted over time. By the Renaissance, egg-tempera altar panels started to morph into easel paintings of landscapes, portraiture and still life. The 19th century saw an explosion of massive history paintings on canvas. All this is backstory for the humble skateboard as a surface on which to express oneself and one’s sense of place in the world.
According to guest curators Duane Koyawena (Hopi/Tewa) and Landis Báhe (Diné), “PIVOT” refers to a basic move in the sport of skateboarding and also a shift in Native American art.
“As artists, we’ve developed motifs melding traditional themes with contemporary experiences,” Koyawena said in an interview last spring. “We choose our tools, brush or knife, paint or ink, then we create through a maze of days and between cultures.”
“PIVOT” demonstrates that premise with its range of styles, techniques, subject matter and media. The only constant is the skateboard itself.
Some artists embrace traditional stories through symbols and stylized designs. Others use realistic techniques or stretch into the fantasy worlds of surrealism. You’ll encounter painterly abstraction and startling optical designs. A few boards reflect a sophisticated interest in Modernism while others may appear naïve. Find your own favorites.
Not to be missed are three boards by the legendary Douglas Miles Sr., who founded Apache Skateboards, the nexus of a significant community-building project on the San Carlos Apache Nation. From the beginning, Miles’ skateboards explored Apache history and lie at the core of a whole movement and a new genre.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.