Everyman is Invited
Skate Deck Show at 510 Second Street NW
By Steven Robert Allen
Rocky Norton is a fast talker and a digressive conversationalist, but you've got to give the guy credit: He knows how to sell a show. And in this case, I have to admit, he's got a pretty damn amazing show to sell.
Norton is a former semi-pro skate boarder. He stays involved in the scene by running a small project called Everyman, that sponsors young skaters. As part of this project, Norton recently bought a bunch of blank skate board decks that he intended to spruce up and give to his team.
Struck by a sudden inspiration, Norton decided to hand out 40 of these decks to random people in the community, some close friends, some mere acquaintances, some complete strangers. His only requirement was that anyone who took a deck would agree to use it as a canvas for their personal artistic vision. When they were done, they'd return it to him so he could incorporate it into an exhibit.
Norton recently began leasing a large space at 510 Second Street NW. In addition to using the space to create his own art, Norton wanted to use it to host conceptual exhibits. The inaugural show was to involve the skate board decks he'd handed out, many to people he didn't even know.
Understandably, Norton was a bit nervous. For one thing, he had no idea whether he'd ever see any of his decks again. Thankfully, 33 of them eventually reappeared, dramatically transformed into art. Currently on display at his gallery space, they collectively present an amazing experiment in random democratic art-making.
I'm not a skater. I've never been involved in skater culture. Still, I have to say that this really is an impressive show. Aesthetically, it's a free-for-all, but the uniform shape of the decks gives the exhibit a comforting coherence. The show is also pulled together by Norton's varied photographs of each artist, displayed next to the artists' boards. The artists are only identified by their first names with extra white space left over on the placards so the artists or their friends can provide further, often cryptic, clues to the artists' identities.
These combined elements make this show about as down-to-earth as they come. It's quite an experience, exploring each individual universe captured on a uniform oval plywood form. Some of the transformed decks are incredibly simple. A 15-year-old homeless kid named James simply painted "James" in plain white letters across his board. Big Chris painted a stripped-down black human head, peering down, one eye dripping with blood.
Other decks are astonishingly crafted and elaborate. Mrs. Blueher's second grade class got two decks, one for the boys and one for the girls. The boys went for a patriotic statement, painting a red, white and blue board ornamented with a hot air balloon, crucifixes and the words "God Bless America." The girls, on the other hand, created a whole miniature village on the horizontal surface of their deck.
An architect named Andrew glued a bunch of rock band flyers to the surface of his deck. A hairdresser named Alberto painted a stunningly gorgeous silvery Aztec-like pattern on his.
One of the most amazing decks came from a fellow named Brian, who's clutching his baby in his artist photo. Brian mounted a big pile of naked electronic circuitry to his board. When flipped on, a creepy orb opens and shuts at random like the eyeball of some maimed cyborg.
This is DYI art-making at its best. Somehow all these decks, from all these different people—many of whom don't even consider themselves artists—is heartening. Kudos to Norton for having the energy and vision to bring this amazing show together.
An exhibit featuring 33 skate board decks transformed into art by 33 random artists is currently on display at 510 Second Street NW. A reception for the show will occur on Friday, Nov. 26, from 6 to 9 p.m. The gallery will also be open Saturday, Nov. 26, and Sunday, Nov. 27, from noon to 6 p.m. Otherwise the show is available for viewing by appointment. 550-4992.
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