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Across the board

Putting skate graphics in perspective



Missoula Skatepark Association President Chris Bacon talks about skateboard art as if it were a revered high school teacher or an irreplaceable mentor.

“Growing up, getting involved in skateboarding, I think it broadened my appreciation of art,” he says, before rattling off some of the names of artists he first discovered on skate decks.

Skateboard graphics as a gateway to higher art is just one of the impetuses of MSA’s show On Deck, opening this week with an art auction and exhibit hosted by Gallery Blue. While the event is aimed primarily at raising funds for a new skatepark, it’s also a chance to showcase the sport and maybe inspire burgeoning boarders.

“I think it may draw some people who don’t usually go to art galleries, and vice versa,” he says, adding that, despite the growing popularity of skateboarding, this is the first time a local gallery has showcased deck art.

The rising national profile of events like On Deck is precisely why graphic artist and lifelong skateboarder Sean Cliver wrote Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art, known as the definitive work on the subject. Cliver was tired of seeing something he loves bastardized by interlopers “touting an art degree” and “a grab bag of ‘extreme’ clichés,” and wrote his book to ensure a skateboarder’s perspective was kept at the forefront of any critique of the work.

“There’s nothing wrong with appreciating art of any sort—unless it’s Patrick Nagel,” writes Cliver in an e-mail interview, “it’s just annoying when outsiders start theorizing about subject matters they have no personal attachment to.”

Cliver likes to keep the discussion of skateboard art simple—it’s about what looks cool, with a nod of understanding to the history of the medium.

“Blood, skulls, flames, boobs and guns—preferably not altogether at once,” writes Cliver about what makes a great board graphic. “…But there really is no one thing. That’s what is so great about deck graphics, because anything goes, from the most crude sketch to a highly polished illustration.”

While he avoids coffeehouse philosophizing about the work, Cliver acknowledges the importance of shows like On Deck as a way for organizations like MSA—with which he’s not affiliated—to capitalize on the sport’s popularity and draw on new resources.

“The skateboard is an interesting canvas,” he writes in regard to the auction, “and it’s always been fun to see how people approach the long-and-skinny format.”

The submissions received by MSA reflect the diverse approaches Cliver references.

“They’re all over the board,” Bacon says. “We were constantly surprised by what came in.”

Gallery Blue hosts the On Deck art auction with a First Friday reception from 6 to 9 PM, Oct. 7. Bids on decks can also be placed online at

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