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Truck All: Jimbo Phillips' 'Praise the Board' is a classic example of the skateboard graphic form.

Hardcore Aesthetes

Skateboard art goes to the museum

By Traci Hukill

THE POPPING eyeballs, the spurting arteries, the winged wheels, the skulls--these are the building blocks of skateboard imagery, and they've built an empire. This fall they get a little mainstream respect in a show curated by the Santa Cruz Design + Innovation Center. "Praise the Board: 35 Years of Santa Cruz Design and Innovation" pays tribute to the Santa Cruz artists and engineers who made advances in the art and execution of the sport and took years off the lives of parents the world over. The history of the wheel bearing, the progression of skateboarding events from drained California swimming pool to X-Games stage, innovations in skateparks and artifacts from slalom racing are all on display in the Museum of Art & History atrium starting Sept. 4.

The art may be the most riveting piece of the exhibit. Starting in 1985 with Jim Phillips' iconic blue Screaming Hand, Santa Cruz artists have played a key role in shaping a genre whose defining characteristic seems to be its constant battering at the ramparts of acceptable good taste. Phillips' son Jimbo has carried on the family tradition through his work for Santa Cruz Skateboards and other companies, including Mars Inc., which owns Snickers. He explains some of the appeal.

"I always come back to skateboard art because it's one of the few things where pretty much anything can go," he says. "Everything else has conservativeness, but skateboarding doesn't have that. I think it's pretty much with skateboarding, the crazier the better."

A little pressure goes along with that mantra. Judi Oyama, an Aptos-based slalom champion and 20-year veteran of the skateboard graphic design industry, says the pace of graphic innovation is accelerating. "One of the biggest trends is the fact that they change graphics really quickly," she says. "Before, there would be the same graphic out for a year or two or three, and then another. And now riders have one per season--one for six months, and then another one."

Museumgoers and other nonskaters may find themselves mystified at some point. Why the over-the-top graphics in the first place?

"I think it's the people it attracts," says Jimbo Phillips. "You kind of have to throw yourself out there a bit to skate well. It attracts that kind of thrashing mentality, and the graphics kind of go along with it."

PRAISE THE BOARD: 35 YEARS OF SANTA CRUZ DESIGN AND INNOVATION opens Friday, Sept. 4, with a reception at 6:30pm at MAH, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. Through Sept. 27.

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