When W. Todd Vaught was a boy, skating in Pittsburgh, he never thought he would meet some of his heroes from those early days.
But as the curator of "Skate It Or Hang It," a new exhibition opening at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) on Saturday, he has done more than meet his heroes. Vaught has brought together some of the seminal names in skateboard art and design for a comprehensive survey of the visual aspects of the sport, from the 1970s to the present.
“I got in contact with all the old guys I used to read about in Thrasher -- my heroes, I looked up to them,” says Vaught. “People always say don’t meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed but in this case I have not been let down.”
Now a designer living in Atlanta, Vaught reached out to 5Boro, the New York City skateboard company, and networked until he had gathered a combination of local Atlanta artists and prominent names in skateboard design, such as VCJ (Vernon Courtland Johnson), Sean Cliver, Andy Howell, Wes Humpston, Lance Mountain, Michael Sieben, and Steve Olson.
Sieben, who lives in Austin, Texas, says he was “honored to be asked to contribute to a show which includes a few of my earliest skateboard illustrator heroes.” Sieben has done work for clients like Adidas, Bueno, Roger Skateboards, and Thrasher. But, he says, the Atlanta show is different.
“Growing up, skate art meant one of two things to me: the dudes that got paid to draw skateboard graphics or skateboarders who were making art," he says. "Skateboarding graphics have shifted over the past few decades to be more logo and graphic design driven versus illustrative, but I don't know if the concept of skate art has really changed. What is skate art exactly?”
That’s the question Vaught hopes people ask when they walk through the galleries. He hopes people, whether they’re 10 years old or 80, get a deeper look and realize that there’s a culture and a meaning behind the work. “It’s a great opportunity to tell a lot of these stories,” Vaught explains.
For skate legend and artist Andy Howell, the show is a return to his roots in a sense. He went to art school in Atlanta and lived and skated there as his pro career took off.
“While I was in art school in Atlanta,” he says, “I would skate with my portfolio to class, and people would literally jump off the sidewalk into the bushes, because the clackety-clack of skateboard wheels on a sidewalk was alien.”
A big part of the art and the show is the stories that the art conjures up. Howell says his own art “was born of a necessity to tell my story and reach out to other skaters.”
That’s exactly what curator Vaught hopes, too. He wants the show to reach other skaters but also to influence and to intrigue younger kids and older people who have maybe always thought skating was just that “clackety-clack” Howell was talking about.
“People always say don’t meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed but in this case I have not been let down.”
Vaught says he hopes older skaters who know the work will have an emotional response, and that a 40 year old can “connect to that experience of being 12 again.” Howell says he hopes the show conjures up a combination of nostalgia and “new discovery.”
Looking at the artists and images that Vaught and the MODA have brought together, that seems likely.
And perhaps, says Vaught, people will come and see that “most skaters are creative, professional people, and not just punks messing up their yard.”
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