The art of Haroshi created from old skateboard decks Richard S. Chang

A few years ago, Tokyo-based artist Haroshi, a passionate skater since his early teens, was faced with a common conundrum among his ilk: a growing collection of broken skate decks.

“Purchasing new decks is a never-ending cycle and this was evident by the tower of old decks that were reaching to the ceiling of my room,” he says on his website. “We can’t throw away these decks because they hold sentimental meanings to us. I looked at these unusable decks every day and thought there must be something I can make with these.”

Eight years ago, Haroshi started making sculptures out of the discarded decks -- a skull, his limbs, a life-size moose head, a bear, Mario from Donkey Kong -- with jaw-dropping results. Now some of his most spectacular works are on display in a solo exhibition at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York.

Future Primitive Exhibition

The show, “Future Primitive,” also includes several new pieces inspired by the city, such as a series of three 40-ounce bottles, a fire hydrant and an apple.

A series of three pigeons exposes the different sides of his works: One was built through layering skate decks. Another is rendered in colorful mosaic. A third is a duotone of black and wood, and left unfinished. 

null Richard S. Chang

Also on display is a pair of Nike SB Dunks, commissioned by Nike and modeled after his own used shoes. Haroshi sourced used boards from Nike pro skaters, among them Paul Rodriguez and Eric Koston, and modeled the sculpture after his own heavily worn shoes.

“I do get inspiration from skating,” he said in an email. “I feel very happy when I know there is a different world which only skateboarders can see. It can be just a wall with a small angle or normal stairs, but it’s special for us.”

To build his sculptures, Haroshi slices, cuts and cubes skateboard decks, using traditional woodworking tools. He doesn’t paint his sculptures; he meticulously assembles the pieces to create color patterns from the boards’ exposed rails.

It’s a time-consuming process.

“I can’t just stack them up because each skateboard has different concaves,” he said. “It’s very hard to pick the right one up from a bunch of used skateboards.”

Motivating Factors

He notes that Japanese craftsmen have used the mosaic process to build Buddhas for centuries, in part to reduce weight and conserve material. And for Haroshi, sustainability was another motivation.

“As a skater, I want to take responsibility of reusing skateboards when they were no longer useable,” he explains. “Also, as an artist I want to explore the possibilities of what can be done with skateboards.”

Many of his pieces have incomplete elements that reveal the process behind the sculpture. One thing that Haroshi leaves unseen is a secret metal object that he hides in many of his sculptures. Often it comes from a skateboard, though in a sculpture of an apple it is an iPod. The practice was inspired by a 12th Century master sculptor of Japanese Buddhas, Unkei, who used to place a crystal ball in the position of Buddha’s heart. Haroshi describes his own practice as “giving a soul” to his sculptures.

Future Primitive runs through May 14 at Jonathan Levine Gallery, 529 W. 20th St., New York, NY, jonathanlevinegallery.com.

For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter.

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