Bold, brilliant colors bend and cut to create art with a new feel, a new vibe beyond the constraints of the old. Paint goes with, and sometimes against, the grain of wood to create an entirety of experience.
The art is a reminder that hope can be found even in the darkest hour, and it lives on an unconventional, and very contemporary, medium—the skateboard—a canvas meant to appeal to the boundary-exploring youth that dwells in each of us.
Modern meets traditional in a new art exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona beginning Oct. 13, and what results is a powerful and unique view of humanity. Called Pivot: Skateboard Deck Art, the exhibit features nearly 100 pieces of art from more than 30 artists from a variety of cultures and traditions.
The exhibit exemplifies, for the installment’s creators, a statement of walking between two worlds.
“We really look at how today, as Native Americans, we have continued practices throughout the years,” says Duane Koyawena, Hopi artist. “But we’re here in the city. We want to live in our tribe, but we have to pivot to modern life.”
As Native Americans coexist in two worlds, so can art, Koyawena adds. That pivot isn’t always easy. Sometimes, tradition gets lost, and a soul walks into the darkest time of life—an experience Koyawena knows intimately. But it was the art that saved him, that shined a light of hope during that dark period.
APPEAL TO YOUTH
Co-creator Landis Bahe, Navajo artist, says, “It has to do with appealing to youth.”
He adds that using a skateboard as a canvas, the shape of it, strikes a chord of inspiration in young people and attracts them to the art. And, by using traditional forms passed down through the generations, it can connect younger people to their culture that is in danger of being forgotten.
Koyawena adds that showing young people the process of turning something as simple as a blank skateboard deck—or a hat, or shoes—into a work of art offers a hand reaching out to help. As a profession, Koyawena works in the behavioral health field, and he said he often hears stories of drug and alcohol abuse, dysfunctional families and suicide.
“I feel something like these skateboards with art on them can relay a message, can provide a kernel of hope in a dark time, that change is possible,” Koyawena says. “I really want to give these kids hope.”
BIRTH OF AN IDEA
Bahe, who is a tattoo artist, says the idea of painting on skateboards isn’t a new one. For years, when he lived in Las Vegas, he would see fellow tattoo artists painting their designs on skateboards. He would also see how well those skateboards would appeal to the younger generation.
He and Koyawena, friends from different tribes who don’t always see eye to eye, saw painting on not-so-traditional canvases as a means to reach people not usually orbiting in the art world. And, he says, it could be a way to set aside differences in culture. The diversity of culture in the Pivot exhibit is a prime example. Bahe says the board is like a baby coming into the world—a blank slate—and then life happens, paint is applied and art emerges.
The skateboards, once painted, probably will never have a life of being used for their original purpose—to be ridden. But they will be displayed for decoration.
“Literally, you’re buying a piece—an original piece of art,” Bahe says.
The exhibit first premiered last year at Tat-Fu Tattoo Studio and Gallery, and the exhibit garnered significant attention.
“It took us by surprise,” Bahe says. “This is an important time, too, to bring together tribes and other ethnicities to demonstrate their influence on the wider culture. End the separation. Personally, I think that’s very important.”
The opportunity at the museum offers the artists a chance to go beyond their traditional demographic and reach a wider audience, Koyawena adds.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” Koyawena says. “It’s very gratifying, too, and gives me a lot to reflect on how far we’ve come.”
Both artists give hearty thanks to their families and friends who have supported them throughout the years. Koyawena adds that it’s important to accept the responsibility of role model, particularly as a father to his daughter Peyton. He strives to be a good father, no matter what challenges he may face.
“I always have them in my heart,” Bahe says of his children Teyha, Tatheim, Telyn and Thomas.
HOPE IS REAL
The exhibit is expected to be up through the fall and winter, Koyawena says. During the exhibit installment, he and Bahe plan to schedule a number of panels for the artists to explain their art and what it means to them.
Bahe and Koyawena say that they want to share with others how they developed as artists—first drawing, then painting, improving, being part of art shows and winning awards. They want to show their success as an example for others to aspire to—that being lost doesn’t have to last forever.
“Hope is real,” Koyawena says.
Bahe adds, “There’s always a little spark of hope in all of us.”
Pivot: Skateboard Deck Art opens at the Museum of Northern Arizona, 3101 N. Fort Valley Road, Oct. 13. There will be an artist panel and discussion that day at 2 p.m. The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Admission is $12 adults; $10 senior/military; $8 youth (10-17), students (with ID) and American Indian (with tribal affiliation); free for children under 10. Visit www.musnaz.org for more information.