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The City Journals

Skate Deck Challenge shreds through ninth year

Oct 07, 2019 11:54AM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

“Luke 3:16” by Vinny DiGirolano. (Jenniffer Wardell/City Journals)

By Jenniffer Wardell | [email protected]

It's the art exhibit that started an entire festival.

This past September, Salt Lake's Urban Arts Gallery was home to the ninth annual Skate Deck Challenge. The exhibit featured a variety of art made on and from skate decks, including cats, ships and more. Sponsored by the Utah Arts Alliance, the challenge was held in conjunction with the Urban Arts Festival.

In this case, however, it was the art show that came first.

"The idea (for the skate deck art competition) kind of spun out of control, and that's how the Urban Arts Festival got started," said Utah Arts Alliance Executive Director Derek Dyer. "First we had some skaters outside. Then we decided to have musicians play. Then we decided to reach out to other local artists. It just kept growing."

A skate deck is the top part of the skateboard where the rider's feet rest. Many people throughout the years, including the riders themselves have seen them as canvases for creative expression.

"Art shows like this have happened around the world," said Dyer, adding that those exhibits were the inspiration for the first Salt Lake show. "Art on skate decks goes back to the early days of skating."

More than 90 artists are part of this year's exhibit, all from local artists. Dyer estimated that they've shown almost a thousand decks over the challenge's nine year run, and the artists always come back for more.

"(Working with decks) gives the artists the opportunity to explore a new magnum medium, but it also gives them the same starting point," he said. "Also, (the art show) has been popular from day one, and artists love to have their work in front of a lot of people."

That popularity also led to a wide range of art in the exhibit. Many of the pieces are lighter, including a collection of decks featuring classic pin-up girls. With "Pitbull," Rich Wilson transforms his deck into what looks like a futuristic spaceship. Jennifer Elder puts her own spin on fortune-telling machines with "It Was a 'BIG' Night Out."

Some artists made the decks even more three-dimensional. Ariel Chu-Jon added wings to bring his "Angel of Death" to life, while Daniel Ranjoe turned his into a giant phone for "1970." Vinny DiGirolano gives skateboarding a Biblical spin with his "Luke 3:16."

Other works touch on more serious themes. Konnie Chamberlain's "Fake" touches on how the need to keep up appearances can be a prison. For "Skateboarding is Not a Crime," Nickolas Van Andersen carved straight into the plain surface of a well-used wooden skate deck.

"This is one of those exhibits where we really let a broad arrangement of artists show at the gallery," he said. "We love to see a big quantity of work. A lot of different art speaks to different kind of people."

Though he said the entire exhibit was great, Dyer admitted that a few pieces really stood out to him. One was "Sail or Die!" by Vincent Mattina, which transforms a skate deck into an old-fashioned ship with sails. Another one of his favorites is "Mr. Scritches" by Scott Tuckfield, where paint and fake fur transforms a deck into a cat begging for a belly rub.

"It's so cute, and I love the fur," he said. "It's basically asking you to pet it."

During the festival and opening reception, visitors to the exhibit voted on their favorite works. Though announcement of the winners happened after press time, the process is a longstanding tradition for the skate deck exhibits.

"A big part of the show is the community engagement and interaction," he said.

According to Dyer, the voting, skate deck challenge and Urban Arts Festival will all be Salt Lake traditions for years to come.

"At this point, we're still kind of in a growth mode," he said. "The more you do something, the more you improve it. We haven't hit the evening out point."