Unless you're an avid skateboarder, names like Jimbo Phillips and Don Pendleton might not mean much to you. But if ollies and heelflips are your bag, chances are you recognize the names of those two widely acclaimed skateboard graphics artists. (Jimbo Phillips is not to be confused with his dad, Jim Phillips, an artist of even greater stature within the skateboarding community.)
While skaters might not overlap much with the typical art museum crowd, skateboard culture boasts a deep grounding in the visual arts. All that prime real estate on the underside of a wooden skateboard deck? To a lot of skaters, it matters what's printed on it — and who designed the art. Beyond 'boards, their enthusiasm extends to paintings, sculpture and apparel by artists steeped in skateboarding, as well as graffiti culture and illustration.
(In fact, the passion for figurative art with what's been termed a pop surrealist bent — think Phillips Sr.'s screaming hand or even Tampa-based artist Katie Olivas' Misery Children — reflects one of the more compelling pushbacks to the 20th century's love affair with abstraction and conceptual art. You just don't see much of this art in the hallowed halls of museums, with the fairly recent exception of Beautiful Losers, a traveling exhibition devoted to contemporary art inspired by street culture that alighted at USF Contemporary Art Museum in late 2005.)
That's one reason why each year, when a couple hundred skaters roll into town from around the world to compete in the Tampa Am — an invitational face-off between amateur (but really, really good) skateboarders — the Skatepark of Tampa gets things rolling with a Welcome to Tampa Art Show and Party. This year's show, set for Thursday evening, features bottles — the kind formerly or still filled with beer or liquor — painted and otherwise adorned by a range of artists, from the locally based and relatively little-known to folks with significant skate-world cred, like Phillips and Pendleton.
The exhibit, playfully dubbed 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, is the brainchild of Chad Cardoza, a local artist who's been a player in some of the year's most engaging art offerings: an exhibit of feature film-themed paintings that doubled as a fundraiser for the Gasparilla Film Festival, as well as an Art After Dark at the Tampa Museum of Art featuring art inspired by scooters. (His contribution to the show takes the form of three Red Stripe bottles transformed into Mr. Potato-head like figures of skate community icons.) The collection of approximately 99 bottles — produced by roughly half as many artists — will go on display at the Skatepark's recently revamped snack bar during the party. Cardoza expects each piece to sell for about $40, though some may be priced higher or lower, making the bottles an affordable entrée to collecting art.
The bottles — at least, the ones that were available for preview by press time — generally rock, many of them clearly the work of meticulous labor. Unsurprisingly, diverse talents in illustration steal the show, though at least one pair of bottles — by Orlando-based artist Brandon McLean, covered in paper collage — evinced a refreshingly non-representational approach. Mike Aho's "Doug Henderson's Brew" leaves the glimmering top half of a green Kilikia bottle bare while rendering an endearing portrait of the nerdy Henderson (a friend?) below. Phillips — who designs decks for Santa Cruz Skateboards — lets rip with a pile of burning skulls, flames licking up a longneck, while Pendleton — who designs for Element — coats two bottles with his iconic style of abstraction in red and white.
Other highlights include Chris Nieratko's tongue-in-cheek IOU bottle, stuffed with a $20 bill to pay for the next round; Jennifer Alfonso's portrait of a mask-wearing, pink-afro'ed female figure on brown glass; and Ky Baker's Man's Ruin, a Sailor Jerry-esque homage to womankind.
Proceeds from sales of the bottles, all of which have been donated by the artists, will benefit Boards for Bro's, the Skatepark's annual Christmas-time outreach to the city's poorest neighborhoods. Since 2006, local skaters and industry sponsors have donated new and barely used boards and parts to the program. In December, Skatepark employees assemble and refurbish the boards, which are then distributed by Santa — i.e., Skatepark buyer and event coordinator Barak Wiser, dressed up like jolly old Saint Nick — from the back of a pick-up truck to children in Robles Park, College Hill and other neighborhoods. Read more about the project at boardsforbros.com.
After the welcome party, the Am action continues with three more days of competition and events, including a screening of skater documentary Deathbowl to Downtown at Centro Ybor on Friday and the Skatepark's 16th Anniversary Party, featuring Les Savy Fav at Czar on Saturday. For a complete listing of events, competition times and tickets, go to skateparkoftampa.com.