Skate Culture

A Sneak Peek at “Agents Provocateurs”

“Agents Provocateurs” from Gingko Press is a forthcoming publication which I only recently mentioned. It is a book whose focus is upon controversial skateboard graphics that pushed the boundaries of skate art as they stood by the time the 80’s has passed. Skate art has often had something of a street or rock edge to it, be it the original Dogtown boards with their local street/graffiti type of art, or the various skulls and bones of Powell Peralta and the reaper or iconic screaming hand of Santa Cruz. Somewhere around the early 1990’s, associated with the advent of companies like World Industries, skate graphics took yet another turn, this time one which was more cartoonish in style on the one hand, but one which also pushed the limits of skate graphics further than they had been up to that point.

Now that said, a little caveat before I go any further: while rightly recognizing the fact that the limits were indeed pushed, as well as acknowledging the contributions of those artists and companies who helped to push them, I do want to be careful to not over-emphasize this point too much — as though I were suggesting that the skate art prior to this time was somehow lacking in these general qualities of edginess, etc. I would instead propose that we should understand it as a case of an evolution in skate art which built upon what had already come before, which, in its own right, was itself more shocking at the time it was first produced. This has, in fact, been a typical pattern within the world of art more generally — at least in modern times. What was once considered edgy, breaking new boundaries, suddenly becomes normal and routine by way of familiarity; newer forms are then adopted to restore that edgy, shock value. Picasso’s cubist pursuits were, for example, rather shocking in their time when the edgiest matter to that time had been the weighty strokes of Cezanne’s still lives and landscapes, or the light experiments of the Impressionists — each edgy and ground breaking themselves in their own time and in their own way.

Left: Picasso’s “Aficionado.” Right: Cezanne’s “Mont Sainte-Victoire.” The Cezanne was ground-breaking at its time but, compared to Picasso’s analytical cubist work on the left, is tame. Picasso’s work was, however, influenced by and built upon Cezanne’s own work.

The dadaists then took this further — making Picasso himself look rather tame in many regards — with their anti-art movement, producing the likes of the Marcel Duchamp’s urinal as art. On the story goes. Similarly, when street style graphic art began appearing on the Dogtown boards, this was a big deal compared to boards where only company names and logos were all that were seen on them. Many of us can likewise remember a time when the skulls and bones of the 80’s scene were considered quite edgy and rebellious — never mind even the name “Natas” as (mis)interpreted by the over-eager, devil-seeking crowds of that time who looked for demonic subliminal messages in records played backwards or for whom D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) was a satanic corrupter of youth.

As I have already said, none of this is to deny any of the edginess or value of the 90’s skate art of course (nor is it, incidentally, a commentary on the book in question as I haven’t yet read it!), it is merely a caveat intended to not to lose sight of the edginess and “punch” of earlier skate art in its own way and in its own time. Art is often a progression which builds upon what came before and I think it fair to say that skate art is no different. So while the skulls and reapers of the 80’s had perhaps become familiar to many by the time the 90’s rolled around, a 101 Natas Boom — a deck whose art was a clear and recognizable reference to an iconic photo of the NASA Challenger disaster of 1986 — certainly had not.

Media photo of the Challenger disaster (original source unknown). Inset of 101 Natas Boom deck.

It is within that context that we approach Agents Provocateurs, a book which is focused on another “boom” in skate art, a kind of Cambrian explosion of new skate art and skate artists who were prepared to push the limits yet further and in new and different directions.

Skate Culture is pleased to be able to provide to you, courtesy of Gingko Press, with a preview of a few of the pages from within this book. (Click on the images to make them larger.)


Seb Carayol
Agents Provocateurs: 100 Subversive Skateboard Graphics
224 pages, Hardcover
8″ x 10″ (254 x 203 mm)
130 color illustrations, English
ISBN: 978-1-58423-527-9

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