Skate Culture

Skate Culture

Bernie Tostenson: One of the Most Underated Skate Artists

Bernie Tostenson

One skateboard artist whose name perhaps doesn’t come up as often as it should is Bernie Tostenson.

Bernie Tostenson shared an iconic era of skate art with some of the very best-known skateboard artists out there are names like Wes Humpston, Jim and Jimbo Phillips, Sean Cliver, Marc McKee, Andy Jenkins and Ed Templeton — to name a few.

These names have contributed a great deal to the corpus of skateboard art, spanning between them the 1970s, 80s and 90s

Bernie’s most widely known bit of skateboard art is almost certainly his Sims Christian Hosoi Street Flag design. Still, he did many other iconic decks for other brands, including Vision, Kryptonics, Toxic and his own company, Brand X.

Sean Cliver credits Tostenson with being a significant influence on him in the development of his first Disposable book, by way of an early art show of skateboard art which took place in the mid-1990s and which included a zine, Grind: The Graphics and Culture of Skateboarding in which Bernie had writings on skateboard art and the art of silk-screening.

In fact, if you want to read a bit more about Bernie, I’d recommend you go over to Sean Cliver’s old Disposable blog, where he did a memorial tribute to him shortly after Bernie passed away.

The article includes excerpts of Tostenson’s writings from Grind and makes for interesting reading on the history of skate art: In Memoriam: Bernie Tostenson, 1950-2009.

My purpose in mentioning Bernie today is to share a few pieces of his skate art which strike me. 

Kryptonics and Denny Riordon

The first is his “People in my head” graphic, which he did for Denny Riordon, Kryptonics, and later Toxic skateboards. 

It is a bit of skateboard art that makes an impact on people. I recall opening up a copy of Transworld Skateboarding back in the 80s and seeing this deck advertised. Right then and there, I fell in love with that graphic. Here is one version of it:

Denny Riordon Skateboard Art by Bernie Tostenson

Brand X Riot Stick

Turning toward the Brand X “Riot Stick”, you will see some similarities between the figures in the head and the figures found within this particular deck:

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Image credit: Michiel Walrave
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Detail. Image credit: Michiel Walrave

However, my particular favourite is the imagery found in Bernie’s Triple X team deck:

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Image credit: Michiel Walrave
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Image credit: Michiel Walrave
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Image credit: Michiel Walrave

Love the flies and love the bits of art that would otherwise be hidden beneath the trucks when this deck was fully setup to skate.

These latter two decks, incidentally, come from the personal collection of Bernie Tostenson himself, now residing in the collection of (one lucky) European collector, Michiel Walrave.

Bernie Tostenson’s style was quite versatile, but in these particular decks I find a particular graphical brilliance shining through. The graphics strike me as particularly rooted in the cartoonist/illustrative tradition. In fact, when I look at these graphics, particularly the Triple X team deck, I cannot help but wonder if Bernie was somehow influenced by another great American artist, Robert Crumb — most infamously known for his work on 1970’s underground comics like Zap, Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat.

Whatever the case, I personally believe these are examples of amongst some of the finest skateboard art ever created. RIP Bernie.

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