Skateboards lead rough lives. Decks get scuffed and scraped against metal rails and seesawed on the lips of concrete bowls. Yet between the wheels, the underbellies often feature expressive illustrations and graphics.
"I skateboarded when I was a teenager," said Boise artist Nicholas "Pickle" Burgdorf. "When you buy a board, that's a pretty personal thing. That image on the board is like the clothes that you're wearing."
Over the years, Burgdorf has painted more than 50 decks for Boise's Sibbz Longboards, joining the ranks of other local artists bringing color to skateboards. That link between the urban sport and visual art is celebrated at Art Deck-O, an event that returns First Thursday, Dec. 6, to Mulligans.
In 2011, more than 25 local artists were handed blank decks and charged with creating original work on the wooden canvases. The night of the inaugural Art Deck-O in July 2011, Mulligans became a makeshift gallery featuring boards coated with layers of paint and ink, even one stitched up with yarn. Each board was auctioned off with half the proceeds given to the artists and the other half donated to a local charity.
"I remember keeping an eye on the price and the prices of other boards to see, 'All right, I'm doing OK,'" said Burgdorf.
Kelly Knopp, contributing artist and event organizer, borrowed the idea from similar happenings in other cities. He doesn't suggest skating on the boards--they're meant to be displayed as art.
"I imagine that if you were buying one-of-a-kind art, you wouldn't want to skate it," he said. "That would be a pretty expensive board."
Local skate shops Prestige, The Board Room and Newt and Harold's joined the Boise Skateboard Association to sponsor the event. Half of the proceeds from this year's event benefit the artists and half benefit local charity Family Advocates.
"They're all one-of-a-kind," said The BoardRoom owner Chris Heise, who bought Bobby Gaytan's airbrushed board in 2011. "The primary focus for these is wall-hanging art."
For the first Art Deck-O, Knopp carved his deck to resemble an accordion, complete with keys and wooden bellows. Oliver Russell founder Russ Stoddard wanted it.
"I keep telling Kelly, 'If you do another deck like that, I'll buy it from you,'" said Stoddard, who eventually lost the bidding war. "I'm an accordion player, so not only was it beautiful, but it really kind of fit for another reason, too."
Stoddard described the crowd as active and more engaged than he'd seen at other auctions.
Knopp said he was surprised by the success of the first event and thinks that artists will try to top themselves this year.
"Kelly got all the best artists in town," Burgdorf said. "All my favorite artists are there. So at this event, I'm trying to bring my A-game and do my best ... I'm trying to show off to the other artists. It's probably the only show in Boise where I'm not doing it for people or fans, I'm doing it for the other artists."
This year's crop of returning artists includes Burgdorf, Rick Walter, Kelly Friederich, Erin Cunningham and more. For artists like Julia Green, last year's event was their first foray into using a skateboard as canvas.
"I think the weird shape of it can sometimes make it hard to decide what you want to put on the board," said Green. "It's kind of an extreme shape, either horizontally or vertically, depending on what you choose."
Green's previous piece was a portrait of True Grit curmudgeon Rooster Cogburn painted with a wide color palette. For this board, she focused on three colors: gold, black and white.
"I didn't want to overthink it because it's a skateboard," said Green. "I think the culture is really loose, not so serious."
Sam Stimpert, cofounder of Visual Arts Collective, is new to Art Deck-O, but not to designing boards. Stimpert has been invited to do similar shows in the past, but this will be his first showing in years.
"I was kind of unsure it would even work when Kelly asked me to be in the show," he said. "I've declined them all in the past because I couldn't figure out how to do it."
Stimpert poured molten metal to shape his deck, which he said charred the wood but retained its characteristic shape.
"This definitely has become art," he said. "In no way could you ever skate with it now."
Artists had different takes on whether buyers should use the boards. Having seen the destruction wrought on his longboard creations, Burgdorf said the purpose of skateboards is to "rough 'em up."
"It's cool that someone will buy my art and want to show it off like that. If it gets destroyed, it gets destroyed," he said. "I can always draw something else."
Rick Walter agreed.
"As far as using the board, I say go for it. I grew up doing pieces on my friends' decks. Seeing them get smeared and scraped up never hurt my feelings," Walter said.
While Walter wouldn't sweat watching his work get destroyed, Green said she has a hard time letting go--after the first Art Deck-O event, she briefly "stalked" the buyer of her deck via Facebook.
All told those buyers spent $4,200 at the inaugural Art Deck-O, according to Knopp, and many seemed to side with Green. On the white walls at DV-8 Salon in Boise, Friederich's board is displayed prominently alongside other pieces of his artwork.