Pop love-it

Skateboarding. Is. The. Coolest. Thing. Ever.

That’s basically what Ryan Robidoux and his brother thought after seeing the 1985 film “Back to the Future.” And what better way to emulate the supreme cool than by conquering the biggest hill you can find? Minutes after the movie’s credits rolled, the brothers made their way to a hilltop.

Robidoux watched as his brother planted wheels upon ground and roared down the sloping road.

And then: the conclusive crack of a breaking leg. Robidoux was totally undeterred by his brother’s accident. He spent the next year reasoning with his parents. Can I get a skateboard, can I get a skateboard, can I get a skateboard? Whether swayed by logic or simply worn down, his parents eventually relented. OK, fine. They took Robidoux to a skate shop and bought him a board.

It was not only a worthwhile purchase but an origin story. Robidoux “never looked back” to life sans skateboard, he said.

“Skateboarding has shaped almost every friendship I have had to this day,” he said. One of those friends is Karim Ghonem, who’s known Robidoux for nearly 25 years. The longtime buddies team up in the aptly titled “Totally Radical,” a pop-up exhibition at Jamestown Arts Center, opening Friday, June 16, at 6 p.m.

For Robidoux (who works under the moniker Evoker), skating and art have long been intertwined. He began with sticker and T-shirt designs and has since progressed to digital graphics, paintings and murals. His aesthetic is broadly cartoonish, with clean lines and an opaque, bold palette that recalls the menagerie of Looney Tunes. He enjoys the perennially rebellious subject matter of skulls, snakes and daggers — mementos of his earliest forays into skating, when such imagery was common in deck art.

Robidoux began designing skate decks in 2002, initially for Narragansett Surf and Skate. A bounty of decks will be displayed at JAC, along with drawings, paintings, prints, a mural and even a skate ramp installation.

“I’m really excited to be showing the skateboards I designed all together in one exhibit,” Robidoux said. “There are close to 40 of them that span 15 years. It’s nice to step back to see how far they have come and laugh at how bad some of them are.”

The exhibit’s second portion consists of photos by Ghonem, taken from 2007 to present across New England, Canada and the West Coast. Ghonem’s photos seem to question the reign of gravity. Dudes levitate, swish, hover. Wooden ramps, concrete basins or even sidewalks and parking lots become sites of mastery.

Speaking of mastery, Ghonem credits skateboarding with developing his visual talents:

“I took courses in college and later went on to get a degree in digital arts, but skate photography taught me real life, practical and technical skills that you can’t really learn any other way.”

Like Robidoux’s brother, Ghonem’s odyssey began with breakage. A leg injured while skateboarding forced him to abstain from boarding for a year. To stay close to the action, he picked up a camera.

“Skateboarding for the most part attracts very ambitious, creative and self-motivated people,” said Ghonem.

That was the attitude Robidoux needed when he began designing decks. “Growing up in New England there wasn’t really anyone who had experience that could teach me, so there was a bit of a learning curve,” he said. His first decks were produced in very limited runs, the designs silkscreened in a single color. “I still looked at it as the most amazing opportunity anyone has ever offered me.”

Your opportunity to see “Totally Radical,” meanwhile, is brief. The show is only on view for three days. So you’ll have to go fast if you wanna catch it. Faster than the Road Runner. Faster than Marty McFly hanging off the back of a truck. Faster than a kid first skating downhill.

Alexander Castro, Newport Mercury
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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