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Visual Arts

With ‘PIVOT,’ FLC mounts major show of Native American painting

Skateboard decks are canvas of choice

“PIVOT: Skateboard Deck Art” will change the way you think about contemporary painting.

The new exhibition at Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College is finally open to the public. Originally scheduled for last March, the show can now be seen in person or virtually through a scheme designed by its curatorial team. Rarely has an exhibit of contemporary painting this rich, textured and tantalizing been mounted here in Durango.

“Hosteen Ready to Sing” was created by Keith Smith (Diné).

Last week, “PIVOT” opened its doors to the center’s membership, and now the public can view 114 works by 28 artists from 13 different cultures and communities. Access is by appointment only, with visitation groups capped at eight people per 45-minute time slots. Throughout the fall, the gallery will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Some Saturdays will also have open hours. Visitors will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. The center’s YouTube channel and social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram will carry a virtual tour and interviews.

Don’t be confused by the title: Skateboard decks have been surfaces for two-dimensional art for some time. Popular with young people, skateboards have morphed into a self-standing genre particularly in Native American art.

And why not? A round-cornered rectangle of wood or fiberglass is as valid a surface for artistic expression as canvas, paper or a mural wall. When you see more than 100 skateboard decks mounted like so many oil paintings in a beautiful installation, it’s easy to see PIVOT as a welcome addition to the canon.

Guest curators Landis Báhe (Diné), left, and Duane Koyawena (Hopi/Tewa).

Art materials, not to mention subject matter or even purpose, have changed over the millennia. From charcoal smudges on cave walls to water-based paint in Roman frescoes, media and meanings have shifted over time. By the Renaissance, egg-tempera altar panels started to morph into easel paintings of landscapes, portraiture and still life. The 19th century saw an explosion of massive history paintings on canvas. All this is backstory for the humble skateboard as a surface on which to express oneself and one’s sense of place in the world.

According to guest curators Duane Koyawena (Hopi/Tewa) and Landis Báhe (Diné), “PIVOT” refers to a basic move in the sport of skateboarding and also a shift in Native American art.

“As artists, we’ve developed motifs melding traditional themes with contemporary experiences,” Koyawena said in an interview last spring. “We choose our tools, brush or knife, paint or ink, then we create through a maze of days and between cultures.”

James Johnson (Tlingit) with his four paintings.

“PIVOT” demonstrates that premise with its range of styles, techniques, subject matter and media. The only constant is the skateboard itself.

Some artists embrace traditional stories through symbols and stylized designs. Others use realistic techniques or stretch into the fantasy worlds of surrealism. You’ll encounter painterly abstraction and startling optical designs. A few boards reflect a sophisticated interest in Modernism while others may appear naïve. Find your own favorites.

Not to be missed are three boards by the legendary Douglas Miles Sr., who founded Apache Skateboards, the nexus of a significant community-building project on the San Carlos Apache Nation. From the beginning, Miles’ skateboards explored Apache history and lie at the core of a whole movement and a new genre.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

A moveable feast

In 2017, the first skateboard art show had modest beginnings. The Fort Lewis College exhibition is the fourth iteration of “PIVOT,” and the exhibition will now go on tour to institutions across the West.

In 2019, former Center of Southwest Studies Curator Jeanne Brako saw an expanded version of the first show at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. It followed a modest installation at Flagstaff’s Tat-Fu Tattoo Studio and Gallery. Both were successful, and “PIVOT” next traveled to the campus of Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.

Brako urged FLC center staff members to consider “PIVOT” for a major show. Curator Elizabeth Quinn followed through. Duane Koyawena and Landis Báhe visited late in 2019 and returned in March 2020 to design the installation.

A major fundraising campaign has enabled the exhibition team to stage a handsome show that will travel next year. Center members, donors, community friends, La Plata Electric Association Round Up Foundation and a special group of supporters through Giving Tuesday Crowdfunding has made it all possible.

“Some of the works are for sale,” Quinn said. “Any monies collected will go directly to the artists. There is no commission.”

Judith Reynolds

If you go


“PIVOT: Skateboard Deck Art.” A new exhibition curated by Duane Koyawena and Landis Báhe.


Now through spring 2021.


Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.


By appointment only, limited to small-groups. Contact the center at 247-7456 or visit http://swcenter.fortlewis.edu and click on Appointments under Plan Your Visit tab. Free.

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