Although now more readily accepted by the mainstream, snowboarding began as a counter-culture phenomenon, and the design associated with it was youth-oriented and cutting-edge. The Burton Snowboards Company, the world's largest producer of snowboards, was the first to produce graphic art for its boards and today continues to be in the forefront of snowboard design.
Working with thousands of artists and designers, some world-famous and others lesser known, Burton still produces innovative graphics for its snowboards. Burton's boards were first made in 1977, but had simple graphics; it was not until the mid 1980s that artwork became identified as we see it today. On average a design stays on the market for a season or an entire calendar year. Some older graphics become re-issued as a classic offering many years after they first came out. As for vintage snowboards, early models like the Backhill or Performer can command a thousand dollars or two, and early prototypes or first issue boards can sometimes be sold for tens of thousands.
Snowboarding's reputation as a counter-culture lifestyle enables companies like Burton to visually push the envelope with its product design. This not only positively impacts the experience of riders, but also supports artists by increasing the visibility of their work. It is one of the few instances where fine artists' work reaches the public so directly and extensively — consumed, viewed and enjoyed by multitudes.
The Art on Burton, an exhibition currently on view at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, Vermont, examines the profound role of art and design on the culture of snowboarding by depicting a wide variety of artwork and finished products created for Burton Snowboards and explores the collaboration process that leads to those highly creative end results.
Many of the artists and designers are snowboarders themselves and so particularly appreciate the importance of graphic design to the whole experience. As Lance Violette, a designer who has had a long connection to Burton, exclaimed, "As snowboarders we are trying so hard to be different that we don't even notice that we are fueling a design revolution in the process. As graphic designers we receive opportunities for a creative voice that few people have the privilege to experience. A snowboard graphic is a well-orchestrated collaboration between the designers, artists and team riders … And if it's done right, the end result is something that no single person could ever achieve alone."
Comments by artists and designers are included in the exhibit to illuminate the inspiration, process and experience of creating a snowboard graphic.
Michael Montanaro, the artist for Burton's 2008 Malolo (Malolo means 'flying fish' in Hawaiian) said the design "was made to feel as if one is surfing on snow, so in my imagery I set off to unify the two worlds and create designs in which the ocean meets the mountains." His silkscreens on paper for the Malolo series featured" Zen-like brushstrokes, incorporating hieroglyphic oceanic symbolism, a style and subject matter I was heavily inspired by at the time." Working with Burton designers Dennis Healy and Brendan Murphy, "I created numerous sumi ink paintings on paper and left the graphic design and layout up to them."
Greg Gossel, whose work for the 2012 Aftermath is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's famous silkscreen portraits, used mixed media on Rives BFK paper to create face images of pop-culture icons such as Kate Moss, Liz Taylor, Jimi Hendrix and Princess Diana. In an article on the show in the Burlington Free Press, Gossel is quoted as saying, "I think my aesthetic tends to lend itself to the counter-culture of snowboarding because I'm often using recognizable pop imagery in a more fragmented subversive way, which in turn kind of questions mainstream culture and the sources from which the imagery came." He said he likes working for Burton because it enables his work to be seen by audiences who would not see it otherwise.
Tattoo and graffiti artist Mike Giant's original work for the 2012 Bullet series features words in different languages handwritten in black Sharpie, all upbeat greeting such as Cheers, Yo, Jambo, Howdy, Salud, Welcome and Skal. Andrei Molodkin's artwork for the 2008 Twin features blue and white skull and crossbones designs.
Designer Cristin Denight was given only two weeks to complete a new park board for that year's women's hardgoods line, an unusually fast time for such a project, but "Snowboarding and design were/are my OBSESSIONS so I felt like I had won the lottery. " She spent her first Vermont Christmas alone but happy " doodling away at my dining room table … I was able to lose myself in the creative process, ignorant of the mysteries of market analysis and regional opinions of product reps, that would invade my thoughts during future board graphic projects." So in this case "The innocence of blissful ignorance allows for undefined creative expression." The resulting powder blue, white and pink 2007 Stigma board was a success.
Kevin Cyr's paintings feature old trucks and vans, inspired by vehicles he has spotted in his neighborhood or on travels in the U.S. or abroad, as he finds beauty in derelict and unkempt vehicles, in particular those often associated with working class society. Born in Canada, Cyr grew up in a paper mill town in Maine and now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Graffiti artist Futura started to paint illegally on New York's subways in the early 1970s, then was shown in the early 1980s with other now well-known artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat and created backdrops for punk rock band The Clash's 1981 European tour. He is now a successful graphic designer and gallery artist. While other graffiti artists in the 80s focused on lettering , Futura pioneered abstract street art, which has since become more popular. Also, his aerosol strokes with thin, fine lines are regarded as different from his peers'.
A first generation Ukrainian-American who now maintains a full-time independent studio practice in Brooklyn, Maya Hayuk uses four and five-screen prints and hand screen prints to formulate geometric patterns in appealing color combinations. Thomas Campbell's mixed media work, typically composed of several panels that appear to be stitched together, are free-flowing with wide expressionist swipes of color, bold graphics and intricate rendering of characters and text. A self-taught artist, Campbell lives and works in California, traverses the globe making films, and has mounted solo exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad.
Dennis Healy, Burton's Creative Manager-Boards describes interesting experiences working with some of the snowboard artists. William Wasden, who lives in British Columbia, took weeks to track down. After specifying works of his they really liked, Healy and his team left Wasden to create a new piece for Burton in that style. "What he created was absolutely perfect," bold graphics in red, black and white in a design reminiscent of the regions' traditional Native American art, which was then used for the 2012 Barracuda.
Referring to working with the Andy Warhol Foundation, Healy says "Having the ability to work with Andy Warhol's art and make it work on a snowboard was one of the most exciting projects of my career to date. Working closing with the Andy Warhol Foundation, we explored a ton of his works until finally landing on the final designs. We had a blast working together and I believe that shows in the final designs." After working on the Warhol series with the Foundation they continued to expand the collaboration to include the series of collaborative paintings between Andy and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
And last but not least, the show includes an immersive installation by designer Lance Violette that examines the creative process of a designer. One of his designs depicts cute, almost kitsch puppies and kittens for the uninc brand for Burton, deliberately flying in the face of most snowboard design expectations of the time. The exhibit also shows his work for the 2008 Jeremy Jones board, depicting in almost cartoon style a full-length portrait of the rider in torn jeans, bandanna around his ankle, "Jones" labeled ring bling and a pin stating that he is "still pumpin." Violette was the Design Director for Burton at the time and also worked on Burton projects while Creative Director for the JDK design company in Burlington, Vermont. He now lives and works in Stowe, still works with Burton, and has designed for Olympic snowboarder Shaun White.
The Art of Burton remains on view until April 15th. For more information about the exhibit, please visit www.helenday.com. For more information about Burton, please visit www.burton.com.
The Craig Kelly Prototype Facility is where Burton prototype snowboards are built. It contains a snowboard tour and self guided history museum. 152 Industrial Parkway, Burlington, Vt. 05401 Sign up online at burton.com/craigs