The art of skateboarding… and how unicorns help

This article is part of the 2019 Winter A&E Guide. To read the rest of the section, click here.

What happens to a skateboard when it has outgrown its usefulness? There’s the junkyard, of course, but there are also visual artists like Jeremy Vessels ( who see a skateboard as a future table.

LEO: What type of visual artist are you?
Jeremy Vessels: I am, but not limited to, a wood artist whose medium is recycled skateboards. I make furniture and anything that can be made out of wood from recycled skateboards

When did you start making art?
I started making art about the same time I started skateboarding, so probably about 11 years old, so 1987.

What is your art background and education?
I’m completely self-taught, and most of the early art I made had went hand-in-hand with skateboarding, whether it be repainting the bottom of the board, giving myself an elaborate grip tape job on the top of the skateboard or trying to draw a picture from a skate magazine. As an adult, I spent years making line art, and after being a carpenter for about seven years, the evolution of power tools and the drive to impress my childhood friend-turned-architect led me to furniture. Even though I don’t have an art school background, skateboarding led me to the punk rock music scene, art outside of skateboarding, film, street art, martial arts, etc. Skateboarding has heavily influenced modern American culture for the past 30 years, I’ve just been along for the ride.

Who are some of the artists you admire?
Frank Stella, Dubuffet, Jeanne-Claude and Christo, the mystery that is Banksy and, of course, Haroshi, who is the Picasso of recycled skateboarding.

You work in an unusual media. Your company, Jeremy Vessels Art and Furniture Design, specializes in items, especially tables, made from skateboards. What is your artistic process? Where do you get the skateboards?
My process is intense. First, I have to collect the skateboards (usually from Home Skateshop or Riot Skatepark), then I peel the grip tape off, clean the adhesive left behind, sand the skateboard to its raw state, then the team of rainbow clad unicorns show up and something magical happens (I promised I’d give them credit). After the unicorns deliver a chunk of skateboard that has been glued together, I usually just try to keep pushing myself to do something new with the design.

What are some of the challenges of being a visual artist in Louisville?
Louisville has been supportive, and I am grateful for that. People buy and support art here. I am constantly searching for new clients to buy my work and pay my bills. But for the most part taking risk to follow this dream has been easier than I imagined. I try to stay positive and reassure myself that the universe will provide, and it always does.

And on the flip side, why do you do it?
I think I do it ‘cause I have to. At some point around 2013, after working for a contractor doing carpentry for years, I just realized I couldn’t be happy working for someone else any longer. After focusing on some of the traumatic blows life has dealt, I felt like I had nothing to lose trying.

Besides, skateboarding has always been land or slam from the first time you step on one. Skateboarding takes more complex motor skills than any other sport in history. It’s a way of life and a subculture, not a sport. Besides being the most fun, freest thing ever, it will give you enough self-discipline to carry you through life’s hardest times. So, go buy your kid (boys and girls) a skateboard

What is a typical day like for you?
I don’t have a typical day or a pattern. Usually, I wake up and consult the color wheel on just how vibrant I want my day to be, focus on a color and what needs to get done, work-wise. After I drink a bunch of coffee, I walk the dog, pet the cat and head to my workshop. If it’s warm outside, I might try to hit the skatepark or skate to get a coffee; starting the day on the board always helps my mentality. Normally, when the work day is over I’ll have dinner with my girlfriend and hopefully snuggle before I go outside and howl at the moon before bed.

What are you working on now? Where can we see your furniture locally?
I’m currently working on a custom stool. And I just got a commission to make a large dining room table. My work also lives at Nachbar, Seidenfaden’s, Lydia House (RIP), Grind Burger Kitchen, Peach Soul Clothing, Gralehaus Bed and Breakfast, Atomic House of Hair, Surface Noise Records and Idlewild Butterfly Farm.

What is something most people do not know about you?
I’m part of a secret alien society whose mission is to see women take over the global political leadership, but my role is so hidden and obscure that I just seem like a dude.

About the Author

The art of skateboarding… and how unicorns help

Jo Anne Triplett is the contributing visual arts editor at LEO Weekly. She’s a past member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Public Art, was the content advisor on the Glassworks Building video, and has written for Louisville Magazine, Kentucky Homes and Gardens and the national publication Glass Craftsman. Jo Anne came to Louisville from Washington, D.C. where she worked as a researcher and writer for the Smithsonian American Art Museum.



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