Since the '70s, there's been a symbiotic relationship between skateboarders and the visual art world. The do-it-yourself ethos of the skateboarding subculture has influenced many counter cultural artists, such as Barry McGee and Shepard Fairey, who have gone on to gain popularity in the mainstream art world. Likewise, lots of notable artists — Jim Evans (T.A.Z.) being one of the first — create graphics for skater gear, magazines and videos.
Rob Sebrell insists that the act of skateboarding is an art form all its own. "It's in the way you re-visualize your surroundings, and reinterpret environments [when you are skateboarding]," says Sebrell. "It's like you're drawing lines through the city with the skateboard — it's in the feeling of flying through a turn, or down a handrail, or weaving through people."
Sebrell, who has been skating for more than 15 years, received a BFA in visual art from Appalachian State University in 2004. Upon graduating, he knew he wanted to open a business that combined his passion for skateboarding with his love of visual art. This month, Sebrell's PUSH Skate Shop and Gallery on Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville celebrates its five-year anniversary.
The retail aspect of the business, which Sebrell operates with partner Linden Veillette, has come to acquire national recognition (voted shop of the month in Transworld, a popular skate magazine) — no small feat in a town where skateboarding is illegal on all city property except the Food Lion Skate Park.
Meanwhile, PUSH Gallery, a 500-square-foot room located at the back of the store, has steadily evolved over the years into a reliable venue for local artists. Art openings at the gallery are nearly always packed to maximum capacity – an achievement due largely to word-of-mouth amongst a scene of art aficionados eager to see fresh art forms created by their peers. "People in their 20s and 30s come in here to buy art," Sebrell says. "That's not common for most commercial galleries in town."
He is quick to point out that the skate shop does not dictate aesthetically what is exhibited in the gallery. The two are separate entities, though on the business side, they influence each other. People who enter the shop looking for something cool to wear will eventually meander into the gallery; those who beeline it for the gallery often end up checking out T-shirts or dresses on their way out the door.
The artistic styles represented at PUSH run the gamut, though the emerging aspect of each artist is a constant. Many of the exhibits are first-time shows for art graduates, or group shows curated by local artists. Segment 16, an Asheville-based arts collective, and the now dispersed New American Collective both exhibited in the early days of the gallery.
Among the wide spectrum of artists who have shown at PUSH are tattoo artist Danny Reed, illustrator Scott Hilton ("color is for da weak,") sculptor Keith Hewett, photographer Mike Belleme, and painters David Hale, Joshua Vaughn, Sarah Cavalieri and Mister Squeakers.
Sebrell and friend Jacob Biba select artists for the gallery, and Sebrell says that instead of looking for a particular style, he's looking for art that is "unique, interesting and thought-provoking." Local artists are generally exhibited, but occasionally national artists are invited to show. One of the gallery's more successful shows, Medical Experiments in Plush, was established through a national call to fiber artists. Curated by local toy artist John Murphy, the amusing and imaginative exhibit showcased work by nearly 50 national artists.
To date, Sebrell himself has only exhibited work once at PUSH, and has no plans to show in the near future. "The shop has pretty much become my art project," he says. He has managed to find time, however, to help produce a film in collaboration with 20 other people that documents skateboarders in Asheville. Shot with a fisheye lens, the film captures the aesthetic spirit and freedom of skateboarding, and will premiere to the public this September.
On Friday, June 18 PUSH will hold an opening reception for local painter Anna Jensen. Combining folk art aesthetic with sophisticated painterly methods Jensen creates narrative paintings of women in unusual and often humorous situations.
PUSH Skateshop and Gallery is located at 25 Patton Ave. 225-5509 or pushtoyproject.com.