- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Aaron James Draplin still remembers how other kids made fun of him and his skateboarding buddies. Now he’s having the last laugh.

The Traverse City native is one of the West Coast’s most successful graphic designers, with clients like Union Binding Co., the Ford Motor Co., and the Obama Administration. And the “underdog” skateboard culture that initially inspired his creativity and individuality is gaining acceptance by none other than art galleries and museums.

“Skateboarding is what set us free from the convention and the jocks,” Draplin, now 41 and living in Portland, Oregon, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( https://bit.ly/1SFuIdb ). “All these years later, here’s a news report: We won.”

Draplin’s work is featured in “Sideways: Exploring Skateboard Art + Culture” at the Dennos Museum Center.

The exhibition also features art and design from Jason Abraham Smith and Yoon Hyup, photography from Mike Blabac, and skateboard decks designed by artists from the Grand Traverse region and beyond.

“There’s the sport, the hobby, of skateboarding, but there are other elements that are part of the culture - visual arts, music, clothing and design - that are all inter-related,” said Jason Dake, the museum’s curator of education. “It’s hard to separate them out. You couldn’t talk about skateboarding without those elements.”

Dake who put the show together with the help of local skateboarder-designers said the exhibition is part of the museum’s ongoing efforts to stay relevant to the community and to tap into new audiences including teens and young graphic design professionals.

“Skateboarding is a relevant art form in the community. We have a skate park across from the museum. So it was a matter of how to show them we’re aware of them and get them to participate,” he said.

The show’s most dominant piece is a 20-by-7-foot wall mural by Hyup, a Korean-born commercial artist now reaching new audiences through site-specific installations. But for color and variety, Dake points to the more than 70 skateboard decks by mostly local artists.

The decks - painted, woodburned, scrimshawed and sculpted - will be juried by pro skater Ron Allen during his visit to the area for a June 20 performance at the Traverse City Park Jam.

Substituting a Canadian Hard Rock Maple skateboard deck for artist’s canvas isn’t as odd as it seems.

“It’s kind of a trend,” said Billy Wood, owner of Lifer Skateboard Shop in Traverse City, which provided the decks. “Art and skateboards go along together since a lot of skateboarders like to paint boards to hang on the wall or sell on eBay. So it’s always been sort of a medium.”

Still, Draplin is somewhat perplexed to find skateboarding at the center of fine arts purveyors like the Dennos.

“It’s odd to me because it kind of doesn’t belong in a museum. That’s what made it cool,” said the artist, who was performing grinds, kickflips, ollies and slides on Traverse City streets long before there was a skate park at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. “When we knew about it in 1989, it was dangerous because we were being chased by cops downtown. Twenty years later it’s an accepted, almost an organized, sport.”

His portion of the show features a collage of up to 300 of his pieces - from his earliest, skateboard-inspired designs to the present - including records, T-shirts, stickers, posters and snowboarding magazines.

“I don’t want it to be precious or to be savored. I’m so proud to show the volume of what I was able to do,” said Draplin, who graduated from Traverse City Senior High School in 1991 and from Northwestern Michigan College in 1993 before heading West to find his own version of fame and fortune. “The large part of it was none of it was sanctioned.

“I want it to show somewhere in there, ‘I’ve made a living’ but everywhere in there, ‘I enjoyed my job.’ It’s like a big, colorful blast and saying, ‘Thank you, skateboarding.’”

Draplin will talk about the cutthroat world of graphic design and his own “ferociously independent” career - including two years as art director of Snowboard Magazine - in a June 19 museum talk called “Tall Tales from a Large Man.”

“I’ve done a lot of these shows in a lot of ways,” he said, adding that this will be his first public homecoming, and one without his dad, the late “TC Santa” Jim Draplin. “But to come home to my friends who know me and know how messed up I am will be odd. I’m still freaked out, a kid from Traverse City, moving out West.

“I have this weird sense that people are going to be rolling their eyes.”

Sideways: Exploring Skateboard Art + Culture runs through Sept. 6.

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Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com

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