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Rock Paper Scissors

Oakland artists try out skateboards as canvases

on September 29, 2010

Art can come in a variety of forms—paint carefully brushed onto a sheet of canvas or pencil marks thoughtfully scrawled onto a piece of sketch paper.  Then there are the less conventional art forms.  Skateboards, for example.  Or a pair of sneakers.  Or knuckle tattoos.

Starting this Friday, in an opening that will be part of the city’s monthly Art Murmur, the stark white walls of Oakland’s Rock Paper Scissors Collective gallery will be home to nearly a dozen new pieces.  Artists were given free rein in their designs, so long as they stuck to one of three surfaces for their work: skateboard decks (sans wheels), pairs of sneakers, or human knuckles.  (The knuckles have to be attached to living persons, which means they won’t be a part of the three-week exhibit, except for opening day.  After Friday, guests will have to settle for photos.)

When asked about the inspiration for the idea, Jen Zoom, a member of the volunteer-run organization, said, “I think it’s the same for every exhibit—to show predominantly Oakland artists and Bay Area artists who aren’t necessarily shown in other places, and be representative of our community, and have as much diversity as possible.”

Most of the artists who submitted work for the exhibition gravitated to skateboard decks as their new canvas.  For Jin Hei Kang, of Oakland, the exhibit was the perfect way to combine her hobby of skateboarding (evident by a sprained finger on her left hand) with her artistic nature. As Kang sat on the steps of the gallery stairs, her eyes peeking out through black-rimmed glasses, she said her full-time job as an orthopedics tech extern was merely a means of financially supporting her true passion—being an artist.

Kang, whose skateboard submissions share an underlying theme, said she believes society perceives certain animals as unfriendly, when in fact that’s “just how they function in nature.”  Produced using a mix of spray paint, acrylic paint and oil pastels, each piece—a sea dragon preying on a school of fish, a viper fish eyeing its dinner, and an angler fish with its grizzly teeth—depicts the creatures in their natural habitat.  “It’s part abstract and part representational,” Kang said.  “I like to put those two together because I like the contrast of something that’s broken down and simple, and something that is highly defined.”

Rock Paper Scissors

Rock Paper Scissors Collective doesn’t only host art exhibits, but it also provides low-cost art classes and has an upstairs zine library.

Sunnyvale resident and family man Kori Thompson’s skateboard decks had two contrasting themes—love and fear.  Behind a sky blue backdrop, a woman (who he said slightly resembles his wife) appears serene even as an outreached hand holds her heart.  The second piece depicts the ferocity of a wolf up against a blood-red backdrop.  Originally, Thompson said, he had intended to incorporate a human face into the piece to further signify the theme of fear, but didn’t quite have enough room—an obstacle he ran into after hustling to finish his pieces the same morning he dropped them off at the gallery.  Thompson, who submitted two decks for the first attempt at the exhibit, surprised himself in the last couple of years when he realized art was becoming a more serious part of his life, despite his having less time for art than ever, due to a wife and kids.

Guests entering through the glass door of the gallery at Telegraph Avenue and 27th Street will also be invited to become a temporary part of the exhibit.   “We’re going to have several people drawing on peoples’ knuckles,” said Zoom, as she sat smoking a Natural American Spirit.  “And there’ll be a live slideshow happening.”  The “photo booth” of knuckle art will showcase both real and newly-acquired fake tattoos.  Screen-print images of sneakers will also be available for people to design.

The exhibit is launching as a part of October’s Art Murmur, the showcase of downtown Oakland galleries and artwork on the first Friday of each month.  Rock Paper Scissors was one of the eight founding organizations of Art Murmur about four years ago, and one of the few galleries that hasn’t had to close its doors.

Though the recession has affected the collective, Zoom said, the current survival of Rock Paper Scissors is largely the product of the eight members, nearly a dozen volunteers and an eight-person board.  That’s the most they’ve had at any given time in the six-year history of the collective.  Through fundraising with silent art auctions, holding classes ranging from silk-screening and sewing to Pilates, and selling artists’ merchandise, including homemade clothing and one-of-a-kind jewelry, the collective has been able to stay afloat.  But this hasn’t come without setbacks.

The paper sign on the collective’s gallery door has the hours listed as noon to 7 pm, every day except Monday and Tuesday.  But it’s not rare to find the gallery closed in the middle of the day, when volunteers have fulltime jobs and schooling that, naturally, take priority over the gallery.

The efforts of the collective have not gone unnoticed, though.  A large part of the current Oakland art scene was spurred by the Rock Paper Scissors group.  “We have done our best to create an accessible community space,” said Zoom.  “Our focus is on a creative space that shares skills, gives people an income from things they make and provides a showcase for our community.”

Past exhibits are testaments to the unique nature of the collective. A few months ago, the gallery participated in the Tibetan Memorial Quilt Project, inspired by the Dalai Lama’s visit to the Bay Area in April.  Local quilters, volunteers and Tibetans donated time and materials and organized their efforts to make the colorful 25-patch quilt in memory of those who have died in the effort for Tibetan independence.  Earlier in the summer, the gallery focused on the art of storytelling, inviting two local artists who immersed themselves in West Oakland to find what the history-rich area meant to those who live there.  In May, the gallery hosted Beyond Bicycles, a celebration of art, history and science behind the simple human-powered machine.

The skateboards, sneakers, and knuckles exhibit will run from October 1 through October 22 at Rock Paper Scissors Collective’s gallery located at 2278 Telegraph Ave. in Downtown Oakland.  The exhibit is free of charge.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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