Chocolate Skateboards turns 20

As Chocolate Skateboards celebrates 20 years as a brand, past and present team riders recall their favorite memories with the brand.

If you've been to an art exhibit in New York City, you're immediately aware that most people there don't actually like art. In fact, most people that go to art openings in NYC aren't there to appreciate the art. A bold generalization yes, supported by two major points. One, most shows are so packed you can't actually see the work. Two, most people probably wouldn't buy the work on display.

This wasn't the case on Saturday, September 20 at the Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A thicker than normal line queued up on Bedford Avenue waiting up to an hour to stuff themselves into the humid gallery to see the "20 Years of Chocolate" art show. Sure, some were wondering if they were going to have a chance to snap a profile worthy shot of themselves and the elusive Gino Iannucci, but this was an exhibit purely about the boards decorating the walls, and even more so, who wasn't there.

"Make sure you get a picture of this," said Brooklyn born skate icon Steven Cales, as he rolled up his sleeve, revealing a portrait tattooed on him of the late Keenan Milton. Since his death in 2001, Milton's memory has been celebrated by the Girl/Chocolate camp, canonizing his charismatic presence on and off the board with the phrase "Keenan Forever." The ink on Cales' arm was a capsule of all the decks affixed to the walls inside, as Chocolate's aesthetic has been built on large personalities and finely, detailed line work. And so much of that identity can be traced back to the art of longtime collaborator Evan Hecox.

20 Years of Chocolate art show

Started a year after the formation of Girl in 1994, Chocolate was a vehicle that provided a home for their crew, who were currently at other brands. Though the brand started out with a colorful squad, the actual board graphics didn't immediately speak to them, with many ideas coming from scrap paper doodles or fully realized artwork suggested by the riders. That wasn't a bad thing necessarily, but it was far from the aesthetic being celebrated at the gallery.

It wasn't until Girl's Art Dump guru and director Andy Jenkins happened upon Hecox's work in a snowboarding magazine that Chocolate's look coalesced. Hecox rendered each of the team riders so expertly, that who they actually were jumped off the boards. It was a simple yet unconventional approach, as portraiture was rarely executed well in skateboarding.

Due to the success of Hecox's portraits, each new professional Chocoloate rider has since been welcomed with a portrait deck (most recently Jerry Hsu.) Oddly enough, one of Chocolate's most beloved pros never ended up having his image recreated by Hecox.

"Every time a rider starts, we do a portrait board. The only exception is Scott Johnston," said Andy Jenkins. "I feel like we should have Evan draw one up and do one now. We always try to work around their personalities, because that's the major part of the company -- interpreting the riders so kids can get an idea who they are."

Running for only one night, I managed to view the show alone in gallery, minutes before the drills came out to dismantle and ship it off to it's next viewing. Without the distractions of a bustling beverage counter, camera flashes, and voices barking above voices, the decks formed a clear and consistent journey, each piece providing color on each rider. With original art complimenting the un-skated decks, it was also one of the most purposeful and storyboarded skate art shows to grace New York City.

Before entering that steamy gallery that Saturday night, Hopps founder and pro Jahmal Williams mentioned how it was one of the most beautifully hung shows he'd ever seen. Over their 20 years as a company, Chocolate's art department (currently lead by Jeremy Carnahan), has done an incredible job of using the skateboard deck medium to illustrate more than a brand, but a constantly evolving group of individuals bound by one saccharine chunk of passion.

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