The Skateboard Art of Bernie Tostenson

Some of the very best known skateboard artists out there are names like Wes Humpston, Jim and Jimbo Phillips, Sean Cliver, Marc McKee, Andy Jenkins and Ed Templeton -- to name a few. Rightly so of course. These names have contributed a very great deal to the corpus of skateboard art, spanning between them the 1970's, 80's and 90's.

One skateboard artist whose name perhaps doesn't come up as often as it should (in my opinion at any rate) is that of Bernie Tostenson. Bernie's most widely known bit of skateboard art is almost certainly his Sims Christian Hosoi Street Flag design but he did many other iconic decks for others brands, including Vision, Kryptonics, Toxic and his own company, Brand X. Sean Cliver credits Tostenson with being a significant influence for him in the development of his first Disposable book, by way of an early art show of skateboard art which took place in the mid-1990's and which included a zine, Grind: The Graphics and Culture of Skateboarding in which Bernie included writings on skateboard art and the art of silk-screening. In fact, if you want to read a bit more about Bernie, I'd recommend you go over to Sean Cliver's old Disposable blog where he did a memorial tribute to him shortly after Bernie passed away. The article includes excerpts of Tostenson's writings from Grind and makes for interesting reading on the matter of the history of skate art: In Memoriam: Bernie Tostenson, 1950-2009.

My own purpose in mentioning Bernie today is because I wanted to share a few pieces of his skate art which really strike me. The first is his "People in my head" graphic which he did for Denny Riordon and Kryptonics -- and later Toxic skateboards. It is a bit of skateboard art that really makes an impact on people. I can recall opening up a copy of Transworld Skateboarding back in the 80's and seeing this deck advertised. Right then and there I fell in love with that graphic. Here is one version of it:

Turning toward the Brand X "Riot Stick", you will see some similarities between the figures in the head and the figures found within this particular deck:

Image credit: Michiel Walrave

Detail. Image credit: Michiel Walrave

However, my particular favourite is the imagery found in Bernie's Triple X team deck:

Image credit: Michiel Walrave

Image credit: Michiel Walrave

Image credit: Michiel Walrave

Love the flies and love the bits of art that would otherwise be hidden beneath the trucks when this deck was fully setup to skate.

These latter two decks, incidentally, come from the personal collection of Bernie Tostenson himself, now residing in the collection of (one lucky) European collector, Michiel Walrave.

Bernie Tostenson's style was quite versatile, but in these particular decks I find a particular graphical brilliance shining through. The graphics strike me as particularly rooted in the cartoonist/illustrative tradition. In fact, when I look at these graphics, particularly the Triple X team deck, I cannot help but wonder if Bernie was somehow influenced by another great American artist, Robert Crumb -- most infamously known for his work on 1970's underground comics like Zap, Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat.

Whatever the case, I personally believe these are examples of amongst some of the finest skateboard art ever created. RIP Bernie.