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Twenty years after his video introduction to skateboarding in Underworld Element's "Skypager" video, where he charismatically flipped and grinded every iconic NYC spot, Harold Hunter's influence has coalesced at a group art show titled "Rise Above." Curated by pro skateboarder Alex Corporan and Art Now NY Sales Director Mateo Mize, the 26-artist show, which opened last night, is a visual manifestation of Hunter's impact and legacy.
The smile, the style, the unmistakable swagger -- in the short time he was with us, Hunter was able to do more for New York City skate culture than what most could imagine even trying to achieve. "Harold was my big brother," said fellow pro Quim Cardona. He stood by a portrait he painted for the show at the Art Now NY gallery in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. "When I first started coming to the city, when I was 12 years old, he took care of me and was our tour guide."
Photography, sculpture, painting and conceptual work filled a second-floor space, showcasing the diversity of skateboarding and how far the art surrounding it has come. Anything from portraits of Hunter to a framed scrap of paper with his 917 cell-phone number jumped off the walls as guests conversed and classic punk-rock snarled from the sound system.
Calling on the talents of Joe Brook, Bigfoot, David Ortiz, Chad Muska, Chris Pastras, Allen Ying and several other recognizable skate photographers and artists, the opening reception might've mirrored a Max Fish Friday night. Yes, there were men in five-panel hats and expensive T-shirts curling slices of complimentary pizza as they pounded beverages, but the artwork and crowd stretched past the clichés many unfairly associate with an NYC "skart" opening. That's because it was a representation of the diversity of the people Hunter attracted and made a mark on.
Bouncing from wall to wall, "Rise Above" pulls you into a visual journey, from Vernon Laird's landscape stills shot in India to an image by Ivory Serra of Hunter proudly flexing his Zoo York deck. Muska's work anchored one of the rooms with a mix of conceptualism and simplicity that calls back to Franz Kline's mid-20th century abstracts, leading over to a sculpture by Zac Shavrick of a cartoon skater slamming and, to its left, a wall that speaks to contrast and scope. With his prominent Roman features and brawny physique, '90s Philly ripper Gabriel Angemi looks more hardened now than in his dread-sporting pole jam days. Currently a firefighter in Camden, N.J., his photographs of flamed-out buildings looked larger than the lofty wall they rested on, somehow framing tragedy with class and beauty.
As a downtown New York ambassador, Hunter did more than just show people spots; he helped create a community and culture for skaters unfamiliar with NYC. Skateboarding isn't just what happens on a board or in two-minute video clips. Intertwined with music, graffiti and subculture, the spirit of NYC was something Hunter represented in the early '90s well before his film credits.
With a portion of the show's profits benefiting Hunter's ambitious namesake foundation, which honors him through providing inner-city NYC youth opportunities through skateboarding, Hunter's memory (and, more importantly, his influence) will continue to affect New York City and all of skateboarding. Seven years after Hunter's passing and almost a year after Hurricane Sandy, New York City and its charismatic skate scene continue to rise above. Though he's no longer here to be the tour guide, Hunter continues to be an ambassador for NYC and the entire culture of skateboarding.