Create and Destroy
On bombing boards & walls.
Words Christian Acker Photos Alyasha Owerka-Moore, Dave Shubert, Renos
The adolescent thrill of cheap vandalism has always transcended cultures of black, white, rich, poor, urban and suburban. While graffiti might be canonized as one of the elements of hip hop, it has always been an integral element in the youth scenes of punk, hardcore and skateboarding, which evolved in the same time period. In fact, it is actually the one element that precedes many other youth movements-turned art forms by several generations. Alyasha Owerka-Moore points this out to me as we hash out a couple dozen ideas over a number of months that seem to digress then converge again and again.
Growing up in the Boerum Hill/Gowanus area of Brooklyn in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Alyasha had a unique vantage point from which to ride the wave of many of the best youth cultures of the latter 20th century; cultures that are now full-on industries. He saw NYC in it’s hey-day of graffiti, hip hop, punk and hardcore and was legit enough to even hit the more obscure mod/ska revival. He saw (and allegedly did) some subway writing during the 80’s when the trains still had pieces running. He did the sneakerhead thing, and may have worn some head-to-toe ‘Lo at some point. He may have been a punk or a skinhead, or a mod or a b-boy. And he may have been any one of these things, authentically, at any point in time. While you and I probably had to deal with a summer of friends calling us (okay, mostly me) “toy” or “poser,” Alyasha had the natural flair and love to put in enough time to develop a dope hand style, confidently rock the right crispy combo of Doc Martens or PF Flyers and still nail that trick over the Brooklyn banks, becoming an Am skater for Blockhead and later Assault by ‘89/90. Dude has style.
Long on street smarts he saw that skateboarding was advancing much faster than he was, but having a love for it he worked hard launching an alternate career within the industry. He jump started his career by forgoing the credentials bestowed upon us by the establishment, and instead he would help build burgeoning brands before mall walkers knew what “urban” or “action sports” even were. Phat Farm, Mecca, Droors, DC Shoes, Dub Brand Outerwear, American Dream Inc. Skateboards, Alphanumeric & Fiberops, are just a few of the brand names on his resume. And all his work with those projects had the same impetus: to converge the cooler parts of these overlapping subcultures without betraying any of their roots. It was graffiti and skating that stayed constant even when his wardrobe changed.
We had a lot in common and knew from our first conversations that we would have to find a way to take all this talk and make something solid. Dozens of others shared this experience we were sure. The more we began to dig, the more we got past our own histories, kept on digging and then hit something concrete — something of original substance. When you are preoccupied with origins, it’s only natural that you eventually get to the cool of your forefathers. Be it Alyasha’s alter ego, Stackaly (Google Stagger Lee for a history lesson in rock ‘n’ roll roots) or my own preoccupations and appreciations for those old tags in the styles of Broadway or Philly Gangster or Cholo or Frisco Flows.
Alyasha had several decades in the skateboard scene and I worked as an art director for half a dozen years for a skate brand founded by one of his childhood friends, Eli Gesner. I had a couple pages in Flip The Script that acknowledged the influence of Cholo graffiti on early skate pioneers like Craig Stecyk III and Wes Humpston. The combination of that barrio calligraphy, with the rock ‘n’ roll poster art of guys like Rick Griffin created a fertile ground that brought about the aesthetic of early skateboard graphics and artists like Chaz Bojorquez, which revolutionized the art of the suburbs when urethane wheels started rolling around cul-de-sacs all over the country.
Finally we started talking about the expressive and experimental nature of what made “style.” How it is similar and different in skating. Especially in those developmental years, before the more technical tricks and specialty flared-eight-finger-fat-caps. Skating and writing are about an inner drive and a single-minded focus to repeat your craft to the point of perfection. The fun in experimentation often ends in failure, especially in the early stages, but the amassing of those failures eventually makes for your “style.” Some of us are more natural and balanced and flowy, and others charge through it, and though it might not be pretty, get the job done with a boot in the ass! I believe most of us can think of writers and skaters we respect who exemplify either of those styles. Eventually we started listing the names of serious skaters we knew who also wrote graf. Alyasha, Renos and Cycle are some of the most passionate guys we know who both shred and burn.
And now, the result of our research is a coming limited edition ‘zine project that celebrates this overlapping section of the cultures we love. So holler if you’ve got that nasty hand and can shred.
This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 54. Subscribe to the magazine here.