C.R. STECYK III
ARTIST AT A GLANCE
Native Angeleno Craig Stecyk is a multimedia artist widely acknowledged as a major influence within the genres of graffiti and street art. C.R Stecyk III was involved with the founding of the Zephyr surf shop in Santa Monica, California, where the boards he painted helped to establish the graphic styles of both surfing and skateboarding. A surfboard shaped and painted by Stecyk resides in the permanent archive of the Smithsonian. Other boards were presented at MoMA in New York, the White House in Washington, D.C. and the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro. He created numerous iconic symbols of surfing and skateboarding, such as the Lance Mountain skull logo, the “Vato Rat,” the Dogtown cross, and the “Skate and Destroy” marks. CR Stecyk III was a writer and production designer on the Sundance award-winning documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys and is one of the founders of Juxtapoz magazine. Stecyk has written and photographed extensively on the topics of art, surfing, skateboarding, custom car culture, and obscure California history.
The artist’s BEYOND THE STREETS installation is related to his practice of surreptitiously placing poster pieces in out-of-context environments, a format chosen as homage to common trade advertisements and deliberately designed at 14” x 22” — the industry-standard “show card” size. The assemblage is site specific and C.R. Stecyk III will continuously create mixed-media monoprints and incorporate them throughout the run of the exhibition. The rusted aerosol-can artifacts are from C.R.’s back stock of paint; hundreds of cans from this archive were employed in the formulation of colors for these works. Craig Stecyk relates that the most obscure chromatic sources utilized were 1935 Dupont Duco Nitrocellulose automotive lacquer and paint from the old Sixth Street Bridge.
Craig Stecyk The Coyote of Venice
C.R. Stecyk III has been called a historian, photographer, writer, surfer, caster of dead animals, painter, artist, graffiti OG, museum curator, skateboarder, hoarder, art director, genius, production designer, film producer, stunt double, printer, screenwriter. But perhaps the most accurate label comes from his longtime friend and award-winning director Stacy Peralta, who described Craig as Coyote, the trickster spiritual being in Native American folklore. The incendiary prankster. Reportedly, C.R. has been this way from the start, befuddling early art teachers by insisting on painting skies purple and scuttling Malibu beaches with surf legend and notorious rogue Miki Dora (aka “Da Cat,” “the Black Knight,” “Fiasco Kid”). Art, street, surf, skate culture tangled early for C.R., and in 1966 he became one of the first to glyph surfboards, starting with his mentor’s ride. (CR Stecyk III would eventually paint numerous world champions’ surfboards.) He pre-dated commercial skateboard graphics by treating the transportation tool as a moving medium of reactionary street art.
His father, a lieutenant in the first wave sent in to film a highly radioactive post-bomb Hiroshima, nurtured this influential DIY approach to street culture. The Stecyks, based in Santa Monica, regularly customized cars, worked in ceramics, hung with artists and architects. His father blended his own colors while working at Lincoln-Mercury Division, and C.R. learned to shoot on his namesake’s Signal Corps cameras, the advanced technology allowing him to publish some of the first highspeed sequences of skateboarding. That street-level approach to art powered numerous projects, as construction for the 405 and 10 freeways cut through a teenage C.R.’s neighborhood. Entire regions were left desolate in a massive case of urban eradication. He stripped abandoned cars, skated along fresh highway concrete and reconnoitered uninhabited neighborhoods. Shortly afterward, Pacific Ocean Park, an amusement park on Venice Beach, closed and quickly became a training ground for local arsonists. The beach to the new freeway became a DMZ, balanced perfectly between police jurisdictions as surfers, skateboarders, artists, perverts, the homeless and others interested in more nefarious activity ran feral. The rotting pier housed the Cove, a hardcore Locals Only surf spot where C.R. infamously wrote DEATH TO INVADERS along the wall. Craig Stecyk refers to the area at the time as “having a lot of studio space.” CR Stecyk co-owned the infamous Zephyr surf shop, recruiting and mentoring the infamous Z-Boys, whose anarchic approach to skateboarding clearly put them on the side of art rather than sport. His Dogtown cross identified his team’s turf and began showing up on skateboards and neighborhood walls and remains a constant to this day. He also pulled some straight jobs. Under various pseudonyms, he wrote and photographed what many consider that activity’s best articles for SkateBoarder.
While art-directing special projects for various brands, he instigated the first skateboard video and created the power phrase “Skate and Destroy,” using his own iconic font based upon his study of Japanese calligraphy. He worked among bullet holes as production designer for Pump It Up, the pioneering hip-hop TV show that started a retaliatory gang war after the 1990 Ice Cube interview led to the infamous Dre vs. Dee incident. By 1993, C.R. was curating shows like Kustom Kulture for the Laguna Art Museum and the following year helped start Juxtapoz magazine. While C.R. Stecyk III was an accomplished and collected artist in many mediums, he excelled in bold brushstrokes of thick confusion. Professional skateboarder Lance Mountain once said of C.R.: “People talked about Craig but he was behind the scenes. There was a mythology around Craig’s art. It’s not like a lot of artists now, where they need to be known for their art. Craig produced things for . . . that mythology. He didn’t need to be known; he just needed to produce a great thing.” Those “great things”? The L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art, National Art Gallery of New Zealand, King Stephen Museum in Hungary and Israeli National Museum all house Stecyk collections. Photography. Glyphed tools. Hand-pulled screenprints. Films. He has a habit of posting his work in desolate or decrepit locales, allowing decay to become an active collaborator. There is rarely any documentation or publicity surrounding these actions. C.R. simply leaves them like totems planted by a deity of mischief. He’s gone before the paint dries, like a coyote, his telltale gait most often witnessed strolling away
The Legendary “Rat Bones” by C.R. Stecyk III
There may be some crazy wisdom behind this form of display. C.R. makes you put a value on his efforts, and then shows why that value is incorrect. Do you save art in a museum or release it into the wild? He put forth that question in an L.A. Times article: “What’s the difference between the Sistine Chapel and the side of an underpass?” He also once said, “The activity is the art,” which sounds cute until you recognize how much of his energy is channeled into what he does with his art. At the heart of the Cold War, he once painted and buried a faux Russian bomb in the waters off Santa Monica. He waited until one of the busiest weekends of the summer to “disarm” it in full bomb-disposal regalia. He traveled with a portable casting unit and bronzed roadkill before epoxying it to a final resting spot. Some Caltrans worker probably has a pile of Stecyk art in his garage somewhere, which puts him in brotherhood with the illustrious National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. C.R. Stecyk III would mutter that he’d rather have somebody who really appreciates his art keep it in their garage, anyway.
Stacy Peralta, co-owner of Powell-Peralta, also appreciated what his friend had discarded. The infamous “Rat Bones” logo, arguably the most iconic piece of skateboard art, was originally spray painted by C.R. on the crumbling desolation of Venice Beach. Peralta recognized the logo for what it was: the Jolly Roger of the disenfranchised. In 1983, he convinced Craig Stecyk, who was helping art-direct Powell-Peralta skateboards at the time, to repurpose it as skateboard graphics. In true Stecyk fashion, his iconic symbol spread among the marginalized. It was chalked onto bombs by soldiers and even managed to trick the rest of the world. When kids thousands of miles away copied the Rat Bones on their small-town walls, police insisted the esoteric symbol was a clear case of Satanism. Close. The officials betrayed their ignorance by misidentifying the deity. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the trickster as a being “who is characterized as a compendium of opposites. Simultaneously an omniscient creator and an innocent fool, a malicious destroyer and a childlike prankster, the trickster-hero serves as a sort of folkloric scapegoat onto which are projected the fears, failures and unattained ideals of the source culture.” I think the Encyclopedia Britannica may have just written the most succinct bio of CR Stecyk III. yet.