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Travis Rice puts board art on display in Aspen

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesSnowboarder-entrepreneur Travis Rice is launching his sports-art venture, Asymbol, in Aspen during the Winter X Games. An exhibition of art related to snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding, including Jamie Lynn's "Moonlit Polihale," pictured behind Rice, shows through Monday at Galerie DeVore, 520 E. Durant Ave., Aspen.
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ASPEN – Snowboarder Travis Rice has noticed big gaps in the world he occupies. Some of the artists he has collaborated with on snowboard designs, people he considers enormously talented, were taking day jobs in kitchens, living check-to-check. Meanwhile, he suspected there was also a gap in the market: He had seen, over a decade-plus, the building of an iconography of images relating to snowboarding and the other board sports, surfing and skateboarding. These images – of mountains, bodies and mythological beasts – had worked their way into the consciousness of a growing segment of the population, yet there was hardly any way to obtain them.

“There really was a missing link between the creators and the appreciators,” said Rice, a 27-year-old native of Jackson Hole, Wyo. “I know there are people who would love to have some visually inspiring images that ring true to their lifestyles.”

Rice calls himself “the ultimate appreciator” of board-sport art, and now he can add to that title “the ultimate supplier” of such images. This week – when he’s not competing at the Winter X Games in Aspen, where he defends his title in the Big Air event, and also participates in the slopestyle category, in which he took gold in 2003 – Rice launches a new venture, Asymbol. The company’s website was activated on Tuesday, and Asymbol is currently presenting its first gallery exhibition at the new Galerie DeVore, in Aspen’s Ajax Mountain Building, across the street from the gondola. The exhibition, which runs through Monday, Feb. 1, features prints from a dozen artists, split evenly between photographers and those working with brushes and pencils.

Rice has been working on Asymbol for more than a year, with the snowless months devoted almost exclusively to the business. Much of that time has been spent unearthing images. The pieces he’s after haven’t previously been collected but exist in bits and pieces – in the warehouses of surfboard manufacturers in Southern California, on the computers of snowboard makers in New England, piled up in artists’ studios, hanging in private collections and, of course, on the boards themselves.

“I’m trying to do some catch-up before these things get forgotten,” Rice said on Wednesday morning at Galerie DeVore, where he and the Asymbol team were uncrating a couple of dozen works, almost all of which had never been displayed before in this fashion. “I’ve been tracking down these iconic, historically significant pieces that were in private collections.”

For much of his career, Rice has worked with board-making companies to create new designs. Typically he is given a budget, and the freedom to choose an artist who will make the graphics for the product. In the process, he has developed an admiration for the visual icons and the history of board art, and an awareness of how much those images can mean to a surfer, skater or snowboarder.

“People get attached to these graphics,” Rice said. “That’s what gets them to buy it, no matter how good the snowboard is. The typical reaction has been, ‘Oh, that’s my favorite graphic ever,’ and they’re psyched that it’s actually attainable.”

Among the notable works is “Craig Mural.” The original work, by Scott Lenhardt, was a mural, 11-by-20 feet, painted on the ceiling of a Lake Tahoe cabin. The figure standing at the top of a peak against a reddish sky, holding a snowboard, is Craig Kelly, a champion boarder who died in a 2003 avalanche in British Columbia. The original mural was vandalized a year and a half ago, but the image has been digitally restored.

Rice had a hand in making one of the pieces historically significant. “Blue Girl,” by Jamie Lynn, is a striking figure of a naked woman; the image was on the snowboard that Rice used through the 2005 season. At the X Games that year, while being interviewed, Rice held up the board for the cameras. “I got in trouble for putting those beautiful pink nipples on national television,” he said.

Lynn shows up again in the exhibition, as the subject of a portrait by Matt French. Lynn, who is as renowned as a snowboarder as he is for his art, “had such an impact on the total snowboard world,” Rice said. “He was such a character, and really changed the way snowboarding went. His riding was his loudest voice.”

Among those influenced by Lynn is Mike Parillo. The 37-year-old grew up near Los Angeles and became a professional snowboarder and snowboard park builder. He never trained as an artist, but came to think of his snowboard park elements as sculpture. “That was my introduction to the creative life,” Parillo said.

An injury to both of his knees in 1992 forced Parillo off the mountains for six months, time he spent in the company of Lynn. “He turned me on to what he was doing, the painting,” Parillo said. “He was also the best snowboarder in the world. It was cool to see he could put a graphic of his right on a board. You could see the effect it had on people – it just made them happy; it had that vibe. When art came into my life, that was it.”

Parillo has three pieces in the current exhibition. One of those, “For Jamil,” was the graphic design on the Burton Balance, the most popular snowboard of the late ’90s. The board was ridden that year by Norwegian Terje Haakonsen, who had a monster season.

“Burton did a big campaign with the art,” Rice said. “Time went on and people still love this piece. And they love that story.”

Parillo creates designs for the clothing company Volcom and the snowboard maker Lib Tech. But recently he gave up his day job in a Jackson Hole kitchen to work with Rice at Asymbol. Parillo oversees the print runs – editions of 100 for the smaller pieces, and 60 for the largest one.

Asymbol aims to be a company with a conscience. For starters, it is helping to create a market for these quasi-lost pieces of art; following the Aspen exhibition, there are gallery shows tentatively scheduled for Whistler, timed to coincide with the Olympics next month, and New York in March. Rice plans to add another round of artists to his roster in the middle of the year. A portion of proceeds from all sales are given to nonprofits; at the moment, two organizations working on environmental issues are the beneficiaries.

In addition, the current exhibition features the I Am Snowboarding section, which showcases six pieces. The project is in memory of Jeff Anderson, a professional snowboarder who died seven years ago in a fall off a stairway railing. The project brings together 23 photographers and 23 artists to make collaborative images of Anderson. The original works, on canvas, are in Aspen as part of a world tour; Asymbol has also helped create print editions of the works. Proceeds from I Am Snowboarding fund art education in public schools.

Parillo believes he is also doing good work simply by preserving the imagery and making it available.

“Art and snowboarding – it’s just gotten to the point of having a history,” he said. “People of my generation, these pieces will bring them back to those beginning years when they took up snowboarding. It feels like a nice way to perpetuate all those years of good times.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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