Who Designed My Topsheet?
Some of the graphics on skis and snowboards are really spectacular. Who draws this stuff?
Back in the late ’90s, I bought a skateboard from the company Antihero, and rode the thing into work every day. The deck had an amazing painting on the bottom, created by artist Chris Johanson, which unfortunately became more and more streaked and rubbed-off over my many commutes. But I liked the design so much I became obsessed with the artists who add the finishing touches to gear design. It turned out that Johanson had exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. When I got married a few years after that, my wife bought me a Johanson piece as a wedding present. This one hung securely on the wall.
My interest was piqued again when I saw Burton’s Custom X snowboard, which came out last month, with images by a painter named Brett Cody Rogers. Even the early technical reviews of the board refer to Roger’s striking topsheet, a rush of black and white brushstrokes around a solid black X.
What led Burton to choose graphics from an artist who usually exhibits oil paintings in international galleries? I did a little research and was surprised by what I found.
Burton’s Custom X Snowboard
Art or no art, many pros and advanced snowboarders covet the Custom X ($649.95). This is the eighth year of the model, and the just-released 2013 has new use of what Burton calls the Lightning Bolts Hi-Voltage technology, carbon strands woven into the fiberglass above and below the core to hold an edge and deliver longitudinal pop. The board itself has a directional shape front and back and a wood core with a “squeeze box” design (the core is thinner under your feet and thicker away from your feet for both maneuverability and power transfer). Last but not least, it comes in eight colors, each with an image originally made by a Los Angeles painter.
Brett Cody Roger’s Topsheet
Brett Cody Rogers was sitting at his computer one day when a message came in from the creative director of Burton: “Would you be interested in making some snowboard graphics for us?”
Rogers is a rising star in the fine art world, with recent solo shows in Berlin, Paris, London, and Los Angeles, but he’d never done graphics. He was thrilled—but cautious. He combed through the email’s routing details to make sure it wasn’t a joke.
Rogers was a bit confused, because there was no way the company could have known that he has a deep-seated love for snowboarding. “When I first started snowboarding, the graphic on my board was like a Jackson Pollack splatter painting in ’80s colors,” says the 35-year-old. “I think these kinds of images sort of get embedded in your memory. So of course I emailed back immediately with an emphatic YES.”
Rogers’ style seems well suited to Burton’s board. He typically starts out his more recent paintings with a bold X across the canvass, then works in fluid brush marks. Of course, the X resonates well with the Custom X model name, but on a deeper level, the mix of motion around a fixed center plays with the way top athletes will use the board this winter. “The X become a guideline for me,” says Rogers. “I find I get further if I place limits on myself. I use it as a compositional placeholder, then make everything shift around that. That way, the image feels both fixed and in motion at the same time.”
The exercise of preparing his paintings for the board has also put Rogers in touch with his past. He lives in Los Angeles now, and only gets on the snow a few times a year, but he grew up around the sport, “when most ski resorts didn’t allow snowboarding.” It makes him smile to see how far he’s come. From the days when he wore “lime green pants with black knee patches, teal and purple coat, and iridescent Oakley goggles” to being listed on the Burton website. He may never have gotten sponsorship, but click to see the board’s technical specs and you’ll find his name.