David Flaugher considers himself a skateboarder first and an artist second.
He takes great pride and immerses himself entirely in both, but to him that’s where the parallels end.
“I don’t know how people interpret me at all as a skating artist type of thing,” said Flaugher, a lecturer I in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. “It’s a genre, but to me those worlds are so different that I can’t understand how people perceive (me).
“I don’t mess around with any of this. It’s just my personality, an all-or-nothing kind of approach.”
While he occasionally allows himself to wonder what life as a professional skateboarder would have been like, being an artist and lecturer is paying the bills for now. But to him, it’s deeper than just collecting a paycheck.
Visitors to his first solo institutional art show at the Eli & Edyth Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University can attest. The show is meant to address how people value the seemingly inconsequential objects in their daily lives as carriers of their personal and social histories.
On view through Jan. 16, 2022, the exhibition features five of Flaugher’s works — three paintings and two cabinets — that took the better part of two and a half years to finish. Two of the paintings are 5-by-6 feet and one of the cabinets is nearly 7 feet tall.
“It took me a long time to resolve how to have an exhibition that isn’t a mini retrospection, like here’s what I do because it’s my first big show, and also feel like an installation,” he said. “And I realized furniture does that and people interact with furniture or at least the brain does, they imagine somebody working with it. These cabinets are museum furniture or displays, but they’re also sculptures.”
His goal is to encourage visitors to think about what they’re seeing.
“I have a painting of a bunny. In some ways it’s just a white bunny that a child could enjoy, but in other ways the adult read could be there’s a purple cloud over it and the bunny’s isolated in the center of the frame and it’s a really intense picture,” he said. “I started to drive the work in a suggestive way, picking up these dual reads. You want people to look for longer.”
Flaugher grew up in the Detroit area and graduated from the College for Creative Studies in 2008 before going to the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development for his master’s degree. In between he joined an artist-run residency at the renowned Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Maine, where he further honed his passion for art.
After studying abroad with a graduate program in Berlin, he returned to New York in 2014 and moved back to the Detroit area two years later. He’s been teaching at Stamps for the past two years, this year overseeing two drawing classes and a painting class. He also has a gallery in Dallas, AND NOW, that represents his practice.
“It’s a jack-of-all-trades kind of a thing, but I’m a master of one, which is drawing,” he said. “I used to be more modest about it, but now I feel pretty good about it.”
The same goes for skateboarding, which he’s been doing for more than 20 years and is questioned by friends why he did not pursue a professional career in the sport. He shared video clips on his Instagram page, and they became such a hit that he created a “skate-only” account.
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His skateboarding talents — and ability to take a fall safely — played a big part in avoiding more serious injury when he was struck by a car while walking in March. A shoulder injury and a new outlook on skating were the lingering results.
“The experience was so extreme that skating just didn’t scare me anymore,” he said. “I was able to get away from the car accident because I was so good at falling.”
While he enjoys creating in his art studio, he finds true freedom on the four wheels of his skateboard.
“It’s only on my terms, and it’s as free as I can possibly be,” he said. “Even in the studio, I have to get rid of my friends’ voices, my gallerist’s voices. When I skate, I can just skate.”
What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?
Seeing Bill Burgard sketch the speakers at my first annual lecturer workshop was an absolute delight.
What can’t you live without?
Friends, family and my Theragun.
Name your favorite spot on campus.
I tend to gravitate toward the spots away from the busy streets, with a nicely lit tree to sketch from.
What inspires you?
The way my neighbors decorate.
What are you currently reading?
“Blood of the Immortal” by Hiroaka Samura.
Who had the greatest influence on your career path?