.Screaming Hand Exhibit Honors The Iconic Skateboarding Illustration

The Screaming Hand and its legacy are on a 30th anniversary world tour, and will be making a two-week stop at San Jose's Empire Seven Studios.

AHHGG! : The work of Jim Phillips, who created the world-famous ‘Screaming Hand’ for Santa Cruz Skateboards, will be honored at Empire Seven Studios.

With its toothy, agape mouth; wildly undulating, mid-scream tongue; and desperate, clawing fingers, everything about Jim Phillips Sr.’s Screaming Hand demands attention. The cool electric blue of its skin, contrasting with the red drops of blood, jagged bone and flailing sinew, are easily recognizable as one of Santa Cruz Skateboards’ longtime logos.

Created by Phillips in 1985, it is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of graphic art of the last 30 years—and certainly makes the short list for the most famous pieces of skateboarding art, ever. Now, after three decades of inspiring skaters and artists alike, the Screaming Hand and its legacy are on a 30th anniversary world tour, and will be making a two-week stop at San Jose’s Empire Seven Studios.

Born in San Jose and raised all over the South Bay, Phillips had been toying with variations of the hand since the late ’50s. The final image of the Screaming Hand came into being after Phillips was commissioned to design something for the speed wheels department of Santa Cruz Skateboards and he thought of his old standby doodle.

“I thought how artists through the ages have used the hand to convey feelings and express emotions—so I knew I was onto something,” he says, “but mostly I liked the raw and blunt statement it was making of unbridled angst.”

Rawness is at the heart of Jim Phillips’ work. His art is a panoply of comic book boldness, irreverence and surreal mindscapes. Even though Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Robert Crumb and newspaper comic art were big influences on his early work, he says it was Salvador Dali and Walt Disney who really tied his style together. The rise of skateboarding, and more specifically the idea of the skateboard as a canvas, allowed Phillips’ bold but crude aesthetic to shine through.

“It just turned out that skateboarders have embraced art more than any other sport or activity,” Phillips says. Whereas surfing had an innate natural majesty, skateboarders had to build their own beauty out of the concrete landscape. “They didn’t have a wave, just unglamorous dirty bricks and asphalt. So they painted the bricks and asphalt and they painted their boards. That’s all they had, their art, their music and their skateboards.”

Phillips’ art is so famous that it has suffered the ultimate compliment: being stolen—most notably in an incident with fashion designer Jeremy Klein. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” says Phillips of the controversy.

The enduring legacy of the Screaming Hand and Jim Phillips is worldwide. Artists from around the globe who have contributed their version of the Screaming Hand includes Andy Jenkins, Judi Oyama, Benny Gold, Thomas Campbell and veteran skate artist Sean Cliver. This list also includes many legendary pro-skaters turned artists like Steve Caballero, Natas Kaupas, Jason Jessee, Steve Olson and Mark Gonzalez.

These re-imaginings, on display at the Empire Seven show, take many forms, including polished woodcuts, screenprints ceramic sculptures, spray paint on panel, and pen and paper. The show ranges from nearly abstract deconstructions to surreal and expressionistic tributes. The Screaming Hand 30th anniversary exhibit is the brainchild of Bob Denike, president of NHS, Santa Cruz Skateboards’ parent company.

“He did an amazing job coordinating all the many elements it takes to present the work of 50 artists to 25 cities of the world”, says Phillips.

These days, Phillips is 71 years old and easing out of the art grind. But his bold, expressive style has become something of a family business. Both his son and grandson have taken up the mantle. “Jimbo is making a good name at Santa Cruz for his awesome graphics as well,” Phillips says, referring to his son. “And my grandson Colby, who is 14, has already been taking commissions.”

What does he tell them about a career in art and design? “Just do what you like to do and hope for the best.” Phillips says. “Then, whatever happens, at least you are doing what you like to do.”

The Screaming Hand: Celebrating 30 Years
Jan. 16-30, Free
Empire Seven Studios, San Jose

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