The Serra Brothers
Ivory and Shelter with Kerry King shot by Erik Foss.
For this week's Mahal, I got to chat New York City skate history with the Serra brothers. I first met Ivory and Shelter when I was 10 at Riverside skatepark. Soon, I discovered Ivory's photographs of just about every New York Legend from A to Z and Shelter's unique outlook on reality through sculpture. Below is a selection of their work and our conversation.
VICE: Where are you guys from and how did you both end up living in New York?
Ivory Serra:We were born in Bolinas, a small town in Northern California, 40 miles north of San Francisco on the coast. My brother and I had a vert ramp back in the late 80s and grew up skating with everyone from Marin County and SF back in the days of Concrete Jungle, the HP ramp, Casting Ponds, and spots like Ft. Baker and Miley. That was when the Embarcadero in SF was becoming the spot to skate. Golden Gate Park, YMCA ramp, China Banks, Hubba Hideout, Lincoln High, Sutro School, and many other sessions took place back then. After high school was college, four years at UC-Santa Cruz. Then I moved to NYC for graduate school at Hunter College. I've been living and skating here since.
Shelter: I moved to NYC after going to graduate school in Providence. Ivory was already living here.
How long have you been skating and what have been your favorite terrains to shred over the years?
Ivory:My first board was a Sims E Christian Hosoi with the rising sun graphic with Tracker Ultra-Lites and City Street wheels. That was around 1986. There were almost no skateparks back then so I grew up skating mostly ramps and the streets of San Francisco. There was always some new ramp or spot to hit. Pools have always been fun and I remember some nice ones in California. Buena Vista, the Black Bottom, and Pleasant Hill. I did my first front-side grind in the Red Onion pool in El Sobrante. The San Jose Warehouses, Derby park, The Cannery, Alcobendas, Louisville, and Marseille are all great spots, but NYC has always had the dirtiest streets where your wheels get bigger and now an amazing skatepark at Pier 62, thanks to Andy Kessler.
Shelter:I started skating in the summer of 1986. Sweat pants, Converse high-tops and vert skating. Over the years my favorite terrain has ranged from skateparks in Australia to backyard pools in Oakland. Way memorable curb sessions in Santa Cruz during the big pants small wheels era.
Coke Can shot by Ivory Serra.
Can you sum up the difference between skating back in the day at Riverside skate park on 108th street, to how it has evolved today into the giant concrete park in Chelsea?
Ivory:Things are always fast changing in NYC. During the late 90s, Riverside park was the only "skatepark" in Manhattan, and a there were some really fun sessions there on the vert ramp, mini, and street course. A handful of locals were always present making it a destination for every skater visiting NYC. Now there's Pier 62 that has an amazing bowl and tons of skaters from all around. Skateboarding is far more popular now than it was ten years ago. It's awesome NYC finally has a world class cement park.
Shelter:Skateboarding has become mainstream once again, like in the late 80s. One big difference is that skating is now cool and part of youth culture in a much more positive way, it used to be more renegade and hardcore. I think the Tony Hawk video games exposed a whole new cross section of American people to accepting that skateboarding was more than just McTwists.
Who do you guys shred these days and where?
Ivory:I skate Pier 62 mostly now that my ankle is better and the mini at KCDC is always fun. House of Vans when possible. I like sessions with my brother, Jocko, Armando, Tony Farmer, Papo, Puppethead, Grigley, Monihan, Jumonji, and all the other locals.
Shelter: I frequent the Pier 62, a few spots in Brooklyn, and anything that is rad to skate. Manhattan is like one big street park!
How did you guys get into photography, sculpture, other media?
Ivory:I've been shooting photos since high school and moved to NYC for graduate school at Hunter College. After receiving my MFA, I went to work for various photographers including Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger, Peter Beard as an assistant and learned a lot about lighting and working with subjects and ideas. When I turned 30, I decided to stop full-time assisting and do my own work.
Shelter: Wherever we traveled Ivory always had a camera, so naturally he took to photography and film. I somehow got interested in drawing things. That has lead to the recent sculptural works and cast objects.
Steve Olson shot by Ivory Serra.
What are some of the main ideas behind the art that you both create day to day?
Ivory: My work is a reflection of many aspects of my life. Skateboarding, travel and music all add to the images I've made. Creating a sense of timelessness in a photograph is a constant challenge. I want my work to pivot between the iconic and indexical.
Shelter:I like the idea that art should be accessible to everyone by reflecting the desires and concerns of daily life.
How does skating play a role within both of your artistic mediums?
Ivory:When you've skated for over 20 years, it becomes part of your life and the elements you see and create come from that experience. Skating provides you with an alternate view of the cityscape. The pedestrian obstacles like curbs and stairs have become our terrain. Photography and skateboarding are both about timing and practice, both self-gratifying.Shelter:Making art is very akin to skateboarding. It is an individual pursuit that presents its own personal rewards. The freedom to make something new.
Have the two different mediums ever become intertwined?
Ivory:My photographs have been used for various skateboard magazines. Also, I worked on a book, Full Bleed, with my two partners, Alex Corporan and Andre Razo. It's a 300+ page book on skateboarding in NYC with the work of over 60 photographers published by VICE books. My image of Andy Kessler pushing down the street is in the book so is Steve Olson riding with a girl down 5th Ave.
Shelter: We have collaborated a few times, once in NYC, once in Tokyo, Japan.
As brothers, have you been able to feed off of each other's energy to stay motivated to skate and create art?
Ivory:Yes. We've done a few art shows together and keep each other motivated by learning tricks together. Progression is healthy in art and skating. You want to keep doing new tricks and have new work to keep you thinking about ideas and solutions.
Shelter: Good energy is the best! As Tony Alva once told me "P.M.A."—Positive Mental Attitude—will get you through anything. I get motivated from watching my brother skate, also he has an incredible eye and natural ability to frame certain situations and environments to get the full shot or interaction. This translates into skating and making art.
What do you guys have in store for the spring?
Ivory: Spring in NYC is always the best time to skate. The winter is pretty brutal here and usually you get stuck indoors skating. So I look forward to sessions at Pier 62 and some traveling.
Artwork by Ivory and Shelter Serra and Words by Taji Ameen.
Hummer by Shelter Serra.
Watches by Shelter Serra.
Tokyo Disney by Shelter Serra.
Skate Trophy by Shelter Serra.
Skate Toss shot by Ivory Serra.
Tony Alva shot by Ivory Serra.
TNT shot by Ivory Serra.
Andy Kessler Rest in Peace. Photo by Ivory Serra.
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