It’s all downhill
Life and art cross paths just about anywhere.
Once in a while, you can look down at your feet and see them both. Carving a trail down a hill of fresh powder and getting an eyeful of a painted image of a bad-ass goddess slaying a snake used to be mutually exclusive activities. But now that Ryan Kronenberg and Ryan Bahlman have their way, snowboards are canvasses for their artwork.
Kronenberg, 27, a house painter by day, makes his artwork at home in the northwest Reno tract house he shares with three busy roommates. His paintings are stacked in the barely furnished living room. He renders acrylic robot families and rising phoenixes in the dining room, and the whole house is personalized with custom paint jobs in various states of completion. Kronenberg’s bedroom walls feature big, geometrical black-and-white designs that match the graphic layout of a square painting of a tree hanging above his bed.
“You can either elongate it or lay it out however you want to,” he says, gesturing to the tree. He’s referring to the process by which a square or rectangular image is adjusted to fit a snowboard. The phoenix, for example, started out as a 24-by-30-inch canvas with the bird hovering against a scribbled blue sky. Kronenburg and Bahlman photographed it, scanned it into a computer, then redesigned it to fit a snowboard-shaped template. The phoenix ended up cropped, stretched and isolated against a black background on a snowboard with the manufacturer’s logo, “Trilogy Arts,” written in Chinese-restaurant font.
Bahlman, known professionally as “Ryno,” works independently from Kronenburg just a few miles away in a spacious basement studio, where he’s also a film editor. There’s a neat wall display of glossy skateboards with slick cityscape images and enough leftover space for the 28-year-old to paint on.
Both artists contract with a handful of different snowboard manufacturers.
Ruben Sanchez, 36, owner of Trilogy Arts, a small Kings Beach company that designs and manufactures board-sports equipment, says a lot of snowboarders, skaters and surfers are also artists. He grew up surfing, then he worked as a graphic designer and spent several years as a photographer for Transworld Snowboard magazine back when the sport was dominated by a more renegade aesthetic. Everything with a style eventually gets co-opted by the mainstream though, and board sports are no exception. Sanchez says the too-frequent sight of corporate logos all over the slopes was part of his motivation for contracting a handful of artist friends and using their imagery on his products. His company is one of scores of small businesses laboring to defend the sport’s original commitment to individualism.
“We wanted the artwork to have a raw-artist style,” he says over the phone from his Tahoe office, comparing the work of his colleagues to the stock-imagery type of skiing photos he often sees printed on skis.
Kronenburg’s style fits Sanchez’s description perfectly; his themes come from the darker corners of the cartoon universe—disembodied eyes and organs, stationary human figures engulfed in swirling orange flames. His first art exhibit was at the Zephyr Lounge. But the only place to see his work these days is on a snowboard. Even though it’s officially spring, Kronenberg says there’s still time to strap one of his paintings onto your feet and glide downhill.