Roberto Cuellar Santacruz about art & his new work at the Skatehalle Berlin.

We can talk about skate art all you want and people that do art will probably cringe more often than not. But what Roberto does is different. He is a skater that does art and his work just happens to lend itself to be skated. Which doesn’t mean that it is skate art it is more like skateable art. What is the difference? That is something you can find out by reading this second edition of our Long Read.

All photos by Dennis Scholz
Interview by Roland Hoogwater.

Hey Roberto, how are you?

Right now, I am fine! I just got word that after one year of being without a studio, I finally found a new space. I had moved from Düsseldorf to Berlin after having finished my studies at the art academy. So from then to now, I didn’t have a space to make anything. Which was a crazy feeling, I was used to just work hard and produce. So it was both good and bad, but it forced me to save up ideas, find new perspectives, finetune them inside myself, and now I can start to bring them to reality.

I can imagine, you did do some work though, tell us about your project at the Skatehalle Berlin. How did that happen?

The collaboration with Skatehalle Berlin started with teaching kids from different cultures, helping them do art, multiple times a week. They have asked me to show them how painting and/or stencils could be put on a skateboard. I had no experience working with children but it went well. Beginning of July 2020, news came that the Skatehalle had changed owners. Sara came and told me there was no time to remodel the park and build but instead they wanted to know what would be possible. I felt that by using, motifs, colors, and shapes on their walls we could at least create an atmosphere that feels different from the situation before.

How long did it take you to go from that raw idea to a concept?

7-days. I talked with Yamato Living Ramps to get the 3d drawings of the park because if I would have to draw the whole area it would have taken longer. But thanks to their help, I could make the sketches and present the project as fast as I did. To be honest it was nice because I could easily do experiments with shapes and colors this way. After that presentation, the whole thing started to move fast.

What part did the kids play into the work?

when the kids and I were searching for places to exhibit their work (which we then put on the billboards) we looked for different places in the park where we could place artistic prints that would make sense to the skaters and visitors. so they helped me to find the right places and spaces to put them.

How did you go from 3d drawings to the work we see now?

I had a beamer, with that I projected the designs on the wall. I then did the outlines with different sized tapes. Nice and tight. My work lives from sharp edges and mathematical precision so it was important to do it with care. Important to note is that I had to out line one whole shape in one sitting. Because of the precision it takes. If I had to re-set the beamer my work would have suffered. . The park was open during the day so it turned into a lot of night work. The longest being 19:00 until 9:00 in the morning.

Did you have help?

Lea Isabell helped me for 2 days, some other skaters like Sandro, Emre und Ryan stayed after the sessions and helped as well. It was hard work but fun.

Most people know your work as 3d sculptures but these are paintings.

I started with skateable sculptures something I was doing even before starting at art school. The general process of building hasn’t changed as much but my attitude has. It starts with two sketches on paper and from there I go to 3d. First I only knew how to work with wood but once I started at the academy I experimented more. So as you saw with my sculptures during SKTWK they were made by cutting out plexiglass shapes that were then supported by steel frames. Handmade and then combined with my geometric shapes, which I painted on the plexiglass boards.

One of the steel and plexiglass works from the SKTWK 2018.

Did that change your work?

When it is built with skating in mind, the functionality is extra important but it can’t be the only thing. I need 3 three elements – the technical side of things, like the room & the way that the object will get used by the client. I also need to know what mood I want to exude with my work and finally then come the shapes.

So back to the Skatehalle, how did that translate for you, and how did you come to these works?

Well, the medium was painting, the use was skating, and the goal was “How do I create a different appreciation of space” into a well-known place.

It had to be on the walls but 2D essentially. So to make these shapes I work with a grid, and within these grids, I go looking for shapes. I start with lines and afterwards through the use of colors I go towards shapes. I then keep working until I find a shape that has a certain personality. It is a way of seeing and people often say my work reminds them of logos. Things like an emblem of a football club or a poker chip. People want to see certain things and interpret them through their own grid and that is what I am interested in.

So these shapes in the park don’t represent anything particular but in another way they do. That is their “personality”.

Yes, for this project I am working basically with 2 graphics and those 2 shapes are shown in different ways through colors and distribution between lines to show different characters or moods within the work. Which is a new thing for me that I am exploring now.

One of my questions going into this was if we are looking at one single work (installation) or are we looking at a series of works?

They are multiple works, these shapes are also not limited to this space, they could show up again in other works of mine later on. I see possibilities of working them into a sculpture as well. I want to show these “graphics” can have a long life. I have a database of shapes and when I start a new project I go back and look at those shapes and see if I want to relive and work with some of these images or if I have to create something new.

A never-ending story, and in its own way a series of works. Can you tell me how you feel about the work being skated?

I feel good about that. But it is different than before. For instance, before my time at the academy, I built these big works, put a lot of detail in them. But then they got skated and once they were done I had to deconstruct and discard them. I didn’t have the space to keep the works. That bothered me a bit, the longevity wasn’t there. Don’t get me wrong using something and then moving on is a part of skating but I wanted them to last.

So during SKTWK in Düsseldorf, I changed the concept and the materials so it would make sense for me that skaters could leave traces and use the sculptures.

Now in the SHB (Skatehalle Berlin) only the wallride will get skated and that is why I chose to put that shape there because it suggests motion and the traces of the skaters would make sense on that shape.

Still, how was that first moment to see people skating it?

By now, I am used to it. For me when the work is done it is a beautiful thing. A private moment, I want to chill, smoke a cigarette, and look at the work. But after that moment is over I am happy to see people use the space and the works. It is cool!

Roberto wallriding his own work at the Skatehall Berlin 2020.

How has the response been?

Good, I haven’t heard any bad news but maybe they are talking behind my back (laughs).

How long will this work be in the space?

I don’t know but I did suggest working on different things like skateable sculptures in the park and I hope that we can work together in the future to make those happen.

I understand that is all, anything more to add from your side?

No, you asked me about everything I wanted to talk about (laughs).

Roberto’s Skatehalle Berlin pieces were realized together with the children under the “Diversity Decks” project created by Drop In e.V.

More on the updated Skatehalle Berlin tomorrow, so keep your eyes peeled!