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  • Daisuke TanakaPHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF GYO MASAKI
  • Daisuke TanakaPHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF GYO MASAKI
  • PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF GYO MASAKI

Daisuke Tanaka: Skateboard File V

, 2010/06/25

Skateboarding needs art as much as it needs skaters. One of the pros and artists operating at the intersection of the two forms is Daisuke Tanaka. Although more affectionately known as “DEE,” Tanaka goes by a few other best-not-published nicknames you will just have to ask him about; another one of them, “Diskah” was given by West coast pro Matt Rodriguez.  Daisuke “DEE” Tanaka grew up in West Tokyo and his continued balance of painting, photography and skateboarding through exhibitions and appearances in skateboard films has made him one of the most recognized faces in the skate community.

“Since I was a kid, I had been painting with my mother, who had done a lot of ceramic painting and my dad actually worked for a paint company so I had endless supplies. I actually wanted to be a comic artist but I ended up getting so involved in skateboarding that I somehow forgot about that dream.  I guess you could say my older brother inspired me to to start skating, although I think I started a bit late actually, when I was seventeen, but I’d been surfing since I was thirteen. I was a student then and just going to the beach on Sundays and in the downtime, I just started having fun with slaloms and turns. One day on my way home I saw some kids doing tricks, which was like my first exposure to street style skating. When I got home I tried a boneless and ended up with a few bumps and bruises which made me stop for a couple weeks but since I started up again, I haven’t stopped. I’d say the other half of my inspiration comes from the Venice skate scene in California. You know, Dogtown and Z Boys. I had been out there a few times and even though they looked a bit tough and gangster, they were all really nice and friendly. The new (school) wave of skateboarding the 1990s brought inwas almost like a fork in the road. Style-wise, things were changing and I remember kicker-ramps and pool skating were fading but I still see the Z Boys as a base of my style, namely guys like Jay Adams, so today, I’m proud to be on the Japan Dogtown and Z Boys Team. I still think about making it back to California to skate some more pools.”

When DEE was in his late twenties, he shared a house with a few artist friends which became an informal unit for painting and skating. “I lived with six friends, one of them was Kami actually and Kami was the one who always said, ‘let’s go out and paint’ so I would go along with markers and cans and started throwing up what I had previously been painting on my own.” The mixed group of artist and skaters eventually formed into a loose crew though made their presence known with exhibitions in Paris, then under the group name M.U.R.,  as well as in Japan as part of a group exhibition at the Art Tower in Mito. “When we had an exhibition at the Art Tower in Mito, which was basically because the curator really liked graffiti, we were all kind of excited about the group show but actually, we thought it was a trap [laughs]!”

Even though groups comprised a large part of DEE’s artistic activity, he affirms he’s a loner at heart. “Even though we were living and practicing together, it was never about being a gang of any kind for me. People talk too much behind each other’s backs in gangs and even though I love getting out to paint and skate, most of the time, I just like going out alone. Especially now that I have my six month old daughter. Not only does she keep me busy but everyday brings something new- it’s actually really inspiring.”  Such a self-affirmed soliloquist, Tanaka even named his own label, simply, Own. “It started in 1994, when a creative unit was starting to form, we called ourselves the ‘Original World Network’ and were practitioners of a blend of art and street culture, making everything from clothes to street graphics.” Every summer, Dee and his team did their own, ‘OwnTour’ and went all over the country doing demos at parks and events with live MCs and DJs. “One of our friends had a camera and came along to document the whole adventure. Whenever we had some downtime, I’d take his camera and photograph people skating, or take a few portraits of the people around us or even just some landscape shots.”

Tanaka’s reportage style of photography has stayed with him ever since. The adventures haven’t solidified into the stuff of legend just yet around these parts, however some of the photos have been published in a previous issues of Sb. “I ended up forming a photography duo with PAI, aka Miyuki Hirai and we based our style on the natural, candid moments we experienced. Since 2003, we have been active as a photo duo and setting up our own group exhibitions, where we show photos of the community- the graffiti, the hardcore bands and well, just skate life. It’s always fun because the younger kids come to check it out as well as the people we took photos of, it’s always a nice gathering. Actually, this summer, is the third one so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Daisuke Tanaka can be found skating at his favorite spot, and upcoming Skateboard File Feature, Felem.

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