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Miles and his models at the skate park on the San Carlos Reservation which includes his mural art. Photo by LCGross
Apache Sketboards. Photo by LCGross

Douglas Miles: Artist, Activist, Apache

His work adorns the walls of museums and collectors as far away as the Smithsonian, and as close to home as the local skate park out at San Carlos. As a fine artist, the work of Douglas Milesartist, Apache and activistis hard to peg. His recent venture into skateboard graphics in 2003 has been met with mixed reviews by the art world, but has both the art world and the skateboard industry talking about his work, albeit  for different reasons. Skateboarders find his work cool. The art world finds it perplexing.

 Douglas Miles is okay with that. In fact, he seems to like controversy. It gets people talking and it keeps them from pegging his work into any nice tidy slot regarding what it means to be a Native American artist, or an Apache living in the 21st century.  He is an artist working off of his own definitions.

The signature style of Miles and his Apache Skateboard company. Photo by LCGross
The signature style of Miles and his Apache Skateboard company. Photo by LCGross

As an artist, Miles has been drawing since he was a child, and sold his first painting twenty years ago. Today, his paintings of Apache warriors set against contemporary backgrounds, and his use of strong graphics and color, has drawn notice from the art world. In 2003, he was named an “Artist to Watch” by Southwest Art Magazine. He received the Heard Museum’s best in category award, and first place for mixed media at the Santa Fe Indian Market. In 2004 and 2005, he was the Canson Masters’ Circle Distinguished Art Educator. In 1997, he was the artist in residence at the National Museum of the American Indian/Smithsonian Institution in New York.

 

“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children”  Chief Sitting Bull

His current passion is developing his company, Apache Skateboards, in a way which will expose more young people, both Native and non-Native, to Apache culture, and to tweak their interest in the past, while speaking to contemporary culture. That’s a nice way to say that his art has an edge to it, as does real life in the world of contemporary Native Americans.

Skateboard design by San Carlos Artisan Douglas Miles. Photo by LCgross
Skateboard design by San Carlos Artisan Douglas Miles. Photo by LCgross

The venture into the world of skateboarding was actually a result of his role as father first, and artist second. It might be said that it was born out of necessity, when his son got into the sport and found the price tag of those name brand boards with their full-color graphics too expensive, and not reflective of Apache culture. So Douglas bought a plain deck, no frills skateboard and painted an Apache Warrior graphic on the beechwood frame.

Originally it was “D’s” friends who took note of the design and asked for their own. From humble beginnings, his designs quickly caught on in the world of skateboarders, and a company was formed: Apache Skateboards.

 

The art world wants to know if his skateboards are fine art or pop art. He says, “Why can’t they be both?” Miles paints approximately 20 originals a year. Some, not all, of these images will be screened onto the beechwood  “canvas” of his skateboards. Currently his skateboards start around $50, but some of the out-of-print designs will go for as much as $300 on eBay. His “fine art” decks go to collectors and museums for $1200 on up.

According to the curator of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, Joesph Sanchez, “The boards bring Native culture into the 21st century. They access young people, and give them an understanding that Native America is current culture.”

And it does something else. It brings COOL to the Apache lexicon.

Douglas Miles is a smart man, a talented artist and a realist. His company, Apache Skateboards, is making inroads in an industry which, according to latest figures, grosses approximately $50 million a month in this country, and ranks as the third most popular sport in the age groups 6 to 18. If he is successful in creating a niche for Apache Skateboards in this industry, he will be reaching a whole generation of kids—both Native and Non-Native—and opening a door into a new definition of Apache. Cool.

Miles and his models at the skate park on the San Carlos Reservation which includes his mural art. Photo by LCGross
Miles and his models at the skate park on the San Carlos Reservation which includes his mural art. Photo by LCGross

For more on Douglas Miles and Apache Skateboards, go to:

www. Apacheskateboards.com 

Their motto today is “We make cool and fun stuff so you won’t have to.”

His art, which can be found on old coffee table tops, discarded truck hoods and other “canvasses” gleaned from modern life (discards really), blends warrior images from the past with realities of reservation life, and reflect what it means to be Apache today.

 

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About Linda Gross

Linda Gross
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.

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