Joel Washington


Joel Washington is best known for his unmistakably psychedelic paintings, where mind-bendingly vivid colors combine to create striking portraits that leap off the canvas. Less known is his lifelong passion for skateboarding. Now Washington, a Bloomington native, is taking his art to the streets, releasing a line of skateboard designs that are sure to turn heads.

“I was a skater ever since 1977, and I still skate,” says Washington, pointing to a photo of himself gliding down a ramp at age 19 in a vintage issue of Skateboarder Magazine. “This was back before they ever showed skateboarding videos on TV—all we had was this magazine to read and look up to the pro skaters.”

When the young Washington wasn’t skating, he was painting, drawing his influences from ’60s pop artists like Peter Max and Andy Warhol and ’80s artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, who took their cues from graffiti. So skateboard art, closely linked to countercultural movements, is a natural fit.

In 2011, Washington began designing board art under the name Lab Ratical, a nod to one of his favorite ’60s underground artists, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, whose character Rat Fink became a mainstay of the custom-car and hot-rod culture.

“I’m big on Ed Roth,” says Washington. “As a kid, I collected the trading cards, and even now when I get a chance I go to the nationals in the drag races. The Rat Fink influence is there, and when people see it, they can tell.”

Washington has been glad to witness the Bloomington skate scene grow from its once-meager beginnings. “When I was starting, all we had were twenty-five people and one ramp, which we ran until it was ragged. Now we’ve got a skate park at Cascades Park, which has been there for over ten years. There are hundreds of skaters here, and two skate shops.”

His boards can be purchased at both of those shops: Amused at 212 W. 4th St. and Rhett Skateboarding at 118 S. Rogers St. They are relatively inexpensive at $50 for a standard board and $60 for a long board. “It’s not about profit,” says Washington. “It’s about putting out a quality product that people can skate at an affordable price.”