Design Inspired by Sneaker Culture

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Do you have more trainers than your girlfriend has shoes? If so, this blog's for you because you're officially a sneakerhead - which, in layman’s terms, is a trainer-addict.

And you're not alone, because we love them here at Thrive, too. So whether you call them sneakers, trainers, kicks or plimsoles, we wanted to share some of the incredible art and design that surrounds the sneaker culture and introduce you to some of the artists involved.

English Artist Phil Robson is better known as the artist Filfury. He takes iconic silhouettes of shoes by Nike, Adidas and Reebok and, through a combination of photography and photo-manipulation, flips them into other familiar objects.

In the past these have included skulls, guns, and a variety of insects - in fact, you may have already seen some of his ‘mashups’, as he was commissioned by Adidas to create a series of prints in celebration of the Brazilian World Cup. Which makes perfect sense, given the country's culture of creativity and fondness for street art.

Nick Glackin is a photographer who first started combining his two passions about 18 months ago, in a series of work called 'Microdudes'. The aim of the Microdudes photos is to visually demonstrate how big Nike's Air Max has become.

Nick Explains: "I wanted to visually explain how big Air Max had become, by using the Air Max shoes in the images. That’s when I first decided to use Architectural models to add an element of scale. I had a lot of fun messing around on that first image, so afterwards I wanted to take it a little further and see if I could create some other dioramas with the microdudes and some of my sneaker collection."

Nick regularly posts his work on his Instagram account, which has become so popular he's now continually looking at different shoes within his collection and pairing them to relevant themes. The main difficulty, he says, is finding the appropriate figures for the shot. "Unfortunately they don’t always exist," says Nick, "and I often have to modify or hand paint some of the figures I already have."

Artist and sculptor Gabriel Dishaw likes to make sneakers entirely from recycled junk. They can take upwards of 90 hours to assemble and are fabricated from discarded motherboards, unwanted typewriter cases, broken chipsets, faulty power connectors, USB ports and even an oxygen mask from a 747 airplane.

As an artist, Gabriel has a passion for working with metal and discarded mechanical objects. His work is not only a way for him to express himself, it brings a new lease of life to otherwise unwanted waste, often turning it from something ugly into something weirdly beautiful.

In the future he says he sees his work evolving into “shoe sculptures that are so refined, you’ll think they’re real.” He also creates a lot of Star Wars inspired pieces too, and has even cross-fertilised these two favourite themes of his in his Air Vader sculpture.

Insa is a UK artist who first made a name for himself on the London Graffiti scene. He has since gone on to achieve international recognition for his work and is known for developing a unique style of moving art all of his own, he calls GIF-iti.

However, what brought Insa to the attention of the world is his signature design, which features a recurring pattern of high heels and stocking-clad legs; it’s a development and exploration of the idea that graffiti and art is a type of fetish and addiction.

It’s a design which has since been used in installations and displayed in galleries around the world, and which Insa adapted for a special show - Nike’s exhibition ‘Festival of Air’ held in London’s NikeTown back in 2006. Here we see a custom-made Air Max 90 corset which he designed, along with his famous stocking and heel design in the background (except the heels have been replaced with Air Max 90s).

Jethro Haynes is an illustrator, designer, sculptor and model maker who lives and works in London. He uses a wide rang of materials to create (amongst other things) projects that tell a story, bringing an often strange and alien world to life.

A lot of his work finds its way into ad campaigns, with models having been built for Pointer Shoes and the athletes foot treatment Lamisil Once. He says the pieces are extremely time-consuming to make, as all the parts have to be sourced before they can be put together.

Streetwise is another piece or work that appeared in Nike’s ‘Festival of Air’ exhibition. It was a commission by Nike and created by Dutch artist, Juse, after his project, I Have Pop, brought him to the attention of art & sneaker fans around the world.

The piece explores the contrast between the lightness of the Air Max shoe and the heavy surface materials used to make the streets on which they walk.

According to the I Have Pop website, after the exhibition, the piece was moved to an outside location near London’s Brick Lane, where it stood for almost a year before being moved to the Streetlab exhibition in Amsterdam’s Westergras terrain.

Also hailing from Holland is this incredible piece created for Onitsuka Tiger (also known as Asics). It’s part of an ad campaign from creative agency StrawberryFrog, the core of which was a strategy which centred around the theme of 'Made in Japan'.

The piece, entitled The Electric Light Shoe, was the centrepiece of the campaign and was manufactured using 3D printing (a relatively new technology at the time) with the help of Freedom Of Creation.

It measures 1 metre in length and pays homage to the Tokyo skyline. Details include, neon signage, motorways, airplanes, runways and an airport, vending machines and vibrant street market and even Godzilla.

The final shoe was created by FOC designers Janne Kyttanen and Mads Thomsen before, being shot by Japanese photographer Satoshi Minakawa, and displayed in Onitsuka stores in around the world.

Eric Quebral is a Canadian artist, famous for his work with wood. He says his pieces have always been about the deconstruction of objects, mixing characteristics to create a dynamic tension that somehow fits together, presenting something familiar in a new way.

Most of his work makes use of popular culture and often involves recognisable imagery from mass media or consumer culture; the reasons for this are twofold: it provides a never ending supply of fresh inspiration which is immediately recognisable, as well as creating an interesting relationship between objects and meaning.

His woodgrain work (seen here) started out as a college exercise to help him improve his Photoshop skills and slowly evolved into work with layers of real materials. It’s been ongoing now since 2002 and he calls this style of working ‘Gepetto' after the carpenter who was Pinocchio’s father.

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Just as there are those of us who suffer from sneaker addiction, there are those who can’t stop buying designer toys. Therefor, it made perfect sense for the marketing men to combine the two - thus creating the crack-cocaine of the collectables world.

One example of these highly addictive ornaments are the Adidas Qees, created in 2003 when vinyl toy company Toy2R combined forces with Adidas. The duo later launched the Adicolor Qee Set in 2006, with an exhibition being held at the Bread & Butter Trade Show in Berlin.

The exhibit featured Adicolor Qees which had been customised by selected artists and designers from around the world, including Marvel Comics' Todd McFarlane, and Agathe Jacquillat, Gary Baseman and Tomi Vollauschek of London-based design studio FL@33.

OK. This is where things start to get wierd. Meet Gary Lockwood AKA Freehand Profit who, in his own words, pays homage to sneakers by "destroying coveted kicks in order to make gas-masks from them."

Yup, you read right.

Weird as that may sound, the results are quite extraordinary - both terrifying and beautiful in equal measure.

Lockwood graduated from the Corcoran School of Art & Design in 2005 before moving to LA in 2006. However, it wasn't until 2010 that he started a year long creative project, inspired by Noah Scalin’s ‘Skull-A-Day’, called MASK365. Every day for a year he drew, designed, assembled and painted a mask and published the work on his website.

Quite a commitment. And Lockwood explains the shear volume of work was the catalyst that lead to his eventually working with sneakers: "This creative gauntlet forced me out of my comfort zone and a few months into the project my hunt for new materials led me to tear a Gucci handbag apart at the seams, only to reassemble it into a functioning gas mask/purse. The finished work clearly held the key to unlocking my next body of work, but I knew and cared very little about handbags. I wanted to work with materials that I cared about and revered."

This next project is a collab between london artist Damilola Odusote and Jon Fidler of Modla. The project came about after Fidler saw some of Odusote’s work at an art fair in 2013 and thought his intricate style of drawing would lend itself perfectly to the incredible medium of 3D printing.

The artists say the idea of the project was to show some of the influences behind one of Nike's most popular sneaker silhouettes, the Air Force 1. Damilola explains: ‘The ethos and various iconic elements of what has influenced the Air Force 1 are all incorporated and inextricably connected in this artwork. The thought process is a journey from A to B, and elements such a the tunnel in/out of the city signify this. I look at my 2D illustrations as a story, a moving narrative, and this project has brought this vision a step closer to reality.'

Damilola's original pen and ink drawing (below) became a blueprint for Fidler, which he brought to life using a 3D printer to create the final piece: A wonderful 3 dimensional sculpture showing the history and influences of Nike's AF1.

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Posted by Jerome Iveson