Art & Sole, a new title from publisher Laurence King, is the first book to explore and celebrate the phenomenon of the now-frequent collaborations between sports shoe brands and artists. The book is split into two sections, the first looks at sneakers designed by artists and the second looks at artwork inspired and or funded by sneaker brands – from sculptures made from dissected shoes, to oil paintings on canvas, and even the customisation of the shoes themselves. Read on to see a selection of work featured in the book…
Here at CR, we have to declare an interest in this project as the book was researched, written and designed by ex-CR art director, Nathan Gale, now of Intercity. We asked him about the project:
CR: What is it about sneakers that designers just can’t resist?
NG: Trainers are fetishised by many – they can be beautiful objects that reference many elements of design, plus you can wear them. Collecting also seems to be part of most designers’ psyche, so trainers and designers have obvious links.
CR: What are the roots of the collaborations between artists and sneaker brands?
NG: Art and trainers have almost always gone hand in hand, from the early days of hip-hop when graffiti and sneakers were equally part of the culture, to skaters customising their shoes. It was only a matter of time before manufacturers picked up on this and started working with artists. I think the turn of the 21st century saw the biggest development in the phenomenon. The first instance I remember was the Gravis Artist Footbed project in 2001 (a collaboration between the Gravis brand and urban art stars Stash, Futura 2000, ssur, Kostas Seremetis and Phil Frost) and from there things seem to have exploded.
CR: What do brands get out of such collaborations?
NG: Credibility. Often these collaborations are produced in very short runs and are created not only to boost sales but also to maintain the ever-important connection with the manufacturers and their target market. Working with artists and limiting quantity is a way for a brand to prove its credentials.
CR: Is it now more important for sports brands to be fashionable or to be functional?
NG: Fashion is a huge part of any sports brand’s agenda. You’ve only got to look at the majority of trainers on the market (or in Art & Sole) to see that they are retro releases of older shoe models – Nike has even coined the term ‘sports culture’ for this type of shoe. Unfortunately too many manufacturers seem fixated on the past, meaning not enough new models are being released. Trainers are, of course, athletic shoes, and it’s the manufacturers’ pursuit of performance that can dictate a shoe’s appearance, constantly leading to new and exciting avenues. This search is what drives the evolution of trainers; incorporating the newest technologies and materials to create the ultimate in performance. All trainer incarnations, including fashion-based shoes, relate to this.
CR: What is your personal favourite artist/sneaker collaboration?
NG: That’s a tough one…. I suppose for me any collaboration that pushes the design of the shoe as well as just the colourway holds special interest. Tom Luedecke’s Nike Talaria Chukka is a great example [shown opposite, bottom right]. In terms of artwork, I have a canvas of a Nike Air Max 1 (Albert Heijn colourway) by Parra [opposite page, bottom] on my wall…. So that’s an obvious choice.
Below is a selection of sneakers and artwork featured in the book:
In 2005 Japanese Artist Katsuya Terada applied his art to the Nike Air Zoom Terra Tattoo. The graphics were inspired by the elements air, wind, fire and water. Limited to just 300 pairs the shoes were packaged in a laser-engraved wooden shoebox
This is the Nike Dunk High SB UNKLE, aka the DUNKLE – one of the biggest sneaker releases of 2004. The project was a collaboration between UK-based DJ and producer James Lavelle (founder of Mo’ Wax record label and one half of musical duo UNKLE), New York graffiti legend Futura 2000 and art director/designer Ben Drury. The shoes feature Futura’s famous Pointman and Atmos artwork, a combination of leather and nubuck and a patent leather swoosh. A total of 11 different screens were used to achieve the print effect. It’s rumoured that there are only five pairs of the low-top version in existence – they were made for Lavelle’s friends and family only
In 2007, renowned graphic designer, visual artist and professor (at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab), John Maeda teamed up with Reebok to create this Ventilator Timetanium. Inspired by the personal nature of sneakers, the project explored the mass-produced custom sneaker phenomenon, integrating production technology purely for artistic reasons. Maeda created original mathematic algorithms and computer codes to create the imagery for the shoe; his hand-written code is featured on the insole and lining of the shoe, with the graphic generated from this code displayed on the outer. Limited to just 100 pairs worldwide, the shoes were exclusively available through rbkcustom.com – reebok’s custom sneaker website
This Nike Vengence, entitled the GasrNike, was designed by London-based Gasius (aka Russell Maurice) in 2005 and was limited to 240 pairs. It was one of five shoes in a series known as the Capital Series
Nike’s Free Trail gets the Futura treatment. Released in 2005
New Balance Confederation of Villainy: Crooked Tongues‘ third collaboration with NB saw a collection of four different sneakers, each themed after a particular historical villain. A pair of NB 1500 was dedicated to the pirate Blackbeard, a pair of NB 577s to the Chinese outlaw Song Jiang, aka Black Sword, a pair of NB575s was themed around crook of the Old West Black Bart while NB 991s got the Black Tom treatment (he was a Bedfordshire highwayman, apparently). Crooked Tongues worked with Tattoo artist BJ Betts to produce themed premium packaging featuring Betts’ obsessively detailed art. Retailing at £150 a pair and available only through Crooked Tongues online store, only 99 pairs of each colourway were made
Surfer and artist Chris Lundy applied this flow-inspired artwork to a one-piece Nike Dunk as part of Nike’s Laser project, initiated in 2003 by Nike designer Mark Smith
California-based skateboarder and artist Neckface collaborated with Vans in 2007, creating individual art pieces for the DD-66, AV Era, TNT 2 and Sk80Hi models, along with matching T-shirts and a New Era hat
A pair of Dunks sits outside a sneaker shop. But these aren’t sneakers designed by an artist – but an art installation devised by an artist… In 2004 graffiti artist JUSE created several pairs of life-size concrete Nike Dunk sneakers (for the first project in a series entitled I Have Pop) and anonomously placed a pair infront of some of the world’s most high-profile sneaker boutiques. Without knowing where these concrete sneakers had come from, some of the stores even took them inside and put them on display. Word of the mysterious project spread fast and one year later all was publicly revealed sparking a huge response in sneaker circles
Vinti Andrews is a London-based fashion designer who created these pit bull dog sculptures in response to an invite to participate in Niketown’s 2006 Festival of Air event celebrating three decades of Nike Air Max
Artist Eric Quebral combines carpentry and his love of sneakers in a series of layered and cut wood-grain artworks
Lifesize chocolate sneakers by Switzerland-based design studio//DIY’s fashion and music brand, +41
+41 created these Mini Choco Sneakers in collaboration with Bastien Thibault from the Lausanne-based chocolaterie, Blondel (who also worked on the bigger chocolate sneaker shown above). Three different models of Nike sneakers were represented: the Nike Dunk, Air Trainer and Blazer
Amsterdam-based artist, Parra, is probably most famous in sneaker circles for his Air Max 1 Amsterdam collaboration with Nike in 2005. Designed for Nike’s Capital Series (see Gasius’ London sneaker earlier on in this post), Parra’s initial colourway, shown above, was based on Holland’s Albert Heijn supermarket corporate colours. The shoe was never produced as the supermarket chain changed its colour scheme to blue and white from orange, blue and white and so Parra then changed the design to the now infamous Red Light District colourway, featuring the famous “Airmax Girl illustration on the insole. Only 220 pairs were released worldwide plus 24 pairs which featured Parra’s embroidered signature