Sneakers and art are two very distinct categories, but both can fit under the umbrella of streetwear and sneakers to some degree. Overseas, there is a creative collective titled 400ml which is heavily leveraged in the space which has made a name for itself for its graffiti art, design and consultancy services for various sportswear brands such that
One of the founding members of this crew is ABS-NOISE, a China-based artist who focuses on various creative outlets including graffiti, illustration, sneakers and comics. He grew up in Dailan – a port city on China’s Liaodong Peninsula – and began to develop a love for sneakers when he immersed himself in the world of skateboarding. If there’s one thing to know about ABS-NOISE, it’s that he’s a fan of sneakers. Not only is he a fan of the products themselves, but he’s fascinated by how the stories are told through kicks as well as their lasting cultural impact.
His closet is full of various designs and colorways, but the shoe he cares about the most is the ever-classic Nike Air Force 1, which is why he chose to highlight it for his Sole Mates Payment. HYPEBEAST caught up with ABS-NOISE to talk about the profound influence of the Swoosh model, the parallels between art and sneakers and more.
HYPEBEAST: How did you fall in love with sneakers?
ABS-NOISE: I grew up in Dalian, I really liked skateboarding, and that’s what started to make me really like sneakers. It’s funny because at school if someone was seen wearing Nike sneakers they were usually the center of attention, but I was always drawn to DC shoes and thought that they were much cooler. I didn’t grow up playing or loving basketball, but I recognized the impact of Michael Jordan, and how talented and important he was to sneaker culture.
In 2008, I created the illustration organization “RUNEArt’s” and organized everyone to go to Beijing to attend a music festival. I ended up meeting the Israeli graffiti team “BROKENFINGAZ” at the event and one thing they asked me was where to buy cool shoes in Beijing. I’ve always heard of this sneaker store called DEAL, and after taking them there and seeing the awesome range of shoes on the way, I thought it was heaven. This experience will always be remembered for sparking my love for sneakers.
“The Air Force 1 helped me realize how many design possibilities you can pass on and that sneakers can also be a bridge to connect different cultures and creativity.”
Why is the Nike Air Force 1 important to you?
I became fascinated with sneaker culture after being exposed to graffiti. In my city, hardly anyone did graffiti, but I discovered this culture through films, music videos and magazines. And at the same time, I also slowly started to get in touch with hip-hop music, and I found that a pair of pure white sneakers often appeared, and that’s when I’ve heard of the iconic Air Force 1. From the classic “Original Six” poster, to LeBron James’ “Chamber of Fear” embroidery series, to the specially created “Tibetan Mastiff” for the lunar year of the dog, the Air Force 1 helped me realize how many design possibilities you can pass on and that sneakers can also be a bridge to connect different cultures and creativity.
Can you remember how you got your first pair of Air Force 1s?
In fact, I bought my first pair of Air Force 1s with my own money, which I’m very proud of. In my senior year of high school, I worked painting walls for kindergarten classes and used the money to buy things for my family as well as Air Force 1s. I remember having bought the red and white color that Moses Malone wore when he led the 76ers to a championship in 1982-83, but the shoes ended up being stolen after wearing them twice. It was a sad moment.
What’s your most coveted pair of Air Force 1s?
The most treasured pair for me is a pair of custom hand painted AF1s by my friend KIDDY who gave them to me on my birthday. We first met through graffiti and since he is also from Dalian, it made our relationship even stronger. It has nothing to do with the materials or the price, but the unique story behind the shoe, myself and my friend. Nike interviewed me for AF1’s 35th anniversary, and I mentioned that this pair expresses my hope to establish a Chinese graffiti embassy so that like-minded people can find a sense of belonging.
Do you see any parallels between graffiti art and sneakers?
As an inseparable part of street culture, both have kind of a process from unrecognized beginning to gradually being recognized by the public. Take the AF1 as an example, this shoe was almost discontinued in 1984, but now it’s considered one of the most classic sneaker designs in history; and in graffiti culture – controversial since its birth – has retained its underground style, but now finds itself prevalent in fashion, sneakers and art.
The strong personal style and story of each artist is graffiti’s most powerful “visual language”. In my opinion, sneakers and graffiti changed the rules of street culture because they both came out of nowhere.
You and the team helped design the Air Jordan 4 “Tattoo”. How did this affect your future sneaker path?
Thinking about this experience always makes me excited. This kind of opportunity is rare in China, and it is also the result of the joint efforts of our team. Although the final presentation has been adjusted, it still achieves the desired effect. It also helped me to understand the rules of cooperation with international sports brands and stimulated our desire to create. Ever since we got the “first ticket” to admission, we just felt the need to keep creating.
In your opinion, what new possibilities do you think there are to be gained in sneakers and art?
In recent years, you can definitely feel that the influence of sneakers in various fields is increasing, such as customization, artwork design, and art installation. Since we have also made custom sneakers before, we learned a lot about the structure and material combination of the sneakers. In the future, I plan to apply these learnings to new designs to try and make artistic toys that fuse traditional Chinese culture with sneakers.
Are there any other sneaker projects you’re involved in that you can tell us about?
During the Spring Festival this year, 400ml and Nike will present a signature basketball shoe with my favorite star, and the theme is “Gong Xi Fa Cai”. In order to give this traditional New Year’s blessing more youth and vitality, we have also created a line of limited edition accessories with the shoes this time.
There is also a story about “Gong Xi Fa Cai”. From transforming custom works that have been questioned without permission, to being able to cooperate with Nike officials, the brand has given us a lot of help and encouragement, and we are proud to use our strength to break down barriers.
“From the perspective of cultural development, when the enthusiasm and pride reach a certain level, then the sneakers surpass the product and become legendary.”
What do you think of the rapid development of sneaker culture today?
Judging from the development of recent years, sneakers are indeed a phenomenal product. Some people love a pair of shoes because of the story behind them; some people like it because their idols wear them. It’s a very subjective thing because shoes can be something cool to wear, something that helps you exercise better, or something in between. For example, my wife knows how to select the right shoes for different sports to ensure sports safety and performance. From the perspective of cultural development, when the enthusiasm and pride reach a certain level, then the sneakers surpass the product and become legendary.
What would you like to tell readers interested in sneaker design?
First of all, don’t be cowardly when you come across opportunities. Be brave. If you just talk about it, nothing will change and you will not derive strength or pleasure from it. Second, I now believe in the saying that design comes from life, and I will always be inspired by the people and things around me. In the end, as long as you persevere and work hard enough, you will have the opportunity to shatter doubts in the future and rely on strength to succeed.
This issue of Sole Mates originally appeared on HYPEBEAST CN and has been adapted accordingly.