Matt Stevens is really, really into Nike’s Air Max sneakers. You might say they’re his muse–the Smith to his Mapplethorpe, the Flöge to his Klimt. You think that’s going too far? Stevens, a designer based in Charlotte, raised more than $40,000 on Kickstarter two years ago to finance the creation of MAX100, a book of 100 illustrations of what he calls “the greatest shoe of all time.”
Air Max turns 25 this year, making it roughly of age with the cohort that brought it back to popularity. To celebrate its birthday and its unofficial status as the hipster’s Nike, the brand invited several artists–including Stevens–to “do art stuff” to the shoe. Stevens’ contribution is a series of clever illustrations on par with his MAX100 work. The ten drawings are characteristically full of puns and references, just like the drawings in his book.
Meanwhile, in London, Nike is staging Air Max Reinvent, an exhibit of five artists who were invited to render the shoe however they like. The amazing watercolorist and animator Matt Box contributed, along with Bruno Drummond and Gemma Tickle. Rosy Nicholas’s piece is a beautiful, Memphis-esque architectural model. Illustrator Oscar Bolton Green takes the iconic air bubble as a jumping off point for a series of pictograph-like ink drawings, while Samy Coldy treats the subject with airbrushed, atmospheric renderings.
Sure, it’s easy to cry sell-out here, with artists and brands fraternizing especially close together. But on the other hand, for many of the artists here this is fantastic exposure, and many of their contributions are interesting beyond their association with shoes.