So Natalie Wong the talented artist behind “100 Paper Sneakers” is here in SA for The Power Play Griffin Sessions. She has quickly got her name out there in sneaker culture circles through this project. It’s called sneaker “culture” because it’s more than just sneakers. We found out more about Natalie and her project in this interview.
Many people buy sneakers but don’t actually wear them, instead they display them at home – exactly like an art collector.
(1) How did you get into sneaker culture?
NW: If I am honest, I am an outsider to sneaker culture. But the sneaker community and the lifestyle associated with it is something that really fascinates me. What I do share in common with the sneaker culture is a passion for design and the interest in the meaning or history behind something.
(2) How did ‘100 Paper Sneakers’ come about, why paper? And why AJ1s?
NW: The moment of inspiration came on during a trip to China. I was hired to hold a workshop for some VIPs for a Swiss Cosmetics company over a weekend back in the beginning of March this year. During the workshop, I would teach people how to make giant roses out of textured paper. Previously I had held paper crafting workshops at the Fringe in Hong Kong (a local subsidized arts organization that helps showcase local and emerging artists). As I was waiting to board my flight, I was chatting to a friend who works at the Fringe, asking her how things were going. She told me they were really busy because Nike were preparing to hold their Air Max Con event at the Fringe at the end of March. And then it suddenly hit me. Instead of making giant paper roses (which I had gotten extremely bored of by that point), wouldn’t it be interesting to make paper sneakers instead!?
NW: Paper is my go-to medium of choice. I am a big fan of Matisse who is famous for his paper cut out series he started making in the 1940s. Cutting into paper is like cutting directly into colour, you draw with your knife. On a sub-conscious level, I think it was because coloured paper was always something I had in my house growing up. I made all sorts of paper art as a child and it’s a material I enjoy working with. The possibilities with paper are limitless – the sheer range of different textures, thickness, colours and patterns gives me so much to work with.
NW: My artwork is about sneaker-culture and the way in which sneaker culture has transformed how we view sneakers. Many people buy sneakers but don’t actually wear them, instead they display them at home – exactly like an art collector. So, I thought it would be interesting to make an actual art piece based on a sneaker. I chose the Air Jordan 1s because I believe it is the sneaker that essentially gave birth to sneaker culture. At the time, the combination of matching a sneaker with a superstar basketball player was an irresistible force of attraction for youths who were looking of ways to express their identity and simultaneously look for a successful role model they could relate to.
(3) Is it easy to make the link between sneakers and art?
NW: Yes it absolutely is. From two different angles. Firstly, a sneaker fundamentally involves shape, colours, lines and textures. These are universal elements shared by any artwork. Where they differ is use. A sneaker can be used by it’s wearer but an art piece is to be appreciated for its aesthetic quality. It would have been more controversial if I had actually made a replica of the Nike Air Jordan 1, using the exact same materials and called it art.
Secondly, art and sneakers are a sub-set of street-culture. Street culture is like a family and sneakers and art are members of that family.
(4) Tell us more about the term ‘Identity through Consumption’
NW: I believe that what we choose to wear indicates how we want people to perceive us. How we want people to perceive us is how we would like to be identified in society. An individual can wear the most simple t-shirt and jeans, just those items on their own tell others very little about his personality, character or background. Perhaps he is relaxed about fashion? Maybe he is just a casual guy? If say, he then chooses to wear a pair of rare sneakers, suddenly other people will see him completely differently. That one additional item of clothing potentially tells us so much more about him. For example, you may say he must be connected if he was able to get those. He must be successfully and wealthy to buy them. He has excellent taste to choose these sneakers etc… We create our identity through what we choose to buy/consume.
(5) Who/what are your biggest artistic influences?
NW:Other influences include Andy Warhol, Jason Brooks, Tanya Ling and Zim and Zou. Andy Warhol is obviously an art icon and a pop art legend. Warhol’s concepts can be seen in my ‘100 Paper Sneakers’ work. Pop art portrays objects in its most simple, recognizable form. There are no expressionist overtones. Like Warhol’s 32 Campbell soup cans, I have 100 sneakers. We both use repetition as an appreciated technique.
(6) What does your sneaker collection look like?
NW: Compared to a lot of the true sneaker enthusiasts, not that exciting! I don’t have a particular brand preference (yet…) I have more sneakers with classic silhouettes.
(7) Do you have a favourite Air Jordan colourway?
NW: The Heiress Sail/Baroque Brown-White
You will find Natalie at The Powerplay Griffin Sessions this Saturday, 26 November at Carfax.