Nowadays, every sneaker forum on the Internet has a swarm of kids fiending the customs section, learning how to paint on shoes, and posting up their most recent works. Most of these wannabeâ€™s will drop a few pairs, get bored or frustrated, and bow out of the game for good. Graffiti artist, Sneakerpimps performer, and all-around dope artist, Jor One is not one of these kids.
Format: Give a short introduction to Jor One.
Jor One: Iâ€™m originally from California and grew up in San Francisco. I started doing graffiti in 1993 after visiting some of my family in NYC. In about 2001, I branched out from graffiti to custom clothes and sneakers. Right now Iâ€™m in living in Brooklyn, New York.
Format: Talk about how you became involved in painting custom shoes?
Jor One: It was completely unintentional. One day about five years ago, this drug dealer had asked me to do his name in graffiti on his Adidas Shelltoes. I didnâ€™t think too much of it at the time and just banged it out using paint pens, which I would never use now. The shoes came out pretty fresh, and when I gave them back he tossed me like 50 bucks. I was a starving ass graffiti artist back then, living pretty much on paint fumes and stolen food from Trader Joeâ€™s. So, I thought I had struck gold when I got that money so easily. I kept doing the graffiti on shoes, and learned through trial and error about what shoes to paint on, what kind of paint to use, what kind of designs were easier to sell, etc. And at the same time, the whole sneaker scene started to explode into what it is today. Itâ€™s been a long, painful journey to get this thing to where it is now. But now the drug dealers are dropping $500 to $2000 to get shoes, so things have definitely moved in the right direction for me.
Format: You were a graffiti artist before you started working with shoes. What influence has that had on your work?
Jor One: Itâ€™s had a huge impact on the way I paint sneakers. Many of the same techniques, color combinations, and designs are taken directly from my graffiti art. I often use an airbrush to get the feel of spraypaint on my sneakers. I also tend to use really bright, sometimes too bright, colors to stand out from the crowd, just like I would on a wall.
Format: Talk about the similarities and/or differences between painting walls and painting shoes.
Jor One: For me, painting graffiti on walls is just pure fun. The act itself is thrilling and makes me feel alive. On the other hand, paining shoes is tremendously tedious, and just one pair of shoes can take up to 160 hours to paint. 50% of painting kicks has to do with business, marketing, sales, and all that bullshit. Money and business have taken most of the fun out of painting shoes, but at the end of the day we all gotta eat. So sadly doing graffiti has taken a back burner to painting shoes over the last few years. One day Iâ€™ll drop everything and just worry about painting graff again.
Format: How do peoples responses to your work vary from medium to medium?
Jor One: I think the average Joe prefers my sneaker work over my graffiti. This is probably because most people donâ€™t understand graffiti or graffiti culture, and some even find it highly offensive. But obviously everyone can relate to shoes. We all have to wear them and we all have a hunger for something outside the norm. When people see my custom shoes, they usually like them because theyâ€™re so different.
Format: Many customizers will produce multiples of the same shoe, whereas you paint only one of a kind exclusives. Explain what made you come to this decision.
Jor One: I came to that decision because Iâ€™m an artist, not a factory. I doubt anyone ever approached Leonardo de Vinci and said, â€œYo Leo, why donâ€™t you set up an assembly line and make me a limited run of 50 Mona Lisas. Then we can sell them at exclusive boutiques across Europe.â€ Obviously Iâ€™m not on de Vinciâ€™s level artistically, but I am an artist who likes to explore new territory and try new things. So it just doesnâ€™t make sense for me to sit around and do the same thing over and over again when I can try something new.
Furthermore, one of my most frustrating challenges as an artist who paints sneakers is convincing the masses that what I do is art. It is not something to be bought, worn, and discarded like your average pair of shoes. Each pair is an original piece of art that will never be made again. So when people want to buy my best designs and actually wear them, they are in effect destroying what I would consider a masterpiece. Something about that disturbs me very much.
Format: What makes your shoes stand out against other customizers?
Jor One: Well first of all I donâ€™t take any custom orders or requests from anyone. That way Iâ€™m creatively uninhibited and donâ€™t have to worry about making anyone happy but myself. I just paint whatâ€™s natural and interesting for me, and Iâ€™ve found that my work has gotten much better because of that. I also take way longer to paint each pair than any sane customizer would, sometimes three or four weeks on one pair. Iâ€™m always more concerned with making a nice finished product than making a quick buck. And finally, Iâ€™m not afraid to take risks. Iâ€™ll paint a design even if I know itâ€™ll be hard to sell or most people wonâ€™t like it. Iâ€™ve seen that most other kids who paint shoes are too concerned with what their little buddies on Niketalk.com will think about their designs. So they just do whatâ€™s already been done before, and they never end up pushing the art form into new areas.
Format: Who are some of the companies and people you’ve most enjoyed working with since you got involved in the custom shoe world?
Jor One: Peter Fahey and all the folks from Sneaker Pimps have been very cool. Keith Hufnagel and the guys at Huf in San Francisco have been really supportive, as well as Hiroki from Passover in Tokyo. Bradley Carbone from Complex has definitely helped to blow the doors off the game for me.
Iâ€™ve also got to give a shout out to JB Classics for being one of the first sneaker companies to extend itself to me and acknowledge me as a customizer. We never got to do anything major together, but I always love talking with JB about the whole hustle of this crazy sneaker game. I think heâ€™s one of the few people who truly understands what it takes to maneuver through this matrix of haters and sheep-like consumers.
Format: You’ve been in Brooklyn for a while now. What are some opportunities that have been presented to you since you touched down?
Jor One: I didnâ€™t want to leave San Francisco because I love it and consider it home. But SFâ€™s a small city and you can only do so much there before opportunities are exhausted. In NYC things are really picking up for me. Itâ€™s pretty much skyâ€™s the limit here. Iâ€™ve connected with many different stores, companies, magazines, artists, and sneaker heads, so itâ€™s very motivating and pushes me to do more. There is so much stuff in the works I canâ€™t even list it all. Iâ€™m basically gonna ride this NYC thing â€˜till the wheels fall off.
Format: What are some of the most outlandish ideas you’ve had for shoes, but never ended up dealing with for whatever reason?
Jor One: Iâ€™ve often focused purely on the aesthetics of each shoe, without putting much personal voice into it. But recently Iâ€™ve found that incorporating my feelings into my work is very empowering. For example, Iâ€™ve gotten a little frustrated with the the whole hype of limited edition shoes. Itâ€™s now a tired formula: Nike makes some catchy design or colorway on a Dunk or Air Force One, calls it limited, quickstrike, and/or exclusive, then the consumer lines up like a hog at the trough ready to eat whatever is shoved in his face. Then the process repeats over and over again. So rather than just taking it in and shutting my mouth, I grabbed a pair of Air Forces, unstitched the swoosh and logos and painted cans of shit all over the shoe. Each can says something like â€œLimited Edition Shitâ€ or â€œExclusive Shit.â€ Some people will think itâ€™s stupid or childish, but being an artist allows me to say whatever I want. Itâ€™s a very liberating feeling.
Format: Who are some people/brands you’d like to collaborate with and why?
Jor One: I think my style and bright use of colors would work well with A Bathing Ape or Ice Cream, so I definitely want to do something with both of them. Besides that Iâ€™d like to go very high-end in the future. Pucci, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton are some of my favorites that Iâ€™d like to work with down the road.
Format: What’s next for Jor One?
Jor One: Iâ€™m going to keep trying to blow up the sneaker thing for awhile. But I donâ€™t only want to be known as an artist who paints on shoes. So just like I branched out from graffiti to shoes, Iâ€™ll extend from shoes to something else. I just donâ€™t know what that something else is yet.