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When art and sneakers collide: Andrew J Steel lends his hand to Nike

As part of the the 30-year anniversary of Nike Air Max shoes, a group of young New Zealand creatives were handpicked by the company to showcase what they do best. One of those selected? Illustrator Andrew J Steel, who picked up his pen and created some magic for the brand.

Those chosen by the sports and streetwear giant to pay tribute to the famous shoe include furniture designers George & Willy, as well as Auckland-based artist Andrew J Steel.

The collaboration between Nike and Steel is fitting, considering the streets is where Steel first honed his craft through graffiti as a teenager.

Lately, he’s traded outdoor canvasses for indoor commissions, as his distinctive art is in hot demand from businesses and home owners around the country.

For Nike, Steel created an illustration that was displayed in sneaker store Loaded for the Air Max Day event, musing on the brand’s past, present and future. He was also on hand to provide customised doodles on guests’ photos.

Below, Steel discusses what it’s like to work with a global brand like Nike, and what’s next on the horizon.

Can tell me a bit about the work you did for Air Max day? What story you wanted to tell with the wall illustration?

Air Max has a strong 30-year history and is one of the worlds most iconic shoes. It’s been on the feet of some of the worlds leading musicians, artists and street icons. It was a lifestyle shoe before lifestyle shoes were cool. This project was partially about the artist - partially about the art. The first part was learning about what I do as a creative and as someone living a somewhat unorthodox lifestyle - producing art and making a living from creativity. Lot of talking, shooting, drawing, learning. The second aspect was about the art and my craft, where I worked closely with Nike to create a unique piece to celebrate the past, present and future of Air Max. This was a hieroglyphic-styled work where I told story through image and how things evolve over time. The work’s iconography changes throughout the work to tell a story of where things came from, where they are and where they’re going.

Where abouts is that based, and will it be left there? 

Like a lot of my work, and a lot of street and public artworks, the work created here was temporary. We worked closely with [sneaker store] Loaded and hosted an invitee party with some sneaker heads, hiphop heads and Nike fanatics. It was intimate, and the idea was the work was installed for the night and then taken down, purely produced for those there and for their experience.

Did you follow a similar process to how you usually go about your designs?

A lot of my work is about story telling where I work closely with people to tell their story through my artwork and through imagery. Conventionally, artwork is produced by an artist and the audience/buyer isn't part of that production process. My approach is to bring that audience or buyer into the work and production itself, so conceptually the work’s produced collaboratively.

What was it like to work with such a well known brand like Nike?

I’ve been a Nike fan for a long time. I actually wrote down on my goals I wanted to collaborate with them a few years ago, so its been surreal working closely with them on this. I grew up rocking their product and their philosophy really resonates with me: get out there, try hard, do your thing, be your best. I’m hyped and looking forward to doing more with the brand.

At the launch event, you got amongst the action drawing customised doodles on people’s pictures. How did this work? Did you ask people what they wanted on their images, or come up with something on your own?

This was a fun aspect of the launch - I had a desk set up with my gears and got to meet pretty much all the 40 people who came through. They all got a photo with their sneakers, we printed these, then I drew on them and framed them up. Some people I talked to, learned about their thing and created an artwork for them… like a basketball player got something themed off that. Others just wanted me to do their thing so had some fun with it.



Do you have any other projects coming up you can mention?

Being a creative is about doing a variety of things, and then turning that into art. It’s sort of a balance of keeping going with what’s working, and adding in new creative projects to keep it growing and interesting. Outside of public artworks and interior commissions, I’m chipping away at a body painting exhibition with a photographer Matt Queree, and a few creative video things with Blake Dunlop which I'm excited about.