Nike & James Jarvis: Interview
Last Friday saw the London launch (at Slam City Skates East) of a two-shoe collaboration between Nike SB and graphic artist James Jarvis. As we’ve worked with James before, we wanted to ask him a few questions about the project and the inspiration behind the artwork…
Can you tell us a little about the background of the project?
I was originally commissioned by Nike SB to make some graphics to use on T-shirts. They liked the drawings I post on Instagram and wanted something in a similar vein: drawings that looked at skateboarding with a philosophical eye. They also wanted a couple of repeat patterns. I didn’t find out until fairly late on in the project that the repeat was going to be used on a shoe, but I am really happy with how it turned out.
As a skateboarder yourself, what did you want this collaboration to achieve?
I am interested in the parallels between skateboarding and drawing: I see both things as tools for making sense of the world. Creatively, I wanted to do something that represented my current way of thinking about drawing and making work. I am happy that Nike embraced that approach.
What is the inspiration behind the pattern-based artwork that covers the shoes?
For the pattern I wanted something abstract, without any heavily figurative elements. I used some of the simple, gestural marks I make in my drawings. Perhaps the marks give a sense of the physical traces left by skateboarding. I drew it in the old-fashioned, analogue way for making a continuous repeat pattern: starting a drawing in the middle of the paper, cutting the drawing in half horizontally and swapping the sides over, filling in the blank space where the sides of the page are now joined. Then repeating the same process vertically. I had to do a tiny bit of retouching where you could see the edges of the paper, but otherwise it was by hand.
Can you explain a little about the characters that feature on the insoles/T-shirts?
This is the character I’ve been drawing for the past few years. I'm trying to draw a character that has no 'character'. A thing, an animate object, that is as generic, as unrepresentative of anything as possible. Rather than being distracted by the character as a decorative element you hopefully look beyond the appearance of the character to what it is saying or doing. In terms of content I am referencing some of the more obscure facets of the culture. The ‘Gino’ (as yet unreleased) graphic was inspired by lurking on Slap MessageBoards. ‘Focusing’ (the act of wilfully breaking your board) came from Jeremy Klein, World Industries and the culture of late 80s/early 90s skating. I submitted another drawing referencing Kareem Campbell checking his pager mid-line in World Industries’ Trilogy video (shown bottom), but that didn’t make the cut.
You’ve used hand-drawn techniques for both the line work and the colouring of the artwork – was there a specific reason for this?
I’m trying to use this reductive approach as often as possible. The colouring was a departure for me. I tend to think in black and white, and to add colour digitally but Nike wanted something that complemented the drawing style so I got out the watercolours (the same set I’ve had since university - at least 20 years old!). I’ve written some statements about my philosophy of drawing on my website. One of them says, "What should matter in a drawing is whether or not it is true, not whether it looks 'good'. The things that constitute a 'true' drawing, all the mistakes and inconsistencies it contains, are right (even if they're wrong)."
Lastly, which colourway do you prefer, the black or the white shoe?
The black is a real skate shoe, with a suede upper. The white has a mesh upper and is more of a chill-out boot. Aesthetically I like the black, but my gnarled feet prefer the white.
With thanks to James Jarvis.
The Nike SB & James Jarvis collaboration features two Nike SB Free shoes (a black/white Nike Free SB PRM and a white/red/black Nike Free SB R&R QS) alongside two T-shirts and is available now via nike.com, Nike SB at Size? Carnaby and Slam City Skates East