A Conversation with Dave White
For the past 20 years, Dave White has laced up the same pair of 1985 Air Jordan 1 Bred’s to paint. In his early days, he drew inspiration from what he loved ...sneakers. Not only did he create a series of oil based portraits of some of his favourite kicks, but pioneered the sneaker art movement.
While he still loves sneakers, having designed some along the way, amidst the exhibitions, accolades (once dubbed “the new Andy Warhol”) and shift to environmentalism, he sat down with ‘nique to talk about his passion that started it all.
The Wings for the Future Gold Jordan 1's.
When was that moment that art first took a hold of you?
I would say ever since being a little kid. From the age of three, I’ve always been drawing, anything I was into, kind of like primary school like things like Star Wars or planes. I would always sit there endlessly drawing so it's always been in my blood really.
What inspires you? I have never really have ever had a kind of motivation problem. I wake up every day and I'm incredibly honoured and blessed to be able do what I do. Literally, I come in here everyday and I do what I like to do and what I want to do, so inspiration for me can come from everything. I guess the last 15 years with the animal works really. I love life, I love how precious life is, I love seeing how amazing wildlife is and I have never lost that fascination and wonder when you see something for the first time. Like when you go to a wildlife park and see a lion or a gorilla and you have that movement with it, and it looks at you. I’ve never kind of lost that, so inspiration for me is all about life and things I have a deep connection with.
Gorilla II by Dave White Can you talk about your love for sneakers and hoops? The thing is, my whole kind of relationship with basketball, sneakers, Jordan, all of that, was long before Sneaker Freaker, long before you could click on anything. I was studying at my very first art course and I saw this guy walking towards me, it was this kind of this crazy hallowed moment. He had these shoes on and they were glowing and I didn’t know what 3M was and I stopped him and said, “Listen, what are they?!” and he says “They're Jordan V’s” and long before you can go and find them I said “Jesus these are the most amazing shoes I’ve ever seen.” They were like 100 pounds, it was kind of crazy money, I could never afford them, but my awareness of Jordan and sneakers was always there. When I graduated from university my girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, we saved up and went ‘round America on a Greyhound bus, that's a book in itself. But it was when the ‘92 Olympics were on, so we would time our Greyhound stops to make sure we could catch the Dream Team games and we watched the whole of the Olympics. It was just amazing, so my love of sneakers, Jordan, basketball, it's always been there.
In your sneaker series prints, you put something in the varnish to make the soles yellow over time? It's one of those things, as collectors you pick up your kicks and see that kind of yellowing and you’re like “Oh my god, if I wear them they’re going to explode!” When I made the paintings, I mixed a special varnish that over the period of 20 years would yellow. There’s very few of the sneaker paintings in existence, there’s about 50 of them and about 30 people are emailing saying, “Hey, my midsole is yellowing!” (laughs). It’s quite amusing really.
Obviously while you made a name with a lot of people in sneakers, that’s not all you're about, talk about.. I ended the sneaker series in 2007, I kind of felt like I said what needed to be said and I didn't want to be one of the guys who repeated himself day in and day out and become that guy. I’m glad that I left it when I did, but the whole development of my work, I’ve always been obsessed with animals, my work is basically about that, focusing on certain species and how rare and how precious they are and how we forget, we’re all kind of living such a fast paced life ...well not at the moment with this COVID. I’ve just never lost that love, and my work is just about focusing on how important they are, and to this planet and to us really.
You've said the Jordan V is your favourite shoe, what makes it so special? I think there’s a number of factors really, it was the fact it was the first time I saw 3M, as soon as I saw that kid in them, I was amazed by them. Then it became about Tinker’s story and the P-40, I love planes and I love his design process about what he's into and what Jordan’s into at the time and how that kind of fills through really. There’s something about that silhouette, I never tire of, I just love them, I really do.
You did two Jordan collabs, the Air Jordan 1 WINGS for the Future and the Air Jordan 1 High DW. If you had to choose, which one is your favourite? Dave Frank from Jordan Brand calls me and says, “We’ve been following you for a while and would really love for you to do a Jordan.” I’m freaking out, we got chatting and had loads of email correspondence and the day when the templates came over, it was just crazy. I just wanted to create something that was based on that kind of amazing subconscious relationship you have, when you just see that Bulls colourway and you’re just like “Wow!” As we were designing them, I left the swoosh off and the shoe was supposed to come out and it got delayed by six months! I don’t know, but rumour has it that Nike legal saw it, and this was long before Off White and all that other stuff and you know anything that veered off the swoosh or mess with the Jumpman or anything and we reckoned it was going to get stopped. But they made the shoes, and it came out. But if I had to pick one, it would have to be WINGS, just because the journey that went on with that. I went to Inglewood High and worked with these school kids, it was my 40th birthday and I worked with them on a mural for a day. It was amazing, Jordan Brand went through and built them new courts and these kids literally didn't have a dime and I never met kids with so much passion and hunger, and all of the proceeds went to WINGS and I got to see first hand what Jordan’s charity does. I’m proud to be a part of that to be honest with you.
What was it like collaborating with Carmelo Anthony on the MELO M9? I get the call, “Listen Melo would really like to do another M9, could you design one?” I had two weeks to design it and I came up with five designs. So I go up into the Savoy Hotel and it's just me alone and there’s literally like about 100 people in the corridor, loads of Melo’s entourage, all the Jordan guys and they tell me it's going to be filmed and it’s one take only. So literally the door opened and I went in and the camera started, (snaps fingers). I sat with Melo and we hit it off and I presented these shoes to him and the ones that he actually picked were the ones I hoped he would pick. I wanted to make something that just looked like a winning shoe. I think he got the points record in the Olympics, he was in New York, leading the league in scoring, it was just a crazy season, so I put white 3M on gold stars, so when the cameras hit when he was playing, it would look like a trail of stars and then I put 24K gold leaf kind of speckle in the gum sole. The samples got made and who knows? Sometimes these things don't happen, I think 26 pairs were made and they were given to Melo and I think they were auctioned off for his charity. I got a couple of pairs, but they didn't make retail.
Was the Nike Air Max 95 x Dave White, more special for you as it was based on your work, as opposed to being given a canvas to work on? Absolutely. It’s really interesting in the sense that like in 2002 I made paintings of sneakers and then I ended up working with Nike and full circle, they’re making sneakers based on my paintings. Those paintings were about how scarce certain things are in England. It’s a fox and a rabbit and it was based on a collection called Albion, which is just focused on how rare things are over here and how animals are dying out. I think that was a special moment to see come through.
It's Dave's Desert Island, you only get to bring essentials, so limited items of the following:
One musical artist. A Tribe Called Quest. I spent the whole of my degree... I remember selling something for about 30 pounds and that was crazy money to me as a student, I sold a little piece of work and I bought Low End Theory and I just listened to that non-stop.
One pair of sneakers. Ohhhh (puts head in his hands). Well I’ve said (Jordan) V’s... Wow, that’s a horrible question, ok I would have to say it would be a Jordan 1, red/black. One video game. Ahhhhh! (holds his head, like he has a headache) that is absolutely horrible, but it’s easy, it would have to be Super Street Fighter 2
Only five colours of paint. It would be violet, magenta, red, green and blue.
If there was only one animal on that island, what would it be?