Liverpudlian artist Dave White cannonballed to fame back in the early 2000s by immortalising his favourite sneakers on canvas. Quickly adopted into the Sneaker Pimps event family, Dave toured the world, leaving behind barrels of laughs and his trademark splatters and stars as evidence. Then things seemed to go quiet. Taking a sneaker sabbatical, it turns out Dave had resumed his 'serious' gallery career with a new muse. So we were very pleasantly surprised when our old friend bobbed up recently with an amazing Jordan 1 'All-Star', 23 pairs of which were auctioned for charity. When news of his second Jordan design leaked online recently, we just had to get the exclusive story straight from Dave! Since you can count the number of Jordan colabs on one hand, this is an historic moment, especially for a JB fiend like Dave. And the sweetest part? All of this is part of the WINGS for the Future charity, initiated by Brand Jordan to benefit schools and kids in the areas of sport and creativity.
As seen in Sneaker Freaker Issue 22
It seems like you were highly visible for years and years, and then you dropped out of sight. Where have you been all this time?
I've just been basically focusing on my gallery shows. Obviously you get a lot of exposure with the whole Sneaker Pimps gigs, doing the live paintings and stuff like that, but you're right, the sneaker series ended in 2007 and since then I've just been focusing on other subject matters with my latest being based on Americana. People don't realise, but long before this I had a gallery career, in fact in September 2011 it's 20 years since my very first exhibition.
Congratulations, I love that you've never had a proper job. How did that live painting idea start?
I think I was wasted one night and Peter Fahey (Sneakerpimps) basically said ‘Do you want to do some live painting?' and I jumped in there, I made a Cali Dunk SB at the first one, and it sort of gripped people. The first was to about 50 people in Brooklyn, and the last was in front of 3000. Trying to avoid splashing paint on peoples kicks was the real trick! There was a group of us who were doing the live stuff, Futura, Stash, Sabotage and Methamphibian and it became a real close-knit group.
I know. I remember the Los Angeles show. One of these days I'll get a Pink's hotdog. How many of those sneaker paintings did you actually knock out?
It's all a bit blurry to be honest. I remember I was in the studio one day looking at an Air Max 95 and I just thought what an amazing shape it was. I really wanted to immortalise it in a way and capture its essence on canvas, so I made the first one and then ended up with ten and to be honest with you, I think in the world there's only probably only about 30 to 40 of them. They were exhibited all over the world and I was very grateful for the opportunities and experiences I had travelling with them.
That's not many. I thought you painted more than that?
Have you still got the one I gave you?
Of course I have. Actually, I have a confession. I couldn't find it for six months. It was in the trunk of my car. Not a scratch on it though.
Good to hear. You are a tit.
For what it's worth, what is it worth?
It was a gift because you are special to me so the value is purely sentimental. I used to get Sneaker Freakier mags in the post, what happened?
You moved. Can't you tell me the price?
Not even a hint?
This could go on forever.
I know! I'm not telling you.
Ok. You can tell me later. When you love a brand so much, is that a burden or a blessing when it came to designing a colab.
That's a really good question. I'm not sure if it's either really as I just tried not to overthink it too much. I mean, it's a dynamic design, don't get me wrong, it's very explosive, but I wanted to create something that was unique but didn't veer from the classic Jordan colorway, if you know what I'm saying. It's the glory days, the Bulls and everything. There were very specific things that I wanted, but then I really wanted to tear it up and cause a bit of controversy. The design happened very quickly though.
It's got a few trademark Dave White-isms, the splatter and whatnot, but what's most striking is what isn't there. What happened to the Swoosh, did it just fall off at the factory or something?
I'm from Liverpool so I stole it! No basically there was a couple of things. I just felt it was such a strong look and when it came to actually sending them the design without any Swoosh I thought I was going to get spanked for it. It's weird but a lot of people don't even notice it's not there.
Helen Keller told me missed it! How much consideration do you take of what Jordan fans say?
I'm a Jordan fan myself and I'm very much a purist. But the easiest thing to do would have been to make something that was just completely safe and 'just another' colourway, but I don't think that way. Anything that you put out there, any design or piece of artwork that you make is always going to have people that love it and people that don't. What I wanted to do was make something that, as I said before, didn't veer off the classic path, but really stepped it up. The easiest thing in the world would be to just take a section of one of my paintings and then get them to make a shoe out of it. When people see it in the flesh, it will become more than what it is on the photo's, because there's so much going on with texture and layering and the composition of materials. In the back of my mind, that's exactly how I work as a painter.
What other secrets are in there?
There's a few secrets that people won't see in the leaked photos that just got online. The paint splatter is rubberised and a very thick texture. I absolutely insisted that the side panel was 3M, because that harps back to the first time that I saw a Jordan V. You know I couldn't afford a pair of Fives and I saw this kid one day and the light hit that tongue and since then 3M for me has always been a special material. So when the light hits the side of the shoe, the paint splat just completely explodes. On the tongue there's artist-grade canvas which is the material I paint on, so there's little touches that refer back to my work.
How strongly did you feel about the elephant print? It's been rinsed over the years. Does it still have the same power? Has it ever been used on a One?
Well you see, of all the things that I wanted to do, the elephant print was the hardest. As you say so correctly, it has been rinsed, it's been absolutely exploited to the point of insanity. But as you say it's never been used on a One, so I wanted to put that in there. I really had to fight for it, much more so than the removal of the Nike Swoosh. The most important thing was to create something that looked completely unique.
In hindsight, was there a subconscious aspect in the decision to remove it? This is of course, the only Jordan that had a Swoosh on it.
I think so. First and foremost, the initial idea was to just see what it would look like. It happened by chance really, and then I just thought it was such an interesting thing for an iconic logo like that to be removed. So who knows, it was just one of those things that occurred in the design process that actually complemented what the shoe is about.
There's another fantastic element to this project. Can you explain how Jordan's working with you to help underprivileged kids in the US?
I've been working with Dave Frank and Brand Jordan since 2008. It was a very organic process, and we'd just always stay in touch. As soon as I heard about the Wings for the Future program I just really responded to it. For people who don't know, it's Jordan's corporate responsibility program which works with kids in the world of sport and the creative field, so as soon as I heard that it was that kind of charity I really wanted to be involved.
Is that how the All Star shoe came about?
Yeah. With the All Star shoe, 23 pairs were made in February 2011 for All Star and they were auctioned off for the charity. It was such an incredible experience. Inglewood High School over in LA are one of the schools that Brand Jordan works with, and my little bit was to work with a group of art students to produce a mural. So for two weeks these kids were Skyping me and you just knew from the first minute that these children were incredibly hard working and just really special.
When I arrived, it was absolutely horrific weather, I can't even begin to describe to you, I'd brought English storms with me, and these kids worked for seven hours straight in the wind and the rain! There was this incredible energy and respect for one another and I personally saw the whirlwind effect that Jordan has had. They completely refurbished the basketball court, they put brand new computer suites in the design area, they ran a competition and basically produced a series of t-shirts that one of the kids designed, it was amazing. It's absolutely 100 percent genuine kindness.
Have you seen it change their lives?
Exactly! To see how hard these kids worked changed me as well. I can't even begin to describe to you what it was like, it was such a special thing to see the motivation and the inspiration. It was literally injecting a massive adrenalin boost into the school. For me personally, long after this shoe has been released, it's something I'll always remember.
Does that mean we might not have seen the last of Dave White and Jordan?
It's too early to tell, I mean with the charity for sure I definitely want to be working with the kids and hopefully getting more involved in that program. As for colabs, let's get this one out there first and see what happens. Can I just say one more thing?
By all means. Is it about my painting?
No. What I'd like to say is that it's a massive honour to have your own signature Jordan model and all of that, but when people see the package together with the special box, and the materials that have been used and all the rest of the package they know they are getting something special, but most importantly I want them to think of the good that this shoe will do and the difference it'll make in kids' lives.
Dave White's Jordans will be released February 11. Check with your local Jordan store for details...