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Giant Air Max (Benedict Radcliffe)

Date: December 21 2009

By: Sneaker Freaker

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UK artist Benedict Radcliffe has been making a name for himself of late with his fantastic full-scale wire sculptures of auto vehicles and his experimental bicycle designs. Recently Nike commissioned him to create a whopping 3.5 meter long giant Air Max sculpture for the Dizzee Rascal Air Max 90 launch at Nike Sportswear’s 1948 space in London. Constructed entirely from bent wire rods we just had to get in touch with the man himself to find out full the story behind this blue behemoth and his other amazing creations. 

Hey Benedict, your Air Max 1 looks amazing! How did the project come about?
I have known Acyde at Nike for a few years through a good friend Jason Jules. We have been talking lots about working together and then the opportunity arose with the IAM1 Journey with Charlie Dark, Insa, and Goldilocks. I designed a garden and sculpture. I wanted to turn the outside industrial looking space into a place where people could hang out and enjoy being outside. The bleacher seating is made out of really hard Ipe wood and goes really well with the vertical garden and other greenery. And then there is the Air Max wireframe sculpture that sits in the middle.

Turning a piece of steel rod into such a faithful 3-D marvel is no mean feat... How do you think through a job like this? I wouldn't know where to start!
It was tricky starting... normally I work with blueprints to plot out all the steel work. For the cars I have done (Lamborghini, Toyota, Subaru) it is possible to get most information from the internet, on forums etc but getting a blueprint of an Air Max sneaker is difficult. There aren't any on the net and Nike weren't keen on giving me their blueprints from the vaults in Oregon so I had to make my own.  Once I had all the information I enlarged the blueprints and pasted them on my studio wall. With the help of the front, side and back elevations I extruded the 10mm steel round bar from the plan of the shoe.

How long did it take to create the shoe? Any hiccups along the way?
It took two months to make the shoe. It was harder because the cars I made in the past are symmetrical and work with vertical and horizontal lines and levels - the Air Max was much more organic and asymmetrical.

As a sculptor, what impresses you about the form of the Air Max 1?
The Air Max 1 and the 1983 Air Pegasus  are my favorite Nikes and this is due to their silhouettes/profiles. They are sleek and dynamic yet tough.

The design of the Air Max 1 was inspired by the exposed bones of Paris' Pompidou Centre... it seems like your skeletal work cuts to the heart of what makes the Air Max 1 so special. Did you dive into the history of the shoe much in preparation for your piece?

Before the project I watched a DVD about Tinker Hatfield. He is amazing! So is the Pompidou Centre. It was one of my favorite buildings when I studied architecture... still is.  Making the "invisible visible" was such a revolutionary concept and the result was the iconic air bubble. I got given a few pairs of Air Max to work from whilst drawing up the plans. I took them all apart and split them into their individual components using a surgeon's knife. I used a band saw to cut up the sole. I was fascinated that there were two air bubbles - the visible one in the heel and an invisible one in the front part of the sole unit!

What is it about the stripped-back, bare-bones aesthetic that appeals to you as an artist? Do you generally subscribe to a 'less is more' view of design?
I like design and drawing. The wireframe sculptures I have produced have been celebrating an iconic object by way of drawing them in three dimensions in wire. The work looks stripped back and simple but every piece of steel wire is used very thoughtfully to describe the form.

You've been attracted to fixed gear culture... how did you come around to the scene?
I've been riding bikes for time. I started on a Raleigh Budgie when I was three or four. I raced road bikes when I was eighteen/nineteen and came to London from Glasgow a few years ago and met Andy, Odge and Ted from FGL - they built me my first Fluro fixed wheel.

Tell us about your fluro bike collaboration with Fixed Gear London... what was the premise behind the design?

The fluro bikes were a bit of fun. As I said earlier, I like drawing. When you draw you can use different line weights. I've done a few sculptures in 25mm box section and when they are painted they look great because from ten meters away they can be read easily because of the thick (25mm) lines. I sort of turned the frame/forks/wheels/hubs/seat/handlebars/chain set into a diagram/drawing using four fluorescent colours - pink, green, yellow, orange and matt black. They were fun and I exhibited them in New York ectetra. But I got a lot of stick of the London couriers and white van drivers!

Are they available for purchase?
They are available for purchase- I'm also doing some new colourways with 14 Bike Company.

Some of your cycles defy belief! Of all the experimental bikes you've created do you have a favorite design?
The Skyway Street Beat based on the BMX.

Are there any other shoes that fascinate you and which you'd love to sculpt?

There are other shoes that I love, the adidas Rod Lavers and Clarks Originals Wallabees but I think the Air Max had to be sculpted. The lines are so perfect.

Got anything big brewing you'd like to share with us?

I'm working on a Honda Asimo Sculpure to be called Citizen Asimo and a quilted Chanel 1980s 3 series BMW.......Watch this space!

Cheers Benedict!

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