ARTICLE BY Cesca Benson

Rats and Air Max: Jonas Cozone, a Different Kind of Sneaker Illustrator

Jonas Cozone Paws Vs Claws

Jonas Cozone is not your normal kind of sneaker illustrator. His sneaker-laden vignettes, medieval by way of the mid-90s, see anthropomorphised rats, cats and dogs battle it out for the streets, decked out in vintage streetwear and some of the Air Max archive's greatest hits.

Whether he's pitting animals or Air Maxes against each other, his bold style is a welcome addition to the scene and our feeds. We dropped him a line to talk about his art, and the golden era of sneakers.

Tell us about how you got started in illustration.
I’ve been drawing since as far back as I can remember. As a child, I was obsessed with the Middle Ages, especially the weapons and armour. I was non-stop drawing battlefields with castles and hundreds of knights fighting each other. Later on, the subjects of my drawings shifted towards my interests at the time. For example, when I started skateboarding, I drew skate parks and skateboarders. After that, I got more into hip hop and graffiti, and so on. At first, I drew mainly to channel my interests but, because of this, my interest in illustration also grew, and eventually I went to an art college where I got my masters degree in illustration. After that, I managed to make it my full-time job.

Did your background in graffiti influence your illustration style? If so, how?
Probably, yes. I think the cartoony style and bright colours might have something to do with it. I also like to integrate letterstyles in my illustrations sometimes, like my Sneakerbattle series. And when I have to make a poster for an event, I prefer drawing all the letters myself instead of just using a font on my computer. It’s way more fun like this, and results in a more coherent look. Graffiti influenced me subject-wise too, because I used to be in the streets a lot by night, along with other graffiti writers, and this probably explains the grimey/urban topics of my illustrations.

Jonas Cozone Sneaker Battle 98
Jonas Cozone Sneaker Battle Classics
Jonas Cozone Sneaker Battle Grapes
Jonas Cozone Sneaker Battle Underdogs

Do you remember what you thought when you first spotted that first pair of Air Maxes when you were in your early teens?
The very first time I remember seeing Nike Air Max shoes here in Belgium was on people with the old school Dutch gabber look, wearing Air Max BWs, or with street thugs wearing Air Max 1s, 90s, and TNs. Although it was considered to be obnoxious and deviant by most ‘ordinary' people, I secretly liked the look of the shoes a lot. I think it’s because when I was still skateboarding in the late-90s and early-00s, a lot of my favourite skate shoe brands, like Axion, DC, Lakai and éS, had similar models to Air Maxes, with an aggressive look, Air bubbles, rounded outsoles, and so on. The moment I really fell in love with the Nike Air Max, though, was a few years later when I got into French/Belgian hip hop and street culture. I noticed a lot of those rappers were wearing Air Maxes in their videos and on their album covers. Around that time, I was on vacation in a French city and I saw a group of youngsters dressed in colourful Lacoste tracksuits and caps with matching Air Maxes. I was really impressed by their look. After that moment, I absolutely needed my own pair.

What is it about the 90s that appeals to you, and how does this era, along with the early 2000s, influence you?
It’s probably partly nostalgic because I grew up then. I love the cartoons, movies and TV shows, but most of all the hip hop and street fashion of that era. The bright colours, the baggier fits, the sneakers, the adoption of sports brands, early techwear like Nike ACG and The North Face, and the way preppy brands like Lacoste or Ralph Lauren were claimed by groups that represented almost the opposite. I love all of it, and it influences me in almost everything I do.

I also feel like it’s the last era in which true subcultures were born and really existed only in specific areas. After that, it was way more global, influenced by the past, and all mixed up because of the Internet and social media. I’m not saying that’s 100 per cent a bad thing, because obviously it also has a lot of benefits for inspiration and creativity, but I feel like the Internet killed a lot of uniqueness. Don’t get me wrong, I also like new trends in music and fashion, but the 90s and early 00s are definitely my biggest inspiration.

Why do you integrate animals into your work?
I never really thought about it or decided to only draw animals, it just happened because I like animals and they are fun to draw. I can vary a lot more with animal faces than when I just draw humans. There are so many different species, colours, shapes, etc. Animals like dogs, cats and rats are also typically seen in cities, so they fit perfectly in the urban setting of my illustrations. I also like to combine the cartoony/Disney-esque characters with the rough street vibe because it creates a funny contrast.

What is your favourite sneaker to draw and why?
That’s a hard one. Almost all Air Max models but, if I really have to choose just one, I would say the Air Max TN because of its complexity and the gradients. At the same time, I really like drawing the Air Max 1 because of its simplicity and its timeless look.

Nike have brought back a lot of OG Air Maxes recently. What are your thoughts on all the retros? Is it a good thing that they’re re-releasing the classics?
I love it, at least if they do a good job. The quality and shape is usually not what it used to be, but some are still awesome. The OG TN retros are great! The 2018 Air Max 93 retro was also very good, and I really love what they did to the Air Max 1 shape in 2017 for the 30th anniversary. I’m happy that I can buy new retroed pairs that are wearable again – and you can always reshape them a bit if needed. I used to collect old releases a lot more, but I got tired of worrying about the midsoles cracking, plus I don’t like the dusty yellowed look, so when Nike started releasing all these classics again I sold a big part of my old collection to make room for new clean and fresh pairs.

What shoe don’t you have that you wish was in your collection and why?I really love the Nike Air Max 96. I know the vintage pairs aren’t wearable anymore, but I really really hope that Nike bring them back. With the original midsole, not that ultra bullshit from a few years ago.

For more of Jonas' street-dwelling sneakerheads, check him out on the Gram.

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