Air Jordan VI (6) “Black Infrared” Gas Mask
Masks serve a number of functions, possibly more than ever in modern society. They have breathed life into ceremonies and performances since the ancients. A mask can instill fear, disguise a criminal or cover a surgeon’s mouth. Masks not only obscure a physical identity but can also express identities unseen. The sneaker masks I’ve created over the last 3 years are more than the literal “sneaker head” identity. In a lot of ways they are representative of young America – a culture where expression ties with consumerism, where the bullied become the bullies out of self-preservation. We are confused about our place in our lives and our world, often we turn to Hip-Hop for answers. Through stories and verses we form principles and ideals, we find hope that after the struggle comes a brighter day. So what became important to me as an artist was to express the Hip-Hop identity and explore who we are as a subculture.
In college I focused on exploring the Hip-Hop identity of the people around me through digital photography as well as my own identity within Hip-Hop through self-portraits (oil paintings). I also juggled these intimate/personal photographs with work that paid homage to the greats – the innovators, creators, my favorite emcees as well as revolutionaries/leaders/political prisoners. Every story told intertwined a wide range of American stories whose common thread was Hip-Hop. However, I wouldn’t be able to step back and think about who we were as a whole until I found a way to somehow embody the Hip-Hop spirit. A mask has long been believed to possess the ability to do just that – so I began making masks. And I made a mask every day for a year. The MASK365 Project gave me a chance to hone my craft and to search for the right visual language to represent Hip-Hop. With my roots in graffiti – Hip-Hop’s original art form – I tried painting graf on masks, but I had the voices of the OG writers in my head saying “If it ain’t illegal it ain’t graffiti.” I had to find a different visual language to use.
Style and Participation are like the 5th and 6th elements of Hip-Hop (Breaking, DJing, MCing, Graf-writing). Knowing how important participation is within Hip-Hop is why I’ve always let it drive my artistic endeavors. But Style is the sleeper king of Hip-Hop and drives so much of what we do. An emcee’s style brings tastes and tones to his/her words, a writer’s style develops unique alphabets that bend and sway, the style of a b-boy’s kicks and flares wins battles, the breaks and cuts turned by a DJ express his audible style. Style externalized itself however and the race to be “fly” was on. Shell toes, fat laces, gold chains, import cars, designer track suits, baggy tees, Timberland boots, Nike Air Force 1s, Air Jordans and more became a visual language within the Hip-Hop community over the course of more than 30 years. The sneaker became more than a shoe, it became the materials for my masks – something that can express through visual language of Style, mimic the colors and textures of graffiti, and something that can also reflect our growing materialism and identity as consumers.
There are many other issues that I address through my art and I am working to express them both in the work and through writing. With each mask release I will be discussing different aspects of what the work means so check back (New masks release every 1st and 15th). Eventually much of these writings will be rewritten and /or paraphrased for my next art book.