What was the inspiration behind your artwork?

The history of the Air Force 1, the era of my birth, and the beginnings of the culture I’ve surrounded myself in since 13 years old, all roughly began at the same time. Nikes advertisements back then were usually airbrushed and had a hyper-real quality, which is the starting point for my artwork here. My most direct and personal connection with Nike other than liking their style since as long as I can remember, comes from storing my then small and prized collection of cassette tapes in a shoebox. 

Growing up what was it about the shoebox that made you not want to throw it out?

Much of my art and design work references certain things from the past. Things I love and respect, 90s rap for example, are often the underlying themes, or at least a starting point. When I was younger having a pair of Nikes was a rarity, so when I got my first pair there was no way I was throwing any part of it away, box, price card, tissue wrapping all included. Seeing rappers wearing Nikes on album covers, mentioning their shoes in lyrics, the link to music was an instant thing, and the shoebox was the perfect size to keep my first collection of cassette tapes in. 


What are your earliest memories of the Nike Air Force 1?

I grew up in Sydney in the 1980s, which from a youth culture perspective was such a different time to now. Up until the end of that decade, my sneakers came from the same local store as my school shoes. Of course we all knew about Nikes, but it was something for my older brothers and their friends. In high school every once in a while a classmate would go to the USA, and return with all this amazing stuff. One of those pieces of treasure I can clearly remember to be a pair of AF1 highs, white with a black sole, and that image stayed in my mind for a long time.


Image and style have always been a cornerstone of hip-hop, what influence has that had on you as an artist?

“Shoes make the man”. For guys we start at the shoes and go from there. In hip-hop culture, there is pressure to represent who you are and be proud of where you’re from and what you have. The essence of hip-hop is about two things. Wack, and not wack. The phrase “keep it real” has no impact whatsoever anymore, so lets go with “wack”. If I am having my say about something, I want it to always be from a straight up and non-wack perspective, which to me comes through in the artwork I produce.  


Moving forward, less people are purchasing physical music. How do you see the artwork of music being able to adapt and still have an influence over people?

That’s a good question. There is no turning back on the digital age and that’s the whole point behind my C90 cassette tape exhibitions. I doubt a kid now would care about such things. I’ve seen comments like “who cares about liner notes anyway” etc, but again, back then it was the only legit source of information.  As a designer, it’s such a rich history so it’s difficult to say how things can adapt to keep a visual link, and maybe it’s seen as less important in this overly hyped up industry. I’ve bought albums in the past just based on the cover and using the “wack/non wack” judgment. Of course albums now have a mini version of the cover to display on your mp3 player, which is nice, but to me it’s just such a throwaway thing, a 200 pixel wide icon. It’s up to the recording artist to carry their weight now!


In 30 years what do you think the shoebox will look like? Do you think there will still be a need to hold onto packaging and use it for alternative purposes?

Well, there haven’t been a lot of changes in the last 30 years… but saving resources wasn’t a concern then. Maybe recyclable shoeboxes for shipping/retail display, but no box for the consumer is the way to go. Kids don’t need physical storage for their music anymore, and I saved my old boxes for mine…  

Mark Drew is an Australian graphic artist, and co-founder of Sydney's China Heights gallery. In 2009, after a series of exhibitions/installations based around his teen music collection (and five years running the gallery), Drew relocated to Tokyo. His time is spent split between design/artwork commissions and a number of personal creative projects.

AF1 Object

The hot spot.
The epicenter of urban style, Harlem, around the 125th subway stop, becomes the destination for those in search of the freshest AF-1s, which are subsequently nicknamed 'uptowns.'