Reflections of the Air Force 1 by Mø

8 December, 2004

After a very successful launch of Mark Smith’s Nike Laser Series in Fall of 2003, Nike footwear designer, Tom Leudecke, aimed to continue the momentum by introducing laser-etched designs to already classic Nike sneakers. In March of the following year, after seeing a series of line drawings I had recently completed called “Labyrinthine Projections” for Nike Skate, he contacted me about producing some original art for a new series of shoes called “Inside Out.” The Inside Out series would feature new versions of Nike’s three top sellers: the Air Force 1, theVandal, and the Terminator. The novelty of this series, besides their laser-etched surfaces, would be the top-drawer materials used in their construction. The unifying concept in the series was to be environmental awareness. Given the choice, I opted to work with the Air Force 1 for two reasons: first, I favor it stylistically over the other two shoes; secondly, I spent six years in the U.S. Air Force and thus have a personal stake in the term.
The design brief called for imagery associated with nature. Jesse Leyva of Nike’s marketing group was looking to capitalize on the momentum of some camouflage patterns introduced earlier in the year, but wanted to push the abstract nature of camouflage into abstract patterns relating more directly to nature. Since a significant body of my art consists of landscape paintings, Jesse suggested that a study of clouds might offer the perfect solution.
For quite a while I struggled with creating images of clouds that were identifiable. Early versions of these designs looked more like unrecognizable patterns than clouds. I finally concluded that the clouds needed context in order to be read as clouds. So I began developing more traditional landscape imagery that might work on the unorthodox “canvas” I was given.
The unique nature of my Labyrinthine Projections, commonly referred to as the “maze drawings,” is that the photo-real images are created from a single, uninterrupted, non-intersecting line of consistent weight. The three dimensional quality of these works lies in the interplay of dynamic contrasts found in the back, middle and fore grounds. And though those three elements are present in my landscape paintings, a much greater degree of contrast between the three parts of visual space must be developed in order for the line-drawings to be read effectively. Thus, in the drawings, there must exist three discrete visual elements; for example, rocks and bushes in the foreground, fields and trees in the middle, and distant mountains and clouds in the back. When I began working with images of Oregon’s Mount Hood as the background element, everyone on the project became excited. Together, the tripartite connection of Nike, a Portland-based artist, and the historic mountain created a solid theme ripe for story telling. Having chosen appropriate images to work with, the next challenge was to relate the imagery to my story as an artist.
Through my art, I am regularly searching for a bridge between two opposites–logic and emotion–considered by many to be mutually exclusive domains. The solution in the case of the Air Force 1 art was to push the “double read.” On first glance, the viewer will notice a line scribbled onto the surface. This patterning, with its rigid conformance to a strict mental process represents the intellectual realm. However, the line, when viewed from a distance as a whole, depicts an image. In the case of the Air Force 1, there are several distinct images, each on it’s own panel. The two main images on the lateral and medial sides are derived from my landscape paintings of Oregon’s countryside while the other images support the overriding concept I am now elaborating on. My tie to nature and the earth in general are a deep part of my emotional awareness and thus the images represent the emotional realm while the process is firmly rooted in the logical.
To me, as well as my work, art comes from the synergy of these two disparate forces. To further the theme of dynamic opposition, I chose to use the solid panel over the toes, called the “vamp”, as discrete canvases to depict a brain on the left and a heart on the right. The iconography of these two shapes is inseparably connected to mind (thought), and heart (feeling). And, unlike the other images on the shoe’s surfaces which are oriented to be viewed by people not wearing them, the vamp images are oriented for the wearer of the shoes who physically, as well as metaphorically, bridges the two.
It is no accident that the two images ended up on the left and right shoes respectively as the left is associated with logic, a thought based process and the right, intuition, an emotionally based one. Further, on the left heel tab, there is an image of an eye, “the Seer” which connects to logic, mind, and the concrete. The right heel tab depicts a hand in the gesture of Benediction. Throughout human history, the hand is inextricably associated with the transmission of spirit, not to mention the connection between the hand and touch, or feeling.
Another significant detail of the shoe can be found on the mid-sole. Etched around this surface on both shoes are words that briefly, if not enigmatically, introduce the audience to a more complex concept behind my Labyrinthine Projections. The words are organized into two paragraphs, one on each shoe and read as follows:
“ A story is like a path: it begins, then follows a course to conclusion. Any individual sentence taken from a story can be meaningful; yet together serve a greater purpose. So it is with any single segment of the line burned into this shoe: beautiful alone, yet only a fraction of the big picture.
“ The Universe has a story and that story is long, complex and physically connects all matter and energy, living and inanimate–you and I. This line is my art, a sentence in my story–the story of one man’s Truth. 040601 Mø
I see the line of my Labyrinthine Projections as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things. This is demonstrated by the duality of the underlying principle; which is, that it is a single line, yet it is also a well-rendered graphic image. The same line that meanders over the surface of the shoe is also a cohesive pattern that we see as a photo-real image like the “Ben Day Dots” one will see when examining any printed magazine or newspaper image with a magnifying glass. From a distance, the discrete dots–named after the man who invented the offset printing process, Ben Day–blend together to form what we see as a photograph. At one coordinate on the shoe’s surface, the line segment forms the image of a tree and at different coordinate forms the image of a majestic Caribou, but both created from that same continuous line.
In simple terms, there are two elements to the universe: matter and energy. Matter, by our current understanding of the universe, is composed of smaller bits of atomic matter organized into patterns. Every element is made of these basic structures, including the air that we breathe. When we look at the physical world around us we see objects as discrete, that is, existing as an individual mass. Though the atomic structures that comprise a rock are organized into a related system that differs from the atomic system that comprise an elephant, at the atomic level, there is little if any distinction between the two shapes that we experience as independent with our senses.
All things in this world are immersed in air, water or earth. It is the energy systems that keep our molecular structures in tact though that energy passes naturally through each just as my line passes through each visual element in the composition. Thus when flying, as an example, I am physically connected to the fellow airline passenger beside me, as well as to the aircraft and to the atmosphere outside. An electron orbiting a carbon atom in one of my skin cells, will soon be found orbiting a nitrogen atom in the air around me and a moment later might be found in an aluminum atom of the aircraft structure. Thus is the nature of molecular structures as we know them: a community of subatomic particles interchanging with other atomic structures nearby. When I think of this, I recall the sight of children immersed in the multi-colored, soft plastic balls at the McDonald’s PlayLand. This constant interchange of subatomic particles and energy sometimes make me question the integrity of my own body structure. The only thing holding me together physically is an energy system that keeps my atomic and molecular structures in tact–without which, I would literally disintegrate, thereby distributing my molecules into those of the surrounding atmosphere.
The origins of the Labyrinthine Projection process stem from countless hours doodling on that ubiquitous childhood toy, the Etch-A-Sketch. Throughout my life, when I wasn’t manipulating the actual toy, I would doodle on paper emulating the device’s style–which strictly conforms to straight vertical and horizontal lines broken only by right angles.
One day, not long ago, while lamenting the loss of a special woman in my life, Freya, I began to doodle while gazing deeply at a black and white photograph of her. During that seminal moment, I compared the maze-looking line to a labyrinth and projected myself into its remote core. I felt as though the spirit of this woman had taken possession of my psyche and deposited it deep within an inescapable, subterranean world. After some time, I began to notice that my doodles resembled the photograph. Taking note of the amazing results, I began a focused study of the process eventually leading to, not only an escape from the grasp of the labyrinth, but a unique form of imagery as well. Freya’s name appears embedded in the line work along with the names of others who have contributed significantly along my path of emotional and intellectual development.
Currently, I am exploring new ways to further the style. My portraiture has benefited the most from this study. Nike recently commissioned me to provide a portrait of a very high profile athlete that will adorn products appearing this Spring. Also, I have been developing a three-dimensional version of the style and am excited to see where that will take me.
For more information, contact Mo via email