Recently, the “We Were There” art project by PELNYC caught the eyes and attention of the Nice Kicks staff, highlighting the Air Max 90 model in illustrated form with strong ties to pop culture and the services. Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Tinker Hatfield-designed classic, the project reads as a time capsule collection of the people and events that made waves during the model’s run with the sneaker serving as a contemporary canvas. We chatted with PEL about the project, his wide range of work and his personal ties to the timeless runner.

Nice Kicks: This project was a collaboration with The Whitaker Grp who work with Atlanta retailers such as A Ma Maniere, Social Status and A.P.B. Have you worked with them in the past?

PELNYC: I have worked with the principle of The Whitaker Grp on several projects, chiefly designing the 25th anniversary Reebok Fury that was done for them. I designed the Social Status logo, have done brand consulting and designed their private label, among other things. I also did the Rosa Parks and Malcolm X tee shirt graphics for A Ma Maniere.

Nice Kicks: When approached, were you already a fan of the Air Max 90? Tell us a little bit about your personal history with this silhouette.

PELNYC: I was very much a fan of this silhouette and other designs that Tinker has put forth. I don’t think it’s a mystery as to why this sneaker has been around for so long and is only gaining momentum with age…#finewine. I had never owned a pair of these until I got some hand me downs from my younger cousin. The thing that I liked about them were the different materials and the colors. [Mine] were a general release in charcoal, black and yellow. He actually gave them to me in the box and I still have them in the box to this day and wear them like the prized possessions that they are.

Nice Kicks: On your website, you feature artwork depicting pop culture icons from the last six decades such as Marilyn Monroe, Biggie and Pac, Dave Chappelle and Rihanna. Is it a common thread in your art to story tell using past and present references?

PELNYC: Yes. Everyday from October 27th, 2013 I have been doing a sketch a day that relates to current events and pop culture, displayed via my Instagram feed. I also do a monthly full page satirical cartoon in Penthouse magazine. I think that it is important to have conversations that actually prompt some type of involvement and in-depth thought. Too often we get lost in the surface value of things and situations and forget the root or underlying message. I’ve been a fashion designer for over 13 years for many streetwear and contemporary brands so it’s important for us to be aware and pull themes from the past, present and perspective future.

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Nice Kicks: With this series, you have three pieces that combine Americana with the Air Max 90. Why did you choose the Twin Towers, the Statue of Liberty and the Flir Cat?

PELNYC: I chose the three of these for that sheer fact that they do reflect Americana and our fortitude. I am a Navy Veteran and 9-11 resonated with me in a very different way. I have been overseas with fellow service members and have never felt that type of patriotism. The simple fact is that there is some anti-American sentiment when we went abroad and we forgot our differences. We did our best to represent America and the Dream of America under the best light. I had never felt that type of camaraderie before 9-12-2001. We were working all in unison, despite race, color or creed.

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol unto itself that personifies the willingness to take on anyone who wished to dare for the American Dream. I thought that it was interesting when Lady Liberty underwent her restoration in the ’80s due to neglect and had inches of tar on her. Then we saw her restored to the patina that we all now know and love, but it still is not her original copper as when she was first unveiled. I thought the symbolism in that alone was poignant to say the least. The point that prompted me to paint her though was in relation to the closing due to the 9-11 strike and how patrons weren’t allowed to go up and down Lady Liberty as unrestricted as before. That in and of itself was impactful as there was never a restriction on access to Liberty.

I did the Flir Cat because I was part of the F-14 squadron — VF-103 Sluggers — that was testing that laser guided missile system. I was the artist that painted the nose art. I didn’t know the impact that it would have on the F-14 community or that it was turned into a collectable die-cast model by the Franklin Mint. Also, the pilot that flew it was Dale Snodgrass who has the most clocked F-14 hours in the world and was a consultant for TopGun.

Nice Kicks: You mention in the video that you had served in the military. We would first and foremost like to thank you for your service and secondly ask you how serving your country has effected your artwork.

PELNYC: I am a culmination of my life experiences and exposure. I believe that everything impacts my work. The biggest impact was my daughter though.

Directly related to the military, it has opened my eyes to new cultures, made me realize that I am blessed to be in a country that allows me to express myself freely and disciplined me to work in the most well oiled machine in U.S. history.

Harry Potter Inspired Air Max 90 Artwork by PELNYC

Harry Potter Inspired Air Max 90 Artwork by PELNYC

Nice Kicks: How did you choose the various themes for this series?

PELNYC: Ohhhhhh, gosh… Picking the ideas was an arduous task onto itself, first and foremost because I cover the news and pop culture daily via my Instagram, so it just made sense to me to come up with something that would show how magnanimous this shoe is. I didn’t want to just do one piece of art, hence I pushed to do 25 pieces and show how this sneaker has been around through a quarter of a decade and its influences.

I chose to do some pop culture just because the news can be a bit heavy and is usually filled with grief and the negative components of dealing with the human element. I did want to keep things in perspective though and allow for the viewer to still remember things such as the story of Mandela and the events of the Twin Tower to resonate through the art.

I picked Harry Potter because it is this generation’s Star Wars, plus the story of J.K. Rowling’s is an inspiration on to its own.

I also wanted to make sure that I used different styles to insure that it wasn’t stagnant. I chose to give Facebook a simple depiction because of the profile that we all start with. I just thought that this spoke directly to simple influences of social media.

Facebook Inspired Air Max 90 Artwork by PELNYC

Facebook Inspired Air Max 90 Artwork by PELNYC

Nice Kicks: Where will be displaying your work and will the items be available for sale?

PELNYC: The work is going to be displayed and for sale at a my show at Ward-Nasse Art Gallery at 178 Prince St in NY. I am also planing to bring it to select sneaker boutiques in the city. Prints will be released for purchase on my site on June 1st.

Keep up with PELNYC on Instagram and his personal site.

PELNYC Talks “We Were There” Air Max 90 Art Project

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