Book Review: Art and Sole

I’ve never been much for sneakers. I often visit my neighborhood and surrounding area shoe lockers just to yawn at the same design I saw occupying the shelf four years ago, but in a different colour or with some celebrity or athlete’s name on it. I began to see the error in my ways when I picked up Art & Sole, written and designed by Intercity.

Intercity’s “sneakers” are sports shoes originally intended for basketball, skateboarding or just strolling, elevated to their own subculture by the skateboarding and hip-hop style phenomena. This detailed and up-to-date sneaker art history features oodles of Nikes, as well as other famous labels including Vans, New Balance, and Onitsuka Tiger. Lesser-known labels like Madfoot!, JB Classics and The Quiet Life also make an appearance.

The book is divided into halves: Sneakers & Art looks at collaborations and projects, while Art & Sneakers is composed of sneaker art, publications, exhibitions and toys, all sneaker-themed. Among the toys featured were Swiss design collective +41’s mini chocolate kicks crafted to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Air Force 1 and Takara Tomy’s Nike Transformer dolls, oscillating between toy-shoes and toy-toys.

So by this point you can imagine that this book has a few more tricks to offer than your average sneaker stand. It showed me about 200 pages of shoes and shoe art I’d never seen before. Great. But, what the volume does meaningfully through its pages and pages of sculpture and obscure sneakers is bring out the artfulness in the sneakers themselves; even if, like me, you don’t really care very much about how limited your editions are or whether they are made of chocolate, this book will teach you about who makes these sneakers, and why these everyday masterpieces have become so collectible. And I don’t need to have a room full of runners in Plexiglas backlit cases to appreciate that.

For example, in a handy two-paragraph gloss, I learned about a sneaker I don’t think I’ll easily find in the suburbs, FEIYUE (pronounced stop-living-in-a-bedroom community-with-little-commercial-variety), a name as vague and hard to enunciate as an Ikea cabinet’s. These shoes were actually invented in the 1920s in Shanghai, and were favored by martial artists for their “flexibility and comfort.” French collective Seven Dice designs FEIYUEs, limiting them to only two styles, high and low top. Clearly, these shoes are kind of special.

And that’s the effect of this book. Sneakers with seemingly little material difference to the layman’s eye are given two pages of close-ups, and suddenly they hold their own unique place in a wonderful sneaker gallery. No longer are the shoes simply special or noticeable to those who collect or obsess over them, but even the kitten heel connoisseur is given some insight into why some people go so bonkers over sneakers (the people who do go bonkers over sneakers will probably relish this book for its obscure detail and inspiring objects). That seems to be the art of Intercity, exposing the story and creative value behind something we might never have looked at so closely. Apparently mundane, everyday objects become art. It happened to Greek vases. Why not kicks?

Art and Sole by Nathan Gale (Laurence King Publishers, 2008)
review by Stephanie Herold
photography by Ave Smith

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