Sneakers have long been an exciting site for sartorial self-expression, with coveted styles and highly anticipated drops drumming up troves of eager fashionistas. Sneaker artist Vicky Vuong has taken the creative potential of sneakers to the extreme, using Nike AF1s as her go-to canvas for her intricate painting practice.
Vuong’s meticulously steady hand and penchant for color has won her commissions from Los Angeles Rams star Cooper Kupp, as well as a recent invitation from the font foundry Monotype to interpret the iconic typeface Helvetica as an NFT. Aside from hand-painting custom sneakers, Vuong co-hosts a podcast with fellow AAPI female sneaker artist Ann Duskus called Best Foot Forward.
I was eager to learn more about this exciting rising star, so I reached out to get the scoop on Vuong’s background and why she finds Nike AF1s to be such an inspiring canvas.
What’s your fine art background? Did you go to art school, or are you self-taught?
I did my undergrad in Molecular Biology and my master’s in Materials Engineering, so you could say that I am a scientist turned self-taught artist. My love for arts and crafts was born out of figuring out how to create “things” that I couldn’t afford growing up. It made me very resourceful.
When and how did you first get into sneaker art?
I painted my first pair of custom sneakers using fabric Sharpies over ten years ago for a family vacation. On a whim, I posted pictures of my sneakers online, and the demand for them was overwhelming. I was painting sneakers in my basement apartment over Christmas while finishing my master’s degree. Now, it has been almost three years since I’ve been creating sneaker art full-time.
Why do sneakers excite you so much as an artist? What do they offer you as a canvas that other, more conventional mediums don’t?
Sneakers offer a way for people to understand my story as an artist through wearing a pair of my customized sneakers. I can start by telling a story through the art that I create on the sneakers, and the person wearing them can finish that story through life experience.
Sneakers are such a unique canvas because you can choose from the unlimited number of silhouettes that already exist (which are an art form in their own right); sneakers are made of so many different materials that can be used to enhance your design. But more importantly, sneaker art is a form of artwork that you can travel with. It has been exceptionally cool to see people all over the world with my sneakers.
What is it about Nike AF1s and the Nike Swoosh in particular that you love working with so much?
The timelessness of the Nike AF1 silhouette makes it the perfect sneaker to customize. It’s celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, which means it’s been around for longer than I have!
Specifically, I chose the Nike Swoosh because I wanted to practice and create without having to keep buying new sneakers to experiment on. The raised leather swoosh lends perfectly to being able to paint and erase artwork repeatedly without ruining the entire sneaker and creating more waste for the environment. The narrow canvas challenges me to get creative about what designs I can fit into it. Turns out, it’s limitless! It also encourages others to try this easy technique with me.
Why did you decide to start your own podcast on top of your art practice? What does the podcast platform offer you as an outlet?
I would consider myself a growing artist, and the purpose of the podcast is to share some of my trials and tribulations as I navigate what it means to be a full-time artist/entrepreneur. There are so many mental and physical barriers I was not aware of prior to starting my journey, and establishing yourself in the industry can feel lonely at times. I hope my stories resonate with like-minded artists; we can share funny stories, learn from one another, and most importantly, we can empower each other.
Why do you think your work resonates so much with online audiences?
What’s that saying about being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes?
Sneakers are the outlet to telling my story as an Asian woman born to an immigrant family; becoming an artist. A career in art was not only shunned— it was laughable, because the community would see it as a futile endeavor. “You could never have a career more respectable and lucrative as a doctor or lawyer.” My life before sneakers was living up to someone else’s expectations for success, and I think people resonate the most with my desire to pursue my passion.
I just want to be a kid again, executing ideas that I only dreamed of before, entertaining others, and being able to support myself financially as I do it. I hope that being able to share my artwork online encourages others to live out their dreams and always add a bit of color into their step.
Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?
I get obsessed with what I am currently working on, so that’s always my favorite project. At the moment, I’m in the process of creating a collection of sneakers inspired by many different species of birds.
What are your goals for your sneaker art empire?
I would love to have a room filled with sneaker art that’s not just by me, but by some of my favorite sneaker artists like Melicka (@mlcka) and Zack Kroll (@itsbaldboy). That’s my idea of making it! I love taking on initiatives that celebrate sneaker artists and all the amazing work they do. More importantly, I want to inspire more youth to pursue their passions in sneaker art. When I was younger, I was convinced that becoming an artist would be impossible. I still can’t believe I get to do this for a living!