We managed to sit down with Mr White for an exclusive interview discussing this latest collaborations, plus talk about his career as an artist, what he gets up to in his spare time and what it’s like to be a Star Wars super fan.
artrepublic (AR): First up, did you always want to be an artist?
Dave White (DW): I always, always loved drawing as a little boy - whether it was things I was into as a kid, you know TV programmes, or certain movies that I’d seen, I would always be drawing. So, I always made images of things I loved.
AR: What was the first thing you ever remember drawing?
DW: It would probably be Spider Man. Up in Liverpool there used to be a Toy shop on Bold Street that had amazing vinyl’s, right up high on the top of the building, from the outside, and I always loved them. And my dad bought me the comics, so yeah, I guess it would be spider man.
AR: What made you want to become an artist?
DW: Like most artists, I made a conscious decision to go to art college and do a degree and all of that. It’s kind of in your blood - you don't know what’s going to happen you just know that there’s a burning desire to do it and you just go for it.
AR: Did you go straight from school to college?
DW: Yeah, I went straight from school. I stayed on to do A Levels and I basically had to fill my subjects up - all I was interested in was art! Then I went to Southport Art College and studied there for four years, and then I went to John Moores and did my degree there.
AR: Has it always been animals that take centre stage in your art?
DW: That’s a really interesting question. When I was doing my degree I did a whole series, and I became known for painting animals, which were very bright and very garish. They were very humorous, really. I’d people with animals and then I’d put little bits of Letraset font over the top of them. So, yeah, I kind of fell into that. My very first break was out of art college when I showed with Connaught Brown, who were still going in Albemarle Street. They saw the show at the Royal College and said ‘we’d like to show with you’ and then I kind of fell out of it - well, I didn’t exactly fall out of it, but it’s like everything I do has a natural progression, so once I've said what needs to be said I’ll move on. But the animal resurgence happened when I did the Americana series. I’m really interested in how animals were part of Native American culture - how something as small as a hummingbird can be the most powerful spirit. And then it all just fell into place - I can’t really explain it, it’s just about how special are. It’s not just me making paintings of animals, it’s so much more than that.
AR: Have you got one animal that you love the most?
DW: Ah, that’s a crazy difficult question! I like sharks at the moment, I keep going back there. I keep finding these photos on Instagram. I can’t swim, but I need to dive with them! I don't know, I love elephants. I think if I had to pick one it would be elephants because they’re just the most special thing.
AR: And trainers have played an integral role in your career - do you love trainers, or…?
AR: No? Not at all?
DW: Hate them
AR: How many pairs have you got at home?
DW: I have a couple… . Ever since being a little kid, again, I’ve felt part of the trainer culture - since long before the internet, long before dedicated magazines. Some people say that trainer culture actually started in Liverpool, with the Liverpool casual thing and with every football club. People would go to away games and it was always about - even way back then, I'm talking 1983, 1984, when I was 14 - it was about, seeing somebody in school or at a football match who had a pair of rare trainers that they had picked up in Germany or France or somewhere, when they'd been watching their football teams. It was ingrained in us then.
AR: You've done a few projects with Nike before - what was your first one? How long ago was it?
DW: The first one was in 2003. As I say, back then there were no kind of blogs or websites dedicated to sneakers. I made just because I loved them. And then they got out there and one day I came back to an answerphone message from a guy saying he was from Nike LA, could I give him a call. And I'm like ‘errr…’. I rang my mate Neil up saying, ‘are you messing with me? Is this you?!’ And he's like, ‘no it isn't me!’ So, I rang this number and it was this guy from Nike. And he said, ‘look, AirMax 2003 is coming out, I’ve seen your work, I want to do an in-house Nike t-shirt, just for this crew - would you do it?’ And then it just bubbled from there. It’s been an incredibly amazing journey, even though I don't paint sneakers anymore. That series ended in 2007, but Nike are just my absolute favourite, I have an incredible relationship and bond with them. The best project I was involved with was called ‘Journey to Greatness’. We took 10, cream-of-the-crop London graduates from graphics, fashion, fine art, and design, and mentored them for a year. We got to meet Allyson Felix and Paula Radcliffe and it was all about understanding the athletes journey to greatness and it was also about them coming out of college and understanding the real world. I mean, some of them were flipping two jobs in a bar and in a bakery and you could sense that they were on the cusp of feeling like their dreams were over and then this - getting their first design project with a company like Nike and getting their own t-shirt sold - for most of them, it changed their lives. It’s not just about me and I love that. The other one that was on a level with that was when I did the Wings for the Future Jordan . 23 pairs were auctioned off and the money went to charity, but I actually worked with the kids over in Inglewood high school in Compton doing this mural. I have never in my life been so humbled - this group of kids had nothing, some of them were so poor that they could only use the school’s internet. was them doing this basketball mural and I worked with them on it. It was my 40th birthday and I spent the day in this high school, with these kids, mentoring them, doing this mural - it was just absolutely amazing. And also, what is absolutely incredible is that Jordan literally went to that school for no other reason than to do a good deed. What Nike did was to go in, refurbish the basketball courts, full suites of computers - they went through the school like a storm and just reinvigorated it. And they got big athletes in as well, I was just part of the puzzle. The kids put on a jamboree in the sports hall and I had to get up and speak and I've never felt energy like with these children - they were 12 and 13, coming from nothing, and opportunities in life are so hard for underprivileged kids and it just felt amazing, the energy in that place - that was the best part of working with that brand.
AR: So what brought you to this project? How did it all come about?
DW: The initial project, was first and foremost a three way collaboration between myself, Size and Nike. Paul Ruffles is brand director for Size UK and we go back a long way. He wanted to celebrate our 10 year anniversary of working together and it all just happened organically. We just sat down and batted our heads for a year - that’s how long it took, really. Nike are just an incredible company in the sense that they have a long standing history of working with artists: you’ve got Stash, you've got Futura you've got the current acronym collaboration. You know, they take artists and let them be. Initially we wanted to do this quintessentially English thing - Albion, fox, rabbit - we were going to do just colourways pretty similar, and Nike , ‘no, it’s got to be so much more than just another colourway. it’s got to be about your art’. The design team over in Portland have all the technology and all the amazing insight into what’s coming. So this AirMax is a brand new model in the sense that the actual materials are fused together so even a year, two years, three years ago, you could never, ever get that print to be on that shoe - the technology’s moved forward. 15 years ago I made paintings of the trainers. 15 years later, there are trainers with the paintings on them - I don't really understand it, it’s bizarre!
AR: And why was it a rabbit and a fox?
DW: What’s interesting is that there’s a natural kind of rivalry with a fox and a rabbit, it’s almost synonymous: they both compete, they both exist, it’s the survival of the fittest and I think that really translates quite well with athletes and with sport - that moment of, ‘it’s me and you mate’, that’s it.
AR: So we hear you’re into gaming…
DW: I’m a massive gamer, there’s no denying it. Ever since hearing that beep-beep in 1976 in a skate park - that was me done I'm afraid. My love and passion for video games has only grown and escalated. What I would say, is that as I've got older I've become more bespoke in the sense of what I will play. But what I will play, I’ll invest a lot of time in…
AR: And Star Wars… bit of a super fan?
DW: Star Wars, I mean, 1977 for me, was the life changing moment really. As soon as I saw that film my world completely and utterly span on its head.
AR: What do you think of the latest one?
DW: I think it’s absolutely stunning. I would say, it’s on par with Empire Strikes Back. As good as.
AR: If you could take two items to a stranded island, what would they be?
DW: A map and a boat.