Legendary graffiti artists painted sneakers to sell and display in Tampa (with gallery)

Published August 9 2018
Updated August 10 2018


Sneakers are as integral to hip-hop culture as DJs, MCs, breakdancing and graffiti. And in 1983, when the Reebok Classic was introduced to the world, the South Bronx was erupting with this culture, including a core group of daring graffiti artists who were bombing trains and walls.

An art show at the Burn Rubber Sneaker Boutique hearkens back to those days by inviting artists to transform all-white Reebok Classics into works of art. The exhibit "Classics" includes legendary graffiti artists who pioneered full train bombing as well as acclaimed contemporary artists.

The idea for the show came from Tampa artist duo Illsol (Tony Krol and Michelle Sawyer) and Omar Ghanem, who runs Burn Rubber. They used Ghanem’s connection with Reebok and started a list of artists to invite.

Krol decided to use the year the shoe came out as a tie-in.

"Reeboks Classics started in 1983," he said. "So I tried to get graffiti influencers from 1983 and before to try to align with the Reeboks brand."

They reached out to South Bronx legend Cope 2, who agreed to participate. He then invited fellow legend Blade, the "King of Graffiti," who got Lady Pink on board. With the addition of Terrible T-Kid 170, the show earned serious street cred. Open any book on graffiti and you’ll find these artists throughout.

Cope, Blade and T-Kid all wrote their trademark tags on the shoes. Lady Pink’s transformation of hers into a brick wall, with the tags of other icons Doze and Scene, is a time capsule of the era.

The contemporary artists are highly respected, too. There’s Chicago-based Sentrock; BirdCap, who has murals around the world; and Cuddly Rigor Mortis, whose work is shown in numerous galleries.

Among the total 19 pairs, a few local artists are also included, such as Scumrag, the Peach Moon and Illsol. Krol used aerosol to create an argyle pattern and Sawyer came back with Angelus leather paint to embellish the shoes with skulls and flowers with the touch of a feather.

While the shoes are technically wearable, collectors who have already purchased pairs have no plans to wear them. They’ll display them on the wall on custom stands on which each artist’s logo is etched. Prices range from $250-$1,500. Each pair of shoes also comes with a signed certificate of authenticity.

The unusual medium brings a different perspective about what is considered art. Krol and Sawyer, who run a gallery called Mergeculture, strive to broaden horizons by presenting work that represents a blend of subcultures.

"I think what we’re trying to do is bring more thoughtful art to Tampa," Krol said. "There is affordable art on this wall that is an investment. All of these pieces could go up in value. We’re trying to bring the connections that we’ve made in the art world to more people."

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