Recently I was browsing through my Instagram explore page and I seen this pair of Air Force 1’s that had this painted swoosh outlining the classic swoosh so immediately, I was interested. Once I found where the kicks came from, I discovered that this creative work was created by Julian “JUWOP” Gaines. Juwop (Ju Working On Projects) is a 26 year-old from Chicago who’s designs have made it into the closets of people from Teyana Taylor, Curren$y, and Korean superstar G Dragon to designer/creative director Virgil Abloh and into the doors of Nike (who’s eye he caught at this past year’s Complex Con).
Rather he’s designing a jacket for Teyana in less than an hour or customizing his personal version of the classic Nike swoosh, you know that it’s only one of a kind. If you weren’t impressed already, the Chicagoan also recently collaborated with Jumpman 23 to put a twist on the recently released Travis Scott Levi Jordan 4’s. Fortunately for me, I got in contact with Julian to interview and to get some insight on how he’s taking over the world of art and design one project at a time. Peep our interview below:
Jaconna : So what was the first moment when you realized you wanted to be an artist ?
JUWOP: I guess early on like at about 11, 12 , I started realizing that I only cared about 2 things, no 3 things which was sports, reading, and art. I always did well in art class and I always did well in English class so my first clothing line was entitled “Liberal Arts” because I was in liberal arts class and that’s English and art together. I would say 13 is when I decided that I wanted to focus on pursuing a career in art and design.
Jaconna: Thats dope ! So I know you grew up in Chicago. What are some things that kinda shaped your taste as an artist from clothes to music and art ?
JUWOP: Some things that shaped my taste would probably be just southside of Chicago. Just being from South Shore and going to such a big high school and seeing how a lot of kids dress the same inspired me to make my own clothes. I wanted to be original like Jay-Z said in “Imaginary Players”. I would make new shirts every night and sell it to my church peers and class mates. As far as music, I would say like Kanye, Do or Die…
Jaconna: Were you always a Ye fan or?
JUWOP: Yes always. I mean my mom went to Chicago State, his mom taught at Chicago State, I could relate. I grew up reading so I read Dr.West’s book early. I would say when I was becoming a young man from like 16 to 18, I would say Curren$y, Kanye, Jay-Z, Wiz, and Gucci shaped me as a person. Wanting to just be original was really what shaped me to not try to look like other people. Even when I used to played football in college, I would draw on my cleats, like before Nike ID , I needed my cleats to have these drawings and this type fire.
Jaconna: So I know you’re like a huge Jean Michel Basquiat fan and clearly a die-hard Nike/ Jumpan 23 kind of guy. What are some aspects of Nike and Basquiat that consistently influence your eye as a creative ?
JUWOP: I would say the juxtaposition between Nike and Basquiat and how it inspires me is that Jean Michel died in 1988 I believe or 86′ and the Air Force 1 came out in 82′ so for me I always thought of it like “Dang, what if Jean Michel would’ve painted a crown on an Air Force 1?”. What if he would’ve had that intuition and that know how? That shoe would’ve been worth $110 million and it would still be wearable. That really inspires me because I feel like I channel his energy and he didn’t have a chance to work with Nike so if my favorite artist didn’t get to do it, I want to be able to do it and pay an ode to them as respectfully as I can. In the future, hand-painted clothing will be high fashion and high art so you go to the MOMA, you’ll see my handprinted shoes in 40 years, that’s what I foresee it as because we’re in a midst of a renaissance.
Jaconna: So how did the name “Ju Working On Projects” come about ?
JUWOP: So Gucci was a huge inspiration to me and my sister (Jordan) so when he changed his name to Guwop, I was like I’m going to call my sister Jowop but it didn’t sound all that good so I stole it and was like “Im going by Juwop now.” Then my birthday is on 10/18 , but my original Instagram name was Flight 81 but while I was in Colorado I changed my name to Ju Working On Projects. I was really inspired by Tyler,The Creator and the fact that his name was a verb so I wanted to change my name into a verb in which I was doing something , working on projects and I do just work on projects all day.
Jaconna: So talk to me about Curren$y and how he got a pair of your kicks.
JUWOP: I have this thing about giving things to my favorite artists so it’s a dope story, so listen. I had this low-rider and I wanted Curren$y to sign it and I know he loves cars and I love cars so I wanted it for my studio. I went to the show and my friend told me to hold the hood up, I floated to the front of the line, and at the end of the concert I said “hey these shoes are for you”. I look at selling art like selling drugs. People don’t turn down free art and they don’t turn down free drugs. Draymond has art of mine, Virgil, Curren$y, Teyana Taylor. Teyana walked into Station 23, stayed an hour,I took some creative direction from her, drew it up, and boom she got a jacket of mine. The painted swooshes just came from a lot of confidence and faith. I moved to Portland, stayed on my homie’s couch for 2 months, walked 7 miles at least 3 to 4 times a week just to be on Nike’s campus. I tried to pitch ideas, worked on projects, and stayed on the Nike campus 4 to 5 hours to catch meetings. I moved out to Portland with no money so I’m broke and my homie gave me some leftover Air Force 1s and I thought “If Nike ain’t going to hire me right now, I’m going to create a design that Nike would want to buy from me “. I wanted to create something that people can wear everyday, like a staple. The swoosh is painted because I have a drawing and painting degree, I’m a painter. I painted my way to Nike and the swoosh is off-kiltered because I don’t work at Nike, Im freelance. Each swoosh is painted differently because each tells a different story. It looks deliberately rough and whimsical because the past wasn’t easy and there were many sacrifices. Straight up, that’s what the swoosh represents. The paint drop and the tongue tag was just symbolic of me leaving my mark at Nike.
Jaconna: That’s an amazing story, wow. So who was the first person to ever buy a pair of your Air Force 1’s?
JUWOP: As far as marketing myself as a creative, that started from me taking chance and going out to Complex Con and not going to be fan but to be a billboard and show my work off. The first people would have to be my homies like Joe C, he bought my painted forces, two pair. Nike commissioned me to paint three pair of Air Force 1’s for G Dragon so Nike was the first brand to ever buy my shoes.
Jaconna:Wow, that’s dope. So of course I know you went to college but did you plan on becoming the person you are now or did you have different plans in college?
JUWOP: I went to college on a football scholarship and I was studying art too so initially I used to study graphic design, but I didn’t like graphic design because my classmates were snobby kinda but even in my design work, there was paint aesthetic. I was teaching art and literacy in Tennessee and I met Kadir Nelson who painted Drake‘s album cover with the baby picture (Nothing Was The Same). I went up to him after his lecture for the meet and greet and he was like “man if you’re good in anything, you’ll make money” so I just listened. I wanted to play for the Chicago Bears but I only wanted to play for 3 years, save money, and propel my art career so I guess to certain degree yeah. I tore my shoulder twice and I just turned to God. I went to intern for Hebrew Brantley following my injury and I said man Hebrew does not get injured.
Jaconna: Wow theBears was a whole left turn. What’s your creative process?
JUWOP: I search a lot of blogs. Justin Saunders is a huge inspiration to me and my friends as creatives and I study the creatives I admire. I get up 3:30, 4 in the morning, smoke, make some coffee , pray, watch the sun rise, and I like to get the time in because there’s so much time wasted sleeping so I just go to bed a little earlier. I might go to McDonalds, Mcdonalds is one of my favorite restaurants, come back, and when I’m inspired, I work fast.
Jaconna: I know you collaborated with Jumpman 23 for the Travis Scott Levi Jordan 4’s project, but are there are any other moves you can tell me about ?
JUWOP: My next big thing is having a solo art show here in Portland so Im trying to find a space now where I can get things going. I don’t put a lot of my art outside of the shoes on to Instagram because I found that shoes were working so I just did what was working. Now people are paying attention and then you just hit them with the crossover and say boom this is what I’m here for.
Jaconna: Well this was great, thank you so much for your time!