Artist Spotlight: Frank Oriti Examines Sneaker Culture and Chats About Process

click to enlarge Artist Spotlight: Frank Oriti Examines Sneaker Culture and Chats About Process
Photo by Laura Wimbels

Artists are constantly moving forward. The work has to evolve visually, but also so that the context becomes richer and more complex. We met up with Frank Oriti in his studio at the Screw Factory in Lakewood where we chatted about his latest series of paintings that aren’t moving away from his signature style, but certainly are proof of an artistic evolution.

“So this is the new stuff I've been working on,” he states in front of three new paintings that dive into the sub-subculture of shoes. “It’s slightly similar to what I've done, but I’ve never done paintings of these shoes before, like studio shoes and like stuff that is aged and kind of beat up. But this is new, new stuff.”

The three paintings before us are of old school, mid-high tops. The colors are rich and lush and have an iconic air about them. He explains; “So I did that one first.” He points to the wall to ‘Banned,’ a painting of the black and red, classic Air Jordans, “and then the one next to it second and then the one I have on the easel now is about done. It's in its final touch stage.” Oriti is speaking about ‘Red October,” pictured above.

“I'm a little bit of an outsider to this sneaker culture sneaker world. I feel as if I am investigating it from an outsider perspective because I have an appreciation for these things as objects, but I'm not necessarily like a sneaker head myself. Looking at colors and materials and design and how they all kind of work together, I like them as objects. They’re kind of beautiful, and to paint, it’s fun.” He continues: “Those specifically are the Kanye West shoe that he sort of collaborated with Nike and Design. Ever since I saw those, I was like, man, those are so crazy looking and red is one of my favorite colors. I just always kind of put those up on a pedestal.”

The shoe has all sorts of wild things going on. The contrasting textures, the cloth and rubber materials. The red is outstanding. Oriti reveals diving into the research behind the prices and rarity of some of the shoes, which, to some, is akin to the search for the Holy Grail.

The painter has definitive categories on his website for his work: Material and Figure. We asked what category this new work would fall under. Certainly there is material, but within that fibrous root-like category is room for object. So would this latest work fall into material or objects?

“I mean, I'm not really sure yet. I mean, it's so new. So I did a show in New York this year. And I knew that I needed to switch it up just to, you know, come in, come back to the studio. As I’m sure you know, there is that post-show state that you’re in, but you know you have to get back to work.” Oriti says. “I remember having instructors along the way in art school always asking when you're kind of in a spot where you don't know what what's next and you're maybe you're not excited about making the work that you're making, but you're just kind of going through the motions, yet it's important to be working, but it’s tough, you know? You want to be working on something that is worth your time and effort, but you also need something that is worthy of investigation, as well.”

An artist can sometimes feel a bit wooden and the opportunity to investigate another branch of life is an exciting adventure. “I love being a part of that really traditional mode of figure painting and I love being a part of that that lineage, nut maybe it is sort of a social media thing where I just see everything that's out there and it just becomes like a drop in in the art world. It seems like this sort of stuff, there's already a culture in place that is like a sub-subculture influenced by sports culture, like the music world, you know, and all of these people that are collaborating with these companies and making these really unique objects and I'm fascinated by it. I'm fascinated by people spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a pair of shoes that you want to wear, but you do not want to get scuffed. You have people waiting in line and online for days to buy these things anyway. It's crazy, as well as just looking at how we go from, you know, one of the first Air Jordans in the early 1980s to, let’s say, the early to mid-2000’s. It is worlds apart, that evolution. I haven't been this excited to be in the studio and making something in a series in a little while."

Process and progress dominate our conversation, but work ethic is also a major factor for success in and around the studio. Oriti has a blue collar style work ethic, meaning, keep at it — don’t give up, lift the mental barbells and throw down like a boss.

“I always come back to working in a similar way, in a similar manner. And it's because I'm naturally drawn to the process. You know, kind of breaking things down and figuring out how long each part of the painting is going to take and sort of, you know, figuring out how, like a contractor would break down a job. That is how I end up going about it and kind of like breaking things down piece by piece. It is process oriented. We were talking about kind of those ruts that you get into. I've always tried to stay busy just because I know there's always work to be done. This is what we do. I couldn't tell you the last time I've been out of the studio for more than a week or two or longer than a week or two, just because when I'm not making something or working on making something, or preparing to make something, I feel off.”