Last night, a group of art school graduates, influencers and innovators gathered at 1948 London to celebrate the culmination of an epic journey.
Over the past six weeks, the graduates from London College of Fashion, Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon and London College of Communication have worked under the tutelage of LLC’s Dean of Design Lawrence Zeegan and renonwed artist Dave White to create a t-shirt collection that captures the intensity, passion and spirit of an athlete’s Journey to Greatness.
The artists had the chance to find their inspiration in a series of meetings and training sessions with Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, Allyson Felix, Dai Greene and Paula Radcliffe, where each world-class athlete shared the highs and lows of life on the track. Dave White and the graduate teams then went away and channeled these insights into five creative t-shirts. Each completed style offers its own unique interpretation of the theme, but all convey a genuine sense of the athlete’s journey towards achievement and personal excellence.
We spoke to artist and long-time Nike collaborator Dave White about what the project has meant to him.
You’ve done a lot of work for Nike in the past. How did your involvement with the ‘Journey of Greatness’ project come about?
At the start of this year, I was asked down to Nike UK in London for a meeting where the Nike bigwigs introduced me to the project and asked ‘Would you be interested?’ And absolutely hand on heart, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I understood exactly what the project would be and exactly what it would do for these talented graduates.
It’s 20 years to the day since I kind of rolled out of my degree with nothing more than a piece of paper saying ‘You’ve qualified’ and a desire to be a painter. I just knew that this project would be an incredible kickstart for some of these people’s careers. It was an honour to be asked to be involved, and I could never have foreseen how amazing it would turn out to be.
What’s your own educational background?
I studied Fine Art and Painting for ten years at John Moores University in Liverpool. I learnt my craft there as part of the old-school generation where you got your grant and your course paid for. You don’t get that these days.
Did you encounter any difficulties during the course of the project?
I’d certainly anticipated some difficulties. You’ve got 16 incredibly talented, hand-picked graduates from multiple disciplines and a range of colleges. You put them in a mix in teams of four and you think it’s almost gonna be like an orchestra – everyone wants to scream as loud as they can. But what completely and utterly surprised me was that everyone gelled from the start. We had a workshop day here with the incredible people at It’s Nice That to see how everyone would work together, and they all just got it from the get go.
The beauty of what happened with the project is that there’s been no backward game plan – all this project has been is an incredible opportunity for 16 people to show off their creative talent. What has made this such an unmitigated success is that Nike gave us access to people you’d never in a million years think you’d have time with. I had a session with Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and his energy just jumpstarted the grads into action.
Pretty quickly, we all started getting comfortable and [the athletes] started getting comfortable with us. We had a two hour Q&A with Allyson Felix and we were asking her really open questions. The whole project is about the ‘Journey to Greatness’ and how an athlete actually trains for the biggest moments of their lives. As we were feeding off them, we all felt so inspired.
Something I didn’t want to do was to get involved with and just make a t-shirt. I’ve actually done one now, but in the beginning I was adamant about not wanting to do one because it’s [the graduates’] show. I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had but I didn’t think it was necessary. But then it all started and I felt I was working alongside [the graduates] more than anything. We all went back to school together.
Did anything surprise you along the way?
The most surprising thing is that the designs that have come out [of the project] are purely the result of our own journey and the six weeks of being on it – going for a 5k run with Paula, meeting Allyson Felix and understanding her mindset… Each and every one of the designs has come out of going back to the drawing board and getting in the right frame of mine. Even me – Mr Paint Splat! – ended up producing something digital. We were all out of our comfort zone.
What were the highlights of the project? Any surprises along the way?
It has been a real privilege to tutor the project alongside the esteemed author and professor Lawrence Zeegen. The biggest surprise has been that you would expect, say, four London College of Fashion students to design something that would draw from their past experiences and knowledge of their speciality. But actually we ended up with four fashion students in a field, trying to capture the dynamism of movement with glowsticks stuck to their bodies! You’ve got four students who are trying to show the breakthrough moment with one visual image – of the balloon getting through the mangle. The most incredible thing is the journey of how they all got to their final designs.
You could be cynical about a big brand approaching graduates and offering them an opportunity, but this project has been all about freedom with no ulterior motives. The beauty of it is that the five designs are so unique and so individual. They could only have come into existence by the Journey to Greatness.
With something as organic as this, it can’t be forced. And the results are testament to the flair and intelligence of these graduates, and the bright future that’s ahead of them.
What’s next on your personal Journey?
Well, I’ve just had my biggest exhibition to date at the Hospital Club in London. That show was themed around a brand new subject for me, which is critically endangered animals. The exhibition been open for a few weeks and it closes on Saturday.
It’s been a big departure for me. The show is completely mixed media. It’s a large selection of oil-on-canvas works, a lot of watercolour-on-paper works. I did a lot of research for those works, as I always do with series that I immerse myself in. I went everywhere. And it’s literally about critically endangered animals..It’s frightening to think that there are only fifteen of some of these species left in the world. But I’ve just scratched the surface with this show and I’m looking forward to pushing myself forward with the new one.
The ‘Journey to Greatness’ collection of five t-shirts will be on sale individually (£35 per shirt) from 14th July at NikeTown London and 1948London.
WE ALL WENT BACK TO SCHOOL TOGETHER