Photo by Reggie Reagor

At Sneakertopia Artist Man One Pays Homage to Nipsey Hussle

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Big brands and art meet at the Playa Vista pop-up — and, yeah it’s commercial but it’s also ill.

Los Angeles has apparently become the unofficial capital of pop-ups, those Instagrammable art exhibitions dedicated to a specific aspect of pop culture like ice cream, selfies or weed. Sneakertopia, an interactive ode to sneaker culture and street art, is one of the latest to er, pop up, taking over a former retail space in Playa Vista.

The organizers tapped artists from around the country including Adam Fu, Smoluk, Ben Fearnley, David Kaul, Jade Ramey, McFlyy, Mimi Yoon, Ricardo Gonzalez, Ron Bass and Sophie Mazzaro to create installations celebrating sneaker culture’s impact on sports and entertainment. At Sneakertopia you can pose in a throne next to a larger-than-life purple and gold mural of LeBron, “ride” hoverboards a la “Back to the Future” and even purchase a pair of Kobe’s old kicks — if you’ve got money to burn.

One highlight is artist and L.A. native Man One’s multimedia homage to music festivals featuring hometown hero Nipsey Hussle alongside Rihanna representing for Puma, Kanye and his Air Yeezys and Run DMC and Beyonce rocking their Adidas. Other cameos in his work include illustrations of Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliott and Ariana Grande.

Besides being one of Sneakertopia’s featured artists, Man One is an internationally renowned graffiti artist. He’s been on the scene since 1987 when demand for his work was non-existent. “I had to constantly convince people that I was an artist or a muralist, not just a vandal, which was how most of us were seen,” he says. Now with major brands valuing artists and their work, he affirms that it’s possible to be creative and make a living.

But this has not been some overnight reversal of fortune for Man One and other graffiti artists across Los Angeles. It’s the fruit of 30 years of consistent hustle and a commitment to building spaces where graffiti and other street art could live, breathe and thrive. In 2002, he opened the Crewest Gallery, L.A.’s first full-time gallery dedicated to graffiti and street art. The gallery featured over 2,000 artists from around the world until it closed in 2012. It’s now morphed into Crewest Studio whose mission is to help artists figure out ways to monetize their art through licensing and partnerships with big brands and media companies.

Also under this umbrella is Not Real Art, a movement and podcast aimed at building community among creatives, and the brainchild of his business partner Scott “Sourdough” Power.

“We want to help artists by giving them motivation, knowledge and points of view that help them to understand that we all share many of the same struggles and obstacles in becoming full-time artists by following our dreams and passion,” Man One says.

It’s both a space for camaraderie and a critical resource for creative entrepreneurs as opportunities for artists in Los Angeles are expanding exponentially.

“It’s time for a new paradigm shift in the arts and the role in society for creatives has never been more important,” he says.

As installations in pop-ups and other public spaces gain popularity, artists are tasked with bringing branded ideas to life in new and innovative ways. Part of Man One’s work in Sneakertopia involves a wall of fabric featuring his renditions of numerous musical artists like Drake and Selena Gomez. He even learned new skills figuring out how to illustrate on fabric.

“People think that artists are people who create things, but artists are actually problem solvers,” Man One says. “That’s what we do … I didn’t just get a spray can and start painting. It takes a lot of preparation and figuring things out. The client has something in their head and wants to express, but we have to figure out all those other things they aren’t thinking about — how to express it, create it, make it happen.”

In reflecting on the utility of this pop-up phenomenon, Man One admitted that many of these pop-up “museums” are about people trying to make a “quick buck on some cheesy and poorly executed ‘art’ only good enough for a quick pic and post on IG.” It does a disservice to artists’ talent and how they are valued by brands in the long run which juxtaposes what Man One has spent his career rallying for. But he is pleased with being a part of Sneakertopia because he sees it as an exception. He notes that the pop-up is so well curated that “the art could easily live in a popular gallery or even museum.”


Sneakertopia is open through January and tickets are available on their website.

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