An interview with artist Huey Wong
Sydney-based artist and designer Huey Wong was recently approached by Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to lend his creative hand to customising a series of sneakers with one brief in mind: to be inspired by the stylish action flick ‘47 Ronin’.
A recent blockbuster, ‘47 Ronin’ is a Japanese-American fantasy action movie that depicts the account of forty-seven Ronin – a real-life group of masterless samurai in 18th Century Japan who avenged the death of their lord.
It’s a story of loyalty, sacrifice and courage, packed with some of the coolest (and most stylish!) fight scenes.
Wong has interpreted the creativity and beauty of the film, turning the humble street sneaker into an altogether new object of desire…
Hey there Huey. Are sneakers a medium you usually work with?
I love that sneakers have become so mainstream in modern-day culture and are an expression of who people are. I like that they start as a blank canvas and you can take inspiration from anywhere to form a really cool piece of artwork.I’m starting to do more in the space with sneakers, working on this project and, previously on illustrations for Onitsuka Tiger’s social media campaign tigerart, where we asked people to create t-shirt designs to win prizes. We also created a digital community canvas where people could draw and collaborate on one giant shoe.
What’s the relationship between the shoes and the film ‘47 Ronin’?
‘47 Ronin’ is a beautiful film. From the artistic fight scenes, to the special effects, the breathtaking scenery and the intricate detail of the costumes, down to the embellished armour worn by the Samurai and Ronin. These days, people’s artistic expression comes from the way the way they dress and the brands they choose to wear. And to me, modern-day armour is best represented by footwear. It’s where people feel the most free to step outside of their comfort zone and test the boundaries of fashion. The campaign combines the two ideas to create artistic armour in the shoes.
What inspired you to choose purple when designing Kira’s shoe?
Throughout time and history, purple has been used as a colour to represent mystery and darkness. Kira is portrayed as a villain in the film and the colour purple strongly associates with bad characters. I wanted to get a pattern and colour that speaks to his traits and an overall design that embodied the character itself.
In designing Kira’s shoe, was it challenging to match the design with his character in the movie?
It wasn’t actually too challenging because he was portrayed really well in the movie. The colours between good and evil were really quite distinct. I didn’t have a hard time searching for inspiration. I just wanted to get a pattern that speaks to his whole character and didn’t just zoom in on one style. His character is at the end of the spectrum, towards the evil side, and his costume reflects that. I wanted to convey that feeling into the shoe.
What inspired you to design a shoe for Mizuki?
There was a particular scene that really struck my mind, the scene when she was hanging upside down from the ceiling and transformed into a spider demon in order to poison Asano. This scene inspired me to design the shoe. Her dragon transformation towards the end of the film was also great and would have been a cool shoe to make, but I didn’t feel it represented her character on the whole.
What was the creative process in designing Mizuki’s shoe?
I researched different spider web patterns and started sketching out which direction the web would go. I then picked colours from Mizuki’s costumes that I thought were most representative of her character and personality.
Did the Japanese culture influence the designs of the shoes?
Definitely. In the design of the Ako Clan’s shoes, I studied traditional paintings and traditional Japanese artworks and costumes for inspiration. I decided on the cherry blossom because it’s one of the most identifiable patterns in Japanese culture. In Asian culture, red is associated with positive aspects, for example, in Chinese weddings red is a dominate colour and the sun in the flag of Japan is red. It is a very significant and optimistic colour in the Asian culture. With the design of the Ako Clan shoe, I think the Samurai are the most honourable people on earth and I really want to get that personality and Japanese culture into the shoe.
Does Lovecraftian’s armour have any significance to the design of the shoe?
Lovecraftian reminds me of a demigod like character. He answers to no one, only to his master Kira. I think of him as someone who is willing to accomplish a mission at all costs even if it means the end of his life. His armour visually tells you the story of his background without him talking throughout the movie. I mainly focused on his armour and how it could translate onto the shoe as it had a lot of intricate details and patterns that I wanted to reflect.
Why are Kai’s shoes very simple compared to the other designs?
I chose a very simple pattern for the fabric for Kai’s sneaker. Kai’s costuming is more simplistic than the Samurai. The type of fabric I used was from the second-hand markets; it was taken from a pair of pants that had been cut up. From watching the movie and studying his character you can tell he’s clearly different from the rest of the characters. He’s seen as an outcast and I wanted the shoe to reflect that.
What were some of the challenges/difficulties faced in the design and production process?
The hardest part was reproducing the design, translating it from the computer to the actual shoe and getting the paint colours right. I had to do about ten coats of paint for each pair. I found working on Mizuki’s the hardest, because the green wasn’t sticking onto the leather, so about fifteen coats had to be painted. They’re now one of the strongest shoes, so it was worth it.
From the five bespoke street sneakers designed, which one is your favourite?
I like the Ako Clan shoe. I feel it has a lot of meaning behind it. The Japanese culture is strongly reflected throughout its design and I feel it best reflects the personality of the character.
‘47 Ronin’ is available May 22 on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and UltraViolet through Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
See the film and you’ll realise all this stylish sneaker talk makes sense! View the trailer here.
Oh, and if you’d like to bid for any of the ’47 Ronin’ custom designed sneakers, go to eBay!