Why This Former Adidas Shoe Designer Created the Most Beautiful Air Jordan 1 Canvas Painting

Shane Ward has turned to his paint brush — something he hasn’t done in 22 years. Because despite living in uncertain times, the shoe designer, who is G-III Apparel Group’s creative director for the men’s footwear division, made a deal with himself that this pandemic would be a moment he could look back on and be proud of himself.

So to make the most out of this moment, Ward started to paint again with the goal of completing two pieces of art in quarantine. Now, this small personal goal has caught the eyes of many creatives among the shoe industry for what he calls the “AJ1-Blossomed.”

Set on 40” x 60” repurposed canvas, that same canvas he painted on over 20 years ago, Ward created the Air Jordan 1 detailed with cherry blossoms.

“It was not natural for me to jump to this,” he told FN, on why he decided on the Air Jordan 1 silhouette after initially sketching a wide range of ideas. Ward, who has had a long career in shoes, started his journey in design at Adidas in 1996.

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“It’s sacrilegious and I don’t wear Nike. I’m really loyal to this day,” he added. However, it was the Air Jordan 1’s iconic symbolism that drew him in. Plus, his mentor, Peter Moore designed it.

shane ward air jordan 1 painting
Creative director Shane Ward with his Air Jordan 1 painting.
CREDIT: Courtesy image

“I admire what the Jordan 1 stands for as a product. It’s so simple in its form that you can try to redesign it but it’s perfect that way it is. This shoe is not just the most iconic athletic shoe — it’s the most iconic shoe of human kind and the fact that it was designed by my mentor, Peter Moore, made it all the more meaningful.” Ward continued, “When I first started off as a very naive kid from Detroit and going to work for Adidas, Peter Moore was the creative director and he was such a champion of creativity and design and I admired him so much. So, [with the painting], I wanted to pay homage to his contribution to footwear.”

The idea of the cherry blossoms then came naturally as Ward spent time in Japan as a child and has continued to travel to Tokyo over the years for design inspiration. But the inspiration behind the flowers goes much deeper.

“The idea is that things we collect, whether it’s fashion, cars, jewelry, it’s here today but it can be gone tomorrow,” he said. “It’s so impermanent that the wind can blow it away as we’re always on to the next thing. That’s why the shoe is floating away, but what stays is the legacy that can never forgotten.”

In the midst of creating this piece, ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance,” coincidentally made its debut, which only made Ward more passionate about his art and connection to Jordan, the athlete.

“He was so driven to winning championships and he did it all costs because of his desire to be the best. That resonated,” said Ward. “Growing up as a poor kid and dealing with the shame of needing food stamps, there was an innate drive in myself to get out of that predicament. I really connected with his spirit.”

For Ward, showing that juxtaposition of a hardcore athletic shoe with the ethereal beauty and frailty of cherry blossoms, similar to Jordan and the beauty behind his purpose, was key to the meaning behind his artwork.

And though Ward is debating on whether he will sell or not, he is already in the middle of creating the next piece for the AJ1 series.

“As human beings, we should always grow and surprise ourselves,” he added, “and the response to my art has been a wonderful, heartwarming experience.”

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