Post-Impressionist All-Stars (The Bizarre Nexus of Painting and Podiatry)

I’ve been painting shoes since high school. Yeah, weird. I know. It all started as kind of an accident.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had these old blue Vans that were all stained and gross from marching in the mud. Being an idiot, I decided to bleach them in the washer. Thing was, I most likely used too much bleach and probably left them in for way too long, because they turned super white but also kind of disintegrated. After taping them back together, I painted designs on the shoes because what else was I gonna do with them?

The thing was, I thought they were cool, and other people did too.

High School Shoes

Two weeks later, I threw that first pair of Vans in the garbage and picked up some new ones. I painted these on brand-new canvas. If I remember correctly, I used a flag motif. Flags from all nations—the more colorful, the better. If memory serves, I even included a Nazi flag as well as the Confederate battle flag. Not politically correct, for sure. But a mismatched pair of conversation pieces.

And so, painted shoes became a thing—my thing. I painted shoes for friends and for cousins who wanted them. I painted a few to order. When I was a senior, I made a deal with my playwriting teacher: let me drive your brand-new 1987 Honda CRX to the prom and I’ll paint you a pair of shoes. Done.

Exit question: would you let some high-schooler drive your sports car in exchange for a pair of hand-painted shoes? Discuss.

I painted and wore out two or three pairs of shoes during my senior year. Right before graduation, I decided to paint a pair of shoes that would kind of represent my life at that time. And guess what?! I still have them. The paint’s pretty stiff, but otherwise they’re in near-perfect shape. They were kind of a collage of all the things that made me tick way back in 1987.


Two pieces of the collage stand out. One is on the toe of the left shoe: a tilted rendition of George Seurat’s L’après-midi dimanche sur l’Île de la Grande Jatte (or A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte). I first became aware of this work via the great art historian John Hughes, who featured the piece in his own magnum opus, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”


Here’s my version:

A Sunday Afternoon, ca 1987

Note also that I included portions of Picasso’s Guernica on this senior-year masterpiece:

Guernica, ca 1987

College Shoes: The Lost Works

So I got busy in college, but I wasn’t too busy to paint a pair of shoes. I can’t prove it now, but in college I painted some shoes with Beatles album covers. I have some blurry photos of those somewhere, but can’t put my hands on them at the moment. I wish I knew what happened to them. Probably wore them out. If I ever find the photos I’ll scan them and upload them here.

One of the highlights of my undergraduate experience was a trip I got to take to Chicago, thanks to winning a contest sponsored by the Alpha Chi academic society. My project won me a trip to attend the national convention, where I was able to see A Sunday Afternoon up close and person. Here’s my “Cameron moment” from 1993:

At the Chicago Art Institute, 1993

Post-Impressionism 1994

After I finished my undergraduate degrees and got real job, I had a revelation. I realized I had completely ignored the ultimate in podiatric canvases: Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. These storied high-top sneakers have been in production since 1917. Unlike Vans or Keds, which have the largest amount of paintable canvas on the toes of the shoes, All-Stars feature two triangular-ish sections of canvas that are large enough to really have fun with.

I painted my first pair of All-Stars during the summer of 1994. Since I literally had nothing better to do, I decided I would attempt my most ambitious design to date, covering the shoes with the works of some of my favorite post-impressionist painters. Featured prominently around the left heel is a familiar work: Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon. (Picasso makes an appearance as well, with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.)


Another benefit of Chucks—one I didn’t realize until two decades later—is that they last a lot longer than Keds or Vans. Seriously. I wore this particular pair forever. Sadly, after over 20 years of service, these shoes finally wore out. Not the canvas, mind you. The painted parts are still pretty vibrant. But the rubber sole on the left shoe cracked. I can still wear them, but if it happens to be raining (or if there’s snow on the ground), my socks get wet. No bueno.

Post-Impressionism 2015

After much soul-searching, last month I decided it was finally time to replace the old Chucks with a new pair. The thing was, I really liked the theme of the previous shoes. I like mixing familiar pieces with others that people might not know as well. I decided that I wanted to do just three major works on each shoe: one on each side, and a simpler painting on each tongue. That meant I needed to pick pieces that (A) were landscape in aspect, rather than portrait, (B) had a composition that would allow a more-or-less triangular slice represent the whole. This limited my options somewhat.

But guess what worked? Two of my old friends: A Sunday Afternoon and Guernica. Adding Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and that left just one panel to fill. I wanted a challenge—something that would require some tricky technique to try to simulate an “oil painting” feel with the acrylic paints I use. I ended up choosing one of Marc Chagall’s few landscape-oriented paintings, The Blue Circus.

For the tongues, I needed two simpler portrait compositions that were either tall or could be extended up and down to fill the tongues. I picked The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt (of The Kiss fame) and Son of Man by Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

20151016_135626 20151016_135612

I’m super pleased with the results. Can’t wait to wear them!

Gallery Tour, 2015 All-Stars

Right shoe:

The Starry Night (1889)
by Vincent van Gogh



On my shoe:


The Circus (1964)
by Marc Chagall



On my shoe:


Left shoe:

L’après-midi dimanche sur l’Île de la Grande Jatte (1884-1886)
by Georges-Pierre Seurat



On my shoe:


Guernica (1937)
by Pablo Picasso



On my shoe:


The Tree of Life (1905)



On my shoe:


Son of Man (1964)
be Rene Magritte



On my shoe:


Gallery Tour, 1994 All-Stars

Right Shoe:

The Sleeping Gypsy (1897)
Henri Rousseau


Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907)
Pablo Picasso


The Starry Night (1889)
Vincent van Gogh


The Green Violinist (1923)
Marc Chagall


The Yellow Christ (1889)
Paul Gaugin


The Dance (1930-1933)
Henri Matisse


Girl with a Blue Necklace (?)
Wassily Kandinsky


Left Shoe:

Water Serpents II (1905-1907)
Gustav Klimt


L’après-midi dimanche sur l’Île de la Grande Jatte (1884-1886)
by Georges-Pierre Seurat


The Persistence of Memory (1931)
Salvador Dalí


Posted in Art, Personal Tagged with: , ,