artnet Asks: Painter Brendan Smith, Creator of Nike-Inspired Custom Artworks

Does Nike have the art world figured out?

Brendan Smith at FIVE ELEVEN. Photo: Matteo Prandoni/BFA.

Thanks to modern technology, you can customize your sneakers, your car, and just about anything else imaginable. But what about designing a customized piece of fine art? Brendan Smith‘s current show at FIVE ELEVEN gallery in Chelsea allows you to do just that. Called “PaintingID,” the concept is influenced by Nike’s online customization platform, and gives collectors the chance to select from an array of colors and finishes using software created exclusively for the show. In the gallery, iPads are stationed, ready to take orders. We caught up with Smith to discuss the show and his commercial ambitions, which would make Andy Warhol proud.

What was the inspiration behind this show?
“PaintingID” evolved after my first solo show in 2014, where I had 10 paintings in the gallery displayed in a more traditional manner.  For that show, I worked with [graphic designer] Keri Bronk, who designed a customization brochure similar to a new car catalog, where collectors could customize their own paintings based off of the few finishes and colors I used in that show.

I wanted to play with the idea of a painting being a commodity that, like many luxury items today, could be customized to a buyer’s personal taste based on the formal inputs presented in the paintings shown at the gallery.

I wanted to explore this idea further, and focus on certain aspects of customization today such as the disconnect between reality and the digital when designing our own items online such as in and Lexus’ “Build Your Lexus.” When using these sites, you use digital models of each item to customize your own final design. was a way to explore those ideas with my own work and take it into the digital realm while still keeping the focus on painting.

You mentioned that the show confronts the idea of collectors who want to have a lot of control over what an artist is doing. Is this something you’ve experienced a lot of personally?
I have had people in the studio who liked my work, but would want a certain painting in a different color, whether it was to match their home’s design, or just a particular color they personally liked… I decided to experiment with opening the dialogue between myself and collectors by allowing them to pick and choose certain inputs into my system of working, and whether it could still remain purely about the painting for me.

Installation view.  Photo: Matteo Prandoni/BFA.

Installation view.
Photo: Matteo Prandoni/BFA.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of designing the customization software for the show?
I began working on the concept last fall with [graphic designer] Harry Gassel and [multimedia artist] James Orlando. I wanted to replicate the 3D model aspect of NikeID for my paintings on the site, and James introduced me to an app called 123D-Catch that allowed me to 3D scan my painting’s surfaces so that a digital model could be rendered for each of the four finishes. This was the first time, as an artist, that I was working in elements outside of what I could directly control, so it was an interesting and challenging process to go through.

Do you have a favorite color/finish combination from the selections in the show?
Custom Blue #1 in free form would be my personal favorite.

When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
After I decided [that] I didn’t want to be an astronaut anymore.

Installation view.  Photo: Matteo Prandoni/BFA.

Installation view.
Photo: Matteo Prandoni/BFA.

What does a typical day in your studio look like?
My studio is just for painting. I don’t do any other type of work there, so it’s just a room filled with paint cans, a table which is layered with heavy-duty trash bags that I use as my palette and a folding chair for when I want to take a break. The entire floor space is covered with giant plastic tarps and there is paint everywhere.

What’s a fun fact about you?
I used to be a gymnast.

What do you predict for the future of the New York art scene?
I’m not sure, but hopefully it involves more painting.

PaintingID” is on display at FIVE ELEVEN until June 8, 2015. 

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