Like most skaters around the world, Connor Tingley’s childhood and teenage years were spent in Vans plimsolls. Now, the South Californian artist has designed two official pairs with his creative studio COOL LLC. Launching on October 22, the 28-year-old’s Vault By Vans collection is an expressive combination of his conceptual perspective of the OG footwear and his own personal experience with them.
The instantly-recognizable sneakers have become a blank slate for many a collaboration in China and beyond: the label just announced a Bilibili limited-edition collection for October 31, and has previously worked with Chinese designer Suwukou and artist Huatunan.
This isn’t the first time that Tingley has dropped a collaboration either. The painter and illustrator launched a cosmetics line with Nars back in 2019 for which he was given full creative control (right down to the lipstick shades, one of which he passed on to LA-acquaintance Marilyn Manson — who loved it).
Globally-esteemed designer and industry muse Michèle Lamy is another of the iconic names who appreciate Tingley’s work. Selected to be part of the Lamyland collective, the artist designed a limited-edition board for the “What are we skating for?” event earlier this year at The Skateroom.
His Vault By Vans’ sneakers is the latest project that builds on Tingley’s roots as an artist-skater hyphenate, sporting smudged checkerboards, graffitied with doodles and splodges of paint. When Jing Daily asked Lamy for her opinion on the Connor Tingley Vans, she said, “He lives on a board. He skates his Art. He paints on Wheels. He jumps he turns. He make music from his tricks. About time that he has good shoes. And us.”
On the concept, Tingley said that he was analyzing how that familiar Vans checkered pattern was a symbol of unity to him, even though the black and white squares are usually rigid and separate. “It didn’t feel that they were connected. I felt that white represents white people, and black represents Black people, and I wanted to find a way to reinform that and recreate something that felt more real,” he stated.
It’s a perspective that reflects the Vans culture from the sixties and seventies; Tingley realized this once he started looking into it. Excited about the connection between his own interpretation and the company’s origins, the artist explained how Black and white kids who hung out together used to doodle the checkered pattern onto their shoes as a sign of togetherness. Which is precisely how the late Vans founder Paul Van Doren conceptualized the original checkerboard shoe —making Tingley’s creations even more profound. And it’s that artistry which had creative visionary ASAP Nast tell Jing Daily, “Why did [Tingley] have to go so crazy on them? Even the box? It’s just a pair of Vans, these gotta be the best Vans collab of all time.”
When Jake Mednik, senior global category manager of Vault by Vans, visited Tingley’s studio, the designs were ready-made, meaning that the project could take off immediately. It’s organic collaborations such as this which are a no-brainer for brands wanting to naturally tap into their existing subcultures.
Tingley observed, “I think [collaboration] is a driver of community. When you bring in a new collaborator, it opens up so much space for the brand to think differently and innovate, and expands the horizon.” There’s no doubt in his mindset that brand partnerships have become an essential part of being an artist in 2022.
Tingley ultimately views products as another avenue for creativity, as a benefit of evolving his work. Yeezy’s Chief Operating Officer Udi Avshalom called the Vans designs Tingley’s own “Mona Lisa”, reflecting just how much a product can even be viewed as art in 2022.
It’s very clear that for the LA-native, collabs between brands and artists have many positives. “In the seventies, eighties, and nineties, collaboration wasn’t the way that it is today. I think that’s because of the internet, and the power being given back to the people. People generally accept it. It’s more comfortable for everybody because it’s become the norm,” he said.
Following on from that point, Tingley compares brand collaboration to friendship, adding that a one-off collection can simply reflect where an artist was mentally during that point in their life. He continued, “you know, just because I might be friends with somebody doesn’t mean that I’m happy with every single decision they have ever made, but when I’m hanging out with them, we’re going to make the best of it and we’re going to make sure that our conversations will apply to each other’s lives. I think that brand collaboration should be mutually beneficial, in terms of explaining each other’s narrative.”
There’s a sense that Tingley is alluding to that 2019 Nars tie-up, as he claims that he would do that cosmetics line differently, if he were to do it now. “I probably would’ve gone all black and white,” the creative affirmed. “But, that’s only because I’m in a different place in my life right now. That’s why collaborations are cool to artists too. It is sort of journalistic, and records where that person is at in their life and the way they’re thinking about interacting with a product.”
The depth at which Tingley approaches brand-artist collaboration breathes life into the space, as will sure be seen in his upcoming line for eyewear make Jacques Marie (details yet to be revealed). If anyone imagines that such crossovers have made art over-commercialized, then names like Tingley are here to disrupt that mentality. The archaic art-world anxiety of “selling out” is so ’90s. Now it’s time to celebrate the joy of the collab.