New York artist Brian Donnelly, who goes by the name Kaws, is a Brooklyn-based designer who works alongside many big-name brands. But in his recent project for sports giant Nike, he’s going back to his roots—graffiti-based street art.
Nike and the Parks and Recreation Department of New York City gave Kaws two side-by-side basketball courts on Stanton street in Manhattan, just down the way from where the artist lived in the 1990s. The two courts are surrounded by trees and abutted by a green space, a little oasis in the Lower East Side called Sara D. Roosevelt Park.
Kaws painted both courts in bold, dark colors and huge shapes, featuring abstracted images of Elmo and The Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. Both are black and blue silhouettes against red, orange, and yellow backgrounds. And of course, both feature the Nike Swoosh.
“My approach to the courts was very similar to how I would work on canvas,” said Kaws. “I wanted to create something that was true to my language but also considerate of this being a court that people are playing on.
“I wanted to find the sweet spot where it works visually and functionally—how it’s broken up by the game’s lines and works with my images.”
It was also important to Kaws that the art interact well with those who will use the courts. “I like the idea of public art because it reaches people in a casual way, and when they aren’t necessarily looking for it,” he said.
People playing basketball at Sara D. Roosevelt Park may come to see the art once, but it’s the hoops that are the main draw for them. So he wanted it to be the kind of art that would engage the young. Think of it as skateboard graphics or comics.
Kaws’s courts are just one small part of Nike’s giant new campaign, “New York Made,” which will see them sponsoring community art and events all across the city through 2016 and 2017.