From designing Toms® Shoes retail interiors to producing his own fashion brand while still in college, to designing the Duane Reade balance rewards logo, to bronzing Jordans, Matthew Senna is a well-versed creative. Some artists have passion projects—work they create for themselves, not created under the watchful eyes of clients or creative directors. Matthew Senna took the leap into round-the-clock work that is private by design.
A conceptual artist and designer living in Los Angeles, Matthew is inspired by culture and politics. Matthew’s works, including his bronzed—and sometimes solid gold—Jordans, are created with the intention of sparking thought, raising awareness of cultural issues and inspiring personal growth.
Q: Please tell us about your journey from working in an advertising agency to full-time conceptual artist/designer.
I grew up as an artist and got into design and branding at a young age (around 13) when a friend asked me to start a t-shirt line with him. I was the designer, which led to taking classes at F.I.T. while in high school to explore subjects such as graphic design, fashion design and photography. From a young age, I crossed the lines of design and art.
I connect to all of the visual arts through storytelling. Whether embodied in design or art, compelling stories always spark an emotion, which is how people connect to it.
“The Politics of Women’s Rights in Iran” – T-shirt design by Senna from the 2009 Jamie Marx Collection
My t-shirt line led me to opportunities working in advertising, branding and marketing, but after a few years, I decided to leave that world. I was no longer connecting with the process of dealing with CMOs or executives who would make decisions based on what their niece liked or how fearful they were of losing their jobs. There was no passion—it was all about the numbers.
I left and made the commitment to dive into my art full time. I wanted to allow myself the freedom to create things I fully believe in with no rules and no one else putting their fingerprints on it unless I bring them in to collaborate or curate.
Q: Why do you bronze Jordans?
The Bronze Jordans are part of a series called “Higher Learning.” I created this series to create conversations about today’s sneaker culture. There is an interesting contrast as to whether these works are paying homage to the history of these iconic shoes by freezing them in time, or if by creating sculptures of them, the works represent an exploitation of the culture and statement about the pedestals we place these brands and materialistic items on.
But it’s also a conversation that is very much open to interpretation. As I have traveled around the world that conversation has evolved. The Bronze Jordans are no longer just shoes—they are a global catalyst for conversation, inspiration, hope, dreams, or aspirations.
Q: How do people around the world respond to your bronzed works?
Seeing the global response to the work has been the most eye-opening part of all of this for me. Since creating these works, I have traveled to Spain, Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris, and have collectors in Hong Kong, London, Dubai, Beijing and throughout the U.S. When I started I knew there was an international appeal but the stories that I have collected and the types of people who have connected with the work internationally have opened my eyes to the power of the pieces.
Q: What’s the relationship between art and design in your work?
It varies from piece to piece. The Higher Learning series is more obvious in its roots in design through the objects that I chose as the base of the sculptures. But even for other pieces such as the pieces I created for my “Nowhere To Go But Up” show in Paris, and the space we chose to present it in, were very much “designed” or created to be these almost graphic pieces that expressed one emotion or another. I think that art and design go hand in hand in my work. The ultimate goal is to create pieces and experiences that create an emotion in the viewer.
Stills from “Nowhere to Go But Up”
Q: How did being a Jordan Head as a kid teach you about brand development?
I would watch the Bulls games with my friend’s father who was from Chicago. First and foremost, we were fans of Jordan. When the Air Jordan 11 came out he decided to buy them for his son and my mom refused to buy them for me because they were too expensive.
In 1999, Brand Jordan added Randy Moss, Roy Jones Jr. and Derek Jeter to the team, which really made me connect with the brand; I was so intrigued that they were able to take this core basketball brand and have it transcend the boundaries simply through the blood line of “greatness.” So you now had guys wearing the logo of a basketball player while they were playing football or boxing or baseball because of the power of the story and inspiration behind it.
I began ripping ads out of magazines, pages out of catalogs and just studying their moves on a different level because it not only inspired me but really connected with me and sparked an interest in what they were doing on an entirely new level.
Q: Please tell us about the private commission to honor Common’s Oscar nomination.
I was in the middle of making a series of ten pieces titled—”Study 001”—which was a pair of 24K Gold Air Jordan 1 sculptures, when Common’s manager came to my studio and saw the first one. He immediately asked when they were going to be done because he wanted to buy the first available for Common as a gift for his Oscar nomination. He then went on to tell me about his connection with Jordan and the Bulls.
I wasn’t planning on having them ready before the Oscars, but I finished the first pair in time and then it kind of took on a life of its own. A few weeks later after the Oscars and the Jimmy Kimmel Live interview, I got to meet Common at his birthday party. Common is an amazing man. Growing up he was a musical influence on me, so getting to meet him, call him a friend and be a part of such an amazing time for him was such an honor.
Q: Anything you’d like to share about your work and career?
I’m grateful to be able to do what I love, and I’m excited for what’s next!