Adam Fujita‘s typeface-based art looks like straight-up neon. But look closely: it’s graffiti. Nevertheless, the NYC-based artist’s work has an electric effect, offering up social commentary with words, bright color — that literally stands out, popping off the canvas thanks to his clever optical illusions. His canvas, of course, is the streets of New York. We asked him to customize a few pairs of Docs for him and his family; keep scrolling for the results.
My name is Adam Fujita. I am a product designer, and lately, I spray-paint a lot on walls and other things. I’m from San Francisco, but I’ve lived in New York since 2001.
Tell us about your background in Product Design.
My formal training is at the Products of Design department at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City. I was always aware of product as a thing that influenced our lives, but I wasn’t at all familiar with the ecosystem of product — grad school really opened my eyes.
My undergrad is actually in performance studies, studying our daily performance of how we interact with every day occurrences.
It was a longer road than most, but I appreciate my diversity of different educations.
How did you get started in graffiti?
I have a podcast called My Life in Letters — and I ask people the same thing! It’s an oral history, question-and-answer based podcast where I get to interview graffiti writers and artists. I don’t get to tell too many people my background, but I was inspired and led towards graffiti through this big boom of hip-hop culture on the U.S. west coast during the early 80s.
I grew up in Silicon Valley, in the suburbs of San Francisco. Most parts of the culture were represented there — the break dancing, the fashion, like the look of hip-hop, the rapping, the deejaying — all of that came to Sunnyvale, CA, but the graffiti really didn’t. Like bathroom graffiti and punk rock graffiti and stoner graffiti (which is an awesome term, that I didn’t use growing up, but it’s a term a lot of people use).
I first started trying to do graffiti on paper in about ‘88, and then in 1992, I started going to high school in San Francisco. That’s when I started writing graffiti on public spaces and, you know, never looked back since. I was also skateboarding as a kid in California, and the skate culture was an early adopter. Graffiti and the skateboard industry went hand in hand, resulting in some really innovative design work, and that definitely drew me in. I completely fell in love, and I’m still in love with it today.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the designs you created for DIY DOCS.
So the inspiration behind this DIY DOCS project is my family — my wife Jane, our 4-year-old Paloma, and our newborn, Thalia. Those three girls are pretty powerful, and inspire everything I do. I couldn’t do what I do without my wife, and I wouldn’t do what I’m doing without my kids.
Dr. Martens, for me, has always meant a few things. I think it’s been durable, dependable, and cool, and because of some of those qualities, I wanted to integrate that into this work.
For instance, with Paloma’s shoes (similar here), I wanted them to reflect her personality: she’s really bold and she’s unapologetic, she’s exciting and she’s hilarious and she’s smart, so I wanted to have that spectrum represented in color across this pair. This design was also inspired by pure parenting need, which is: how do you get shoes on faster, and without frustration? I went with an elastic lace, designed with a little knot pattern so Paloma will not have to do anything with the laces. She can just step into those boots, pull up the zipper on the side, and she’s ready to go.
My wife just radiates, so on her boots, I wanted something that was just like pure warmth and energy, which I think really represents her perfectly. With mine, I did a really classic kind of Adam Fu piece on it with the holes and the dripping neon.
I specifically chose the Rakims (similar boot here) because for me, as far as rappers are concerned, Rakim was THE man. He’s also a New York treasure, you know? And I hope Adam Fu neon becomes a New York treasure too.
As a theme in my art, neon was a response to political climate in 2016. For these shoes, I also wanted to both make a statement about the challenges that people of color see in New York City and everywhere, and a comment on gun violence — it affects everybody — so I used “bullet” holes with dripping neon.
And then there’s Thalia. When you have a new little baby in your hands, you have something really delicate to water and nurture, like a little plant. I just wanted to add a little bit of the seeds of a plant onto Thalia’s little booties and I love the way it came out. It’s really subtle, it’s light.
What brought you to New York City?
What brought me to New York City was New York City! As a kid, back to that hip-hop culture hitting us in California in the early ‘80s, it was all New York. And New York was then, in my mind, the place to be. So in 2001, I went to NYC, and I stayed.