Interview by Kazeem Kuteyi, Photography by Kahlil Hernandez
To any person that’s not associated nor works in the creative industry might not know who Shane Griffin is, however, most have seen his work. The Irish born, New York based designer has worked on multiple world renown projects that has won him a bunch of coveted awards.
The first time I bumped into Shane Griffin’s work was back in 2013. I was looking for an art director to help me on school project and I figured Behance.net, a portfolio site where creatives upload their portfolios would be a great place to start. If I remember correctly, I think what stood out to me, especially as a Kanye West fan, was his design work for the Nike Air Yeezy’s.
Fast forward to 2016, myself, Shane and Kahlil are in the Chelsea district of New York grabbing coffee and chatting about his work and journey. In fact, we caught him at a pivotal point in his career. He’s about to quit his job and focus on his new project, Sunday Afternoon, an artist representation company and creative studio he co-founded with his friends. In our conversation, we talk about everything from his beginnings, self discipline and his meaning of success.
Did you always know you would get into design?
Good question. I think I would say yes. I applied for architecture and I missed it by 5 points which is less than 1 percent of your high school results. I asked if I could compensate because that is what I really wanted to do. I did an interview with the school and they said, “we think you’re more suited as a designer”. So maybe they knew and I did not⏤ but yeah, I started playing around with it not knowing why.
So you are self taught?
Wow. Is formal education important when it comes to learning design?
I think it is important that people go to design school because what I have done with it is non traditional. Now I am beginning to learn more traditional methods, almost from the back door. When you are self taught you go after what you like and what excites you, but it is interesting to learn from somebody else and to see where things have been more beneficial from a self taught point of view and maybe less beneficial.
How do you develop your sense of self discipline?
I think natively as a designer, you are just messy. It is a big thing people fight against. Structure, time management, knowing when and how to deal with people and that is just a learning process everyone has to go through. I had a really great mentor for a number of years who kind of made things a little clearer in that respect. He would always make sure I did things the right way even though it took a little longer. You reap benefits of that when you begin to revisit projects or you are trying to think about ideas that you used to have, it is so much easier to get back into the swing of things. Now that you know that, it means you do not work as late hours and you are just smarter in your approach.
I feel like moving to a new city or even a new country in your case is one of those things that I feel would be a difficult move to consider, but that is what you did. What made you want to move to New York?
I think I always knew I wanted to move to America. I never considered New York, I actually wanted to move to Los Angeles at first. I tried to get a studio in Los Angeles to sponsor a Visa for me but I think I was just too young and naive and I did not know what I wanted to do but I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to move. I came over to New York when I won ADC Young Guns in 2012. What is interesting is that winning that award is such a big deal because it is an international award but it was not as a big deal in Dublin. When I came over to New York I was blown away⏤ it felt right and the place to be. The ADC invited me back the next year to judge the award show; I met all the judges and the winners and it was one of those moments you feel like everyone has the same passions as you, the same interests. After that I was in contact with a few studios and I ended up being at one. It was scary, it was emotional, but I think it was the right choice the second I got here.
Do you experience self doubt when it comes to your work?
Yeah. Sometimes you kind of get this blindness when you have been working on a project for months and you do not know how people are going to react to it. A lot of people say you should not care but you should. I think there is a difference between design and art. Design you should care and when it comes to art, I guess you should do whatever that is in your mind. I remember doing a Nike Project, the Kobe HTM’s and I was like, “I’m not sure if I like it” and I knew I liked it but I was not sure if everyone would like it⏤ but it ended up going viral. There was a lot of Internet hype about it. That was kind of a nice reassurance. Sometimes you get lost in the moment because you are almost too close to the work. Distance is key. You have to step back sometimes.
“I think success is doing the work that you love, being proud of the work you do, and being confident in talking about the work you do. That is success.”
Have you found yourself stepping back from a certain project because you are scared of failing?
For sure. I have had fear of failure I think when I started to go out on my own and take on freelance work for the first time and started directing. I won this pitch for a Google film, it was a huge budget, five day shoot. I had to design everything and come up with the story. I felt very in the deep end with that but just like everything, it is about a problem and you have to problem solve. Sometimes these projects⏤ they manifest themselves in different ways. When I was doing the sneaker sculpture with Nike and it was my first sculpture piece, that was unusual because instead of making an image, you are a making a 360 degree image. It has to physically work in the world. Half of the fun is solving the problem.
With the type of work you do, all your projects and design work seems to be very detail oriented⏤ what influenced that?
It is funny, I went to this art show at Frieze in New York last year, there was a maze and the idea is that you walk through it and you run through a series of tests. The tests do not really make any sense, there is a sheepskin and horse pony tail, and it says stroke one or pull one and that motion guides you to the next test. At the end of the test you get a result. So you have six possible results. So I went in at the same time with my buddy and when you come in you get a badge and it said “into details” and his said “into weird stuff”. I was like that is pretty accurate. So I guess somewhere in my psyche or the way I see the world is detail oriented and it happens to manifest itself in my work. When I look at my design, I want to be able to see more and if I cannot see more⏤ I want to know more. I like people to see my work and say he has thought of it to be beyond what it should be. In terms of influence, I think architecture has always been a big influence for me. I like a lot of textile and patterns. I am also influenced by fashion. I have a folder of influences, and it is like 6 designers, 40 fashion designers, and maybe 40 architects.
How do you develop your style?
Collaboration is a really big thing. That is not to say that you should rip off artists that you work with. The key is to learn from other people’s technical abilities because then you can learn to bring your vision to life from what you have learnt from them. Collaboration is a huge way of expressing yourself in a different medium and as well develop. As much as I can always collaborate with a photographer or fashion designer, I am totally up for it. The more they know, the more I can learn.
Would you say you are content?
No. I have got some projects coming up and when they finish, I think maybe. Just like anything when it comes to creating art and visuals, people always want to push the envelope. That is something you cannot stop. You can never reach a limit with that. When it comes to being content⏤ I have done stuff that I am really proud of and have accolades that I am really proud of, but I think my style will always develop so I think in that sense⏤ I will never be content.
Have you ever compromised your art for money?
Yes I have. Everyone has to realize that if a project is going to have an effect on your health or your well-being and something is going to stress you out, it is not worth it, just move on to the next project. Something else will come along. I have had arguments with people and been unhappy about a few projects or dragged in directions I do not want to go in by whoever is paying the bill. That does suck because sometimes you invest a lot of time into it and that is almost like investing a piece of yourself and your intellectual property and to not have people go with your vision or compromise it for the sake of money, time, or being scared of a big idea. Sometimes you just have to move on but everyone has that moment where they burn out on a project and they’ are like why did I invest all this time but it is just a learning curve.
What success to you?
From the conversations I have had with my friends, co-workers, and people in the industry, I think success is doing the work that you love, being proud of the work you do, and being confident in talking about the work you do. That is success.
So it is not necessarily having the big house, the nice car, and loads of money
I would love a nice car! Those are things that come along with being successful. Once you start to be confident with the work that you do, satisfied with the work you do, then I guess the rest comes with it.
Are people born creative?
As a child, I do not think I was that creative. My mother would probably disagree with that. I think it came at a point where I realized that you can make your own decisions in life about things and you do not have to necessarily follow anyone’s vision and path. I really disliked school because it was so regimented and it was so you have to do this and you have to do that. That is when I began think, “oh, how about if I do it this way”. That kind of unlocked a bit of creativity within me. I started to experiment with different ways of expressing myself artistically. I do not think I was born with it. My sister was an amazing artist but now is an accountant. My brothers do not work in the art world at all, they are in technology. I always had a technology side so it was always little easy for me to mess around computers and see what I can come up with in terms of visuals⏤ it just happened to be at the right time in the world where that became a career that was plausible to have as being a visual artist. I put all of that down to a little bit of luck, hard work, and creativity.
What would you to say to someone who wants to get into your shoes?
Do not be afraid of hard work. If something does not work out, try again. I would say personal work is a big thing. Expressing myself personally has definitely helped in getting myself projects that I would not have gotten if i had just only based my portfolio on commercial work. Whether it be one image or a series of images, it is important because it allows someone to see what you are all about and gives them a snippet of what you might bring to a project. I have gotten a lot of gigs like that just with a broad range of personal work. Also, taking the time to learn things because everything is out there⏤ like you can learn everything. If someone has done it already, it is doable. There is nothing too impossible. If you have a vision and you want to realize it, it is doable and that is just know where the buttons are half the time. Do not be afraid to reach out. If you look up to someone’s work, just email them.