A Chicago kid with a close drive to art & basketball culture resulted in the unique POV that Jeff Cole explores into his work.
Carrying a degree in Illustration and an inside view of the pop culture, the artist has Michael Jordan as his biggest idol — especially in how he pathed the way of sports, design & beyond in the entrepreneurship field.
When Jeff Cole noticed the rise of Instagram as a universal platform, he taught himself how to use the Adobe pack, got together with his friend Mark Mastrandrea, and co-founded Ikonick: an online retailer of motivational canvas art that became the fastest-growing digital art company in the world.
On his solo account, @cole, he mixes the old with the new, making it seems like it all happened at the same time. And something that was the GOAT back in the ’80s combined with a fresh drop of the week makes you stop scrolling. Simple math.
The same way Cole honors the past with a fresh perspective, our custom AJ XI Prototype with The Shoe Surgeon took a 25-year-old OG & shifted it. Taking that deep history, Jeff made a homage to our exclusive pair with MJ himself wearing it.
Continue the read for what he has to say on creating process & insights behind his visual concepts.
Your work takes a global approach, and you explore all creative fields from design to entrepreneurship. What is the constant element of your style & process in everything you touch?
I think with everything I do I’m constantly thinking of the consumer and really trying to give them a new optimized perspective to what the culture industry is interested in.
It takes impactful messages to cultivate a following like the one you have. Why do the concepts you create, like the one you did with us for the METCHA x TSS sneaker, have the power and truth to connect with people?
I approach design the same way a magician approaches his tricks. It’s kinda conceptualizing what psychological imagery will cause that shock factor that leaves them believing more is possible to what they thought existed.
Tell us a little about the mental process behind conceiving the unique images you create, they’re always distinctly different but also familiar. Tell us about that thought process.
For me, it’s all about finding cultural relevance and intersecting parallel audiences. I have to first grab your attention which means trying to eliminate friction in how you internalize the artwork. It’s a lot of studying composition, contrast, and consciousness.
You feature iconic basketball players within your work regularly. What’s your history with the sport? And how has it influenced your career growth?
I was born in Chicago and basically grew up idolizing MJ and the Bulls. My childhood was mainly art and basketball. I definitely inherited all of MJs on-court characteristics, which made me a lot hungrier and competitive in the world of art and business. I would mimic him as a kid, so a lot of my mindset tricks come from him, although I hate gambling. So, concerning the off-the-court competitive habits, we don’t really match up.
What role does sneaker culture play in overall pop culture in your opinion?
I think Instagram really helped sneaker culture emerge to pop culture. In early Instagram days, peoples’ profiles became these curated digital signaling platforms to showcase materialistic things. Shoes became an important accessory to showcase your lifestyle and who you were. Shoes tell a lot about someone with little to no knowledge. Seeing the presence it had on the platform was the reason I started incorporating it into my art. The problem was the content being shared was all the same and that’s kinda how sneaker art became a big thing. It offered a new perspective to a hungry loyal community.
You’ve used sneakers as a motif in your work to pay tribute to past and current pop culture and characters. What would you say is the defining sneaker of this decade?
I would have to say the 350 Boost because it’s the shoe that made me realize sneakerheads and sneaker culture aren’t a niche anymore. It established a new Galiuth in adidas and Kanye and allowed other brands to compete. When that shoe came out, many different brands started to emerge around sneaker culture and the niche became mainstream.
When it comes to items that are capable of becoming nostalgic & influential, material matters. How do timeless materials like leather contribute to long-lasting pieces of culture, as the ones you capture?
Leather and sneakers for me are all associated with the Jordans and the color blocking of the different leathers and stitching.
Nostalgia is the most powerful selling tool. It’s embedded into us subconsciously. We make emotional decisions around them. We gotta thank MJ for that.
When you dive into so many fields, you’re bound to have endless wild experiences. Can you tell us about a crazy moment you didn’t imagine would become a turning point in your career?
Besides all the cool licenses and collabs and people I get to meet through building IKONICK, having sportscenter and espn repost my stuff was pretty crazy to me just because as a kid playing sports you dream about being on sportscenter. I just never thought it would be for art!
In today’s world, social media is powerful, and people with platforms as large as yours have a genuine influence on the communities that follow you. To you, what’s the best way to use these platforms?
There’s definitely a heightened responsibility to having influence. I think sharing my truth and being authentic is a great way to build trust in my audience. I find it important to inspire others through IKONICK, my mindset into building a real business with no business background, and the lessons I’ve learned. I try to only speak on my experiences.
Tell us about how your journey as a creator led to your role as an entrepreneur with IKONICK. How did your background perfectly set you up for that endeavor?
I knew what I wanted to do at an early age. My parents got me into private art classes as early as 7 years old. I had decades of practice and experience making art in all mediums. I remember in 5th grade my art teacher gave me a book about careers in the arts and that was the first reassurance that I should start thinking about my future. It wasn’t until an unfortunate series of family events occurred 10 years ago that my work ethic began to take form and I never looked back after that.
Just like with a magician, we can’t see what will be your next trick, Jeff 🧙♂️.
Portraits \ JEFF COLE