From mass-produced to one-of-a-kind: Freehand Profit creates works of art out of sneakers
November 02, 2020
Like most sneakerheads, Gary Lockwood, the Los Angeles-based artist behind the handle, Freehand Profit, sees classic kicks like the Jordan 1s as sacred. First released by Nike in 1984, only to be banned — and martyred — by the NBA for being too colorful, these shoes are deemed by many as the granddaddy of modern-day sneakers. But, worship comes in many forms, which explains why, in 2010, Lockwood committed an act that would stun most footwear enthusiasts: He cut the sneakers up and scavenged them for parts. What started as an experiment nine years ago is now Lockwood’s sigil: he’s the guy who transforms the culture’s most cherished shoes into gas masks so colorful, they’d make a peacock blush. Call his work sculpture; call it mixed media. Whatever you call it, by remixing the role sneakers play in culture over the past ten years, he’s had the opportunity to create art for the likes of Wu Tang’s Method Man, Kevin Durant, and the rapper/singer-songwriter, Everlast.
While he’s being celebrated inside and outside sneaker culture — he’s featured in Complex, Vice, and Hypebeast — the road to monetizing his work has been full of ups and downs. From a change in the business model for sneaker blogs, which were providing valuable traffic to his online store, to an ever-shifting Instagram algorithm that was making it difficult to reach his fans, Lockwood has learned to adapt to keep up with a digital landscape that’s constantly changing: “With the algorithms that they put in place for Instagram, it’s like, folks aren’t even seeing (my work),” says Lockwood. “So you know…you can have the audience, but unless you’re paying for those ads, you’re not actually reaching your audience. And so, the importance of being able to monetize that audience, I think that’s what really drew me to Patreon. For years, I was like, man — if I could just figure out how to get $1 from every one of my followers (per) year, I would be alright.”