By: Maurice Merrell
Members of Portland's young art scene often show up to support its streetwear fashion folk, and vice-versa. But the most fascinating things occur when the two worlds meld into one space.
One artist blending both disciplines is Risa Beck. Inspired as a child by her father's architectural background, Beck became inseparable from her sketch book by the third grade.
"I've always been serious about details and design," Beck says. "My mom says I'd become nearly obsessed with having a certain look and I would tell people I was going to be a fashion designer."
"D'Wayne came to talk about this program designed to break people into the footwear industry," Beck says. "At the time, [the thought of] working for Nike started to appeal to me, but I needed an education in footwear. I got accepted into Pensole, and it all happened at the perfect time for me."
Letting her traditional design background inform her creativity helped Beck cultivate her own style, one that she uses as both a footwear color designer at Nike and as an artist and illustrator. While her work within the Swoosh has taken her around the world, her contribution to Portland's art scene has garnered global attention, too.
As a member of the art collective Aesthete Society, Beck highlights creativity through the unexpected and fosters inviting spaces for the art community.
"There's opportunity to create things that Portland wasn't always known for now," she says. "Maybe I was caught up in my own thing when I was younger, but I don't remember there being this strong of a network [between artists] like what we have now. The community was much smaller, and the excitement wasn't there."
Beck attributes the new spark of energy to the growing number of artists who are moving to Portland and mixing with the creative people who were already here.
"I feel like there's more opportunity and we're no longer pulling from the same sources," Beck says. "You have different perspectives and people blending their experiences to reflect new things."
Aesthete Society is a reflection of that new environment. Founded on the premise of creating experiences that showcase interactive art, fashion and beauty experiences, the group focuses on connecting mediums in unexpected ways. After doing two shows, the trio's local notoriety turned into national attention after curating the Common Thread gallery at Pensole Academy during the inaugural Sneaker Week PDX.
The gallery focused on connecting sneakers and the materials used to create them to the everyday, and on exploring the artistic level of detail it takes to create timeless silhouettes. For the event, Beck created 2-D renditions of iconic kicks, namely the Air Jordan 11, the Nike Air Max 1 and the Acronym x Nike Air Presto Mid. Normally creating in black-and-white, Beck's white-and-gold collection highlighted the brilliance of the sneakers themselves.
"Anyone who knows me knows I love gold," Beck says. "It stands on the edge of gaudy, but it was very intentional. The reception to it was crazy. As an artist, you put a lot of yourself into your pieces for people to judge your work, so the support was great."
So where does Beck see things going from here?
"I can see the demand for higher quality in art in Portland," Beck says, "and that's not a bad pressure to have. It's cool to see people from out of town come in and appreciate what's happening here. I think there's a lot artists here feeding the appetite of people who want to see cool new stuff."
MORE: See Risa Beck's work at risabeck.com.