Editorial - February 18, 2020

No Curator | Ghica Popa

Kevin Kosanovich

Kevin holds a Ph.D. in American studies and is an expert in American cultural history and hip-hop. He is the Senior Content Manager at StockX.

This article is part 13 of 13 in the series: No Curator

“No Curator” focuses on the most important and cutting edge visual artists who create, and draw inspiration from, the interconnected cultures of StockX. In this installment of “No Curator,” artist Ghica Popa discusses his inspirations, his fondness of sneakers, and what he aims to represent through his art.

Be sure to check out Ghica Popa’s website and Instagram for more!

The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

StockX: It’s a pleasure talking with you. Would you please introduce yourself?
Ghica Popa: My name is Ghica Popa. I am an artist. I grew up on Earth.

Did your childhood on Earth influence your art?
It did a lot [laughs]. I’ve been drawing since I can remember, and I think I kept a lot of the things I loved from my childhood—and still love—in my illustrations. From the sci-fi movies and cartoons to the books or comics I read, it all influenced my art. But a lot of other things from the ’80s and early ’90s influenced my art, too. Also, I’ve had constant exposure to art since I was a kid.


Ninja Turtle and Snoopy // image courtesy of the artist

You seem to have pretty clear memories from your childhood. What is your most vivid memory from then?
I don’t have a single one in mind, but I remember going to the movies as a small kid with my mom. I also remember competing in drawing contests with my two older sisters, playing with LEGO blocks, walking to the beach, and going to the seaside. I played with all kinds of visual art forms—sculpture, painting, drawing, and collage—at my mom’s studio.

You mention your mom’s studio. Was she an artist, and did she influence you?
My mom was an art teacher; my mother was a significant influence on me.

Do you remember your first encounter with art?
I grew up in an artistic environment; I don’t have a fixed memory.

Maybe you don’t have a first, fixed memory of art, but when were you able to fully dedicate yourself to your art?
I’ve been doing commissioned illustration work for 20 years now for various projects. But I feel that I genuinely began to dedicate myself full time to art only a few years ago, like in the last five years.

Let’s switch gears: When did you realize sneakers were essential to you?
It all started gradually. I didn’t have access to cool sneakers when I was a kid because, unfortunately, that small place on Earth where I grew up was in a terrible communist regime. Things changed in the early ’90s, and I started to want all the things I couldn’t have during the communist era, including sneakers. But things changed when I started earning my own money and could afford to buy the sneakers I wanted.

Ok, so what’s your process for putting the two together, art and sneakers?
It involves a lot of procrastination mixed with intense periods of drawing and sketching. All this work mostly happens late at night. These days, I like to mix my computer work with periods of drawing on paper and other surfaces. I found that this habit has a beneficial effect on my art.

At what point do you choose the specific sneaker you’ll spotlight in a piece?
Fortunately, these days, I mostly work on commissioned sneaker illustration projects, so I start with the given model. The mandatory thing for me, even for commissioned projects, is that I have to like the model and find it suitable for my style. From time to time, I still see an amazing shape of sneaker that I have to design in my style, so I do a little illustration or a fast live-drawing hyperlapse.

Do you have a favorite sneaker you’ve used for your art?
It’s very hard to pick just one model. Of course, I like sneakers that are a good fit for my style. Fortunately, there are plenty of them. My first sneaker illustrations were three Air Max models, and they’re still some of my favorites. I also really like the Air Force 1 hand customization project I made in Tokyo.

Customized pair of Air Force 1s from the 2019 “Rockin’ My Uptowns” event in Tokyo // image courtesy of the artist

Let’s flip the previous question: What are some sneakers you’d like to work into your art?
As I said, many sneakers fit my drawing style. My favorites have always been the ’80s and early ’90s running sneakers, but I also like new releases and new technologies. It’s hard to name just a few. But I love a lot of the latest Nike running models, like the React Element and new Air Max lines. I also like running models from Saucony, Diadora, and Fila.

So what do sneakers mean to you?
They mean connecting with people from all over the world. Sneakers allow me to be inspired by people and brands, and hopefully allowing me to inspire myself, people, and brands. They also mean that I’m running out of storage space [laughs].


In collaboration with Nike Milan, illustration celebrating the launch of the Air Max 720 // image courtesy of the artist

What does art mean to you?
Joy—and sometimes anxiety.

In addition to sneakers, what influences you?
A lot of things, actually, and usually from outside of the art or sneaker world. A beautiful movie influences me, a good book or article, cities and the places I visit. Sometimes talking with a passionate person or just taking a walk.

When did you decide to become a professional artist?
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, so it seemed logical to pursue an art career. Deciding to be an artist wasn’t the real problem; making money as an artist, that was the real challenge.

How did your close friends and family react to your choice of art as your career path?
My family has always been supportive of my career choice. Based on my interest in art and that I am always drawing, I think they knew art was always going to be my only career choice.

Has there been a milestone moment in your career when you realized that you were going to make it as a professional artist?
I was already working as a professional artist; I had an advertising job. I got this huge proposal for doing a big campaign for a telecom client from Ireland—illustrations for TV, papers, outdoor, online, buses, and a lot of other things. And they especially wanted my drawing style! That was about 10 years ago. Since then, I started to focus more and more on just making art.

So who is your audience? Are they more from the art world, the sneaker world, or from somewhere in between?
Somewhere in between, for sure. These are people who first have to like my drawing style, not only the sneakers because I’m not only a sneaker artist. I have a lot of other projects besides the sneaker ones. The ones who like a mix of sneakers, cars, famous characters, and other things made in my style are in for a treat.

With all the different things you do, are you representing yourself through your art?
I’m not purposely trying to represent myself or my culture in my art. I think I’m just trying to discover myself in it.

What about the sneaker community? Are you authentically representing them?
I just try to express myself, without thinking about anything beyond that. My sneaker illustrations series are built on this love for both art and sneakers, but I’m not trying to represent anything else but me. But it’s amazing and rewarding each time people from the community say that my work is inspiring and meaningful to them.


For Special Sneaker Club Milan, a design for 2018’s sneaker of the year // image courtesy of the artist

Ok, so what is contemporary art?
The art of today, unfiltered.

How have you been able to combine both communities, the art world, and the sneaker community?
I just put my art out there and let people who like what I do come to me.

Your work turns consumer goods into art. What’s the difference between art and consumer products?
Art doesn’t have a specific usage like products do.

What should people know about the work you do?
I’m working in a lot of other areas, besides doing sneaker graphics or commissioned projects for other brands. I paint big murals, canvases, hand customize objects, and do a lot of illustrations.

Do you have any plans to try new art forms or mediums?
Yes! I am working on new things already. I will release a sculpture and a series of furniture objects soon. Be sure to check my IG feed and my website [links at the top of the page].

Let’s wrap things up. What does success look like for you?
Success is when I feel that I inspire people. For me, success is that sense of purpose. Some days I feel like I’ve made it, some days I don’t. I’ve found out that the good things are also coming from that part of me that doesn’t feel like I’ve made it. That’s the one realization that continually pushes me.

Anything else people should know about you?
Yes, but let’s leave that for the next interview.


See more from Ghica Popa and learn about artists within the culture in “No Curator.”