Michael Ruh for the Nike Air Max 1 86 ‘Obsidian’ | Footpatrol Discussions

05.10.23 Footpatrol DiscussionsGeneral

Celebrating the launch of the Air Max 1 86 ‘Obsidian’, we headed on down to pay a visit to London based glass studio, Michael Ruh.

The story of the Air Max 1 86 is a rich one. One that’s steeped in trial, failure and finally success. Something that is all too often when working with a delicate material like glass. Known as ‘Big Bubble’, we took this latest ‘Obsidian’ colour way down to Michael to check out his work and how the connection between his practice and this sneaker are greater than first meets the eye.

Footpatrol: Michael, thanks for letting us come down and visit your studio, it’s great to finally meet you. To kick things off, how are you?

Michael Ruh: Hot! The ambient temperature in the studio is probably around 30 degrees throughout the year.  During the summer months it can get even hotter.

FP: For those members of our audience who may not have come across your work yet, could you give a bit of background to you, your practice and perhaps a bit of your journey to how you got to where you are now? 

MR: I studied fine arts at university. During that time I came across a glass blowing studio. I was mesmerised. A long time later I had the opportunity to attend an applied arts school in Belgium that had a glass department. My work is greatly influenced by my earliest interests from that time. I’ve always been interested by process, the movement and change of light, the changing of the seasons, transience, and anchoring memory to colour, light and landscape. For the most part I make utilitarian objects, but those objects are greatly informed by my memories of colour.

FP: So, glassblowing. Where do we start? A traditional craft that has been explored and experimented with for centuries, we noticed with your work you’re often creating modern art form like pieces with unique, eye-catching shapes. Where do you find your inspirations when tackling a new project?  

MR: Inspiration for new projects? Most of our projects begin with a conversation, the discussion of function or the purpose or use of an object, and how that object will influence the ambience of where it is to be placed. We converse with designers or architects involved in the projects, and often what I am most inspired by are sometimes  just a few words. I love that moment of creating something tangible and visible from a conversation. Making thoughts visible, so to say.

FP: The real reason we’re visiting you is for the latest launch of Nike’s Air Max 1 86 ‘Obsidian’. Known as the ‘Big Bubble’, this shoe originally didn’t launch due to the lack of technology to make its massive Air Unit a thing which led to the iconic Air Max 1. This window led us to think of glassblowing and the technical, delicate skill involved. What are some of the processes involved to make sure each piece is a success? 

MR: Success depends upon teamwork! Glass blowing is rarely a solo pursuit. The assistants in my team are the people who make it happen too. They are auxiliary hands and eyes, so to speak. I’ve got the idea of where I want to go with the piece,and I’m driving the output, but their perspectives on how the piece is developing is essential to know. With glass making, a great assistant makes the piece with me, they will notice what I need next without being told and are with me from start to finish all the way. Success is never an accident, and everyone  involved in the process needs to be fully engaged. Doing things over and over again until physical fluency is gained is paramount and it takes years to gain the necessary skill set. Glassblowing is not only about delicate skill, sometimes it is also just about hauling a heavy, awkward amount of glass around, blowing a big bubble, and stubbornly not quitting until the piece is finished. 

It’s funny the Air Max 1 86 is called ‘Obsidian’ Obsidian is volcanic glass, and any  object made of hollow glass starts its’ life as a “big bubble”.

FP: Previously when we’ve done ‘Footpatrol Discussions’, it’s often included some type of art form. From painters, to illustrators to ceramists but what is it about Glassblowing that made you want to work with glass as your medium? 

MR: The first time I made something in glass, I was completely mesmerised by the material, and the process of glass making. The basic and elemental nature of glass making is very appealing to me. By simple and minimal means glass is made, and that process has remained unchanged since its discovery over two thousand years ago.

FP: Do you intend all of your pieces to have some sort of functionality? From the Birch Community Lights, to Perfumer H flasks to the glassware/pourers, each piece seems to have that secondary element that needs to be throughout.

MR: Initially everything I made was nonfunctional. The more skills I gained, the more functional my work became. I’ve always tried to make work that expresses my interests while answering the remit of a commercial commission. I am quite specific about colour and shape, and always include some process which is not necessarily apparent, but strongly influences the look and outcome of the piece. I did not initially set out to solely focus on on functional ware, but that is how my career has evolved.

FP: When it comes to recycling glass, what is the process of reusing this? We saw on your Instagram you were meticulously picking out the non-coloured glass to the coloured glass. Is it as simple as melting this back down to be reused? Is there a different end effect when using recycled glass?

MR: We separate out the coloured glass from the clear glass, and we simply remelt the clear shards in the  furnace together with the recycled glass lenses we use. When we melt glass in our furnace for production use, it’s brought up to a very high temperature so any air bubbles can work their way to the surface and dissipate. It’s all pretty straight forward.  

We’ve been saving our coloured glass to melt separately. We’re not sure what the resulting colour will look like, but when we do use the coloured glass it will be unique. We need a project that will require us to use lots of glass, like making glass tiles for room dividers, or window treatments.  We are thinking of a range of cast glass serving ware and bar ware to use up our coloured glass. I’ve also got some ideas for a new range of lighting that will utilise the coloured shards we’ve been keeping. Any of your readers out there with some ideas?

FP: Well, I think that that is it from us at Footpatrol. This last question is always left open to the interviewee with an opportunity to share any words of wisdom with our audience or a chance to share any upcoming projects you’re working on so again, thank you for having us and look forward to seeing more of your work!

MR: Words of wisdom? Ha ha…stay humble!

Try to accept failure, and learn the lesson it teaches you. Just stick with your work and keep going, it’s not always joyful inspiration and effortless expression. Some days are just a hard slog. You cannot be who you are not, and this will be reflected in your work. Speak your own language.

We hope to be able to share with all of you another exciting hotel project we’re working on. It’s going to be beautiful!

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