TYRRELL WINSTON’S REEBOK CLUB C: Discussing the Art of Re-Contextualisation

10 May 2022

END. sits down with the Detroit-based artist to discuss the importance of everyday objects, abstract storytelling and the ever-iconic Club C with a self shot editorial by the artist.

Self shot imagery for END. and Reebok Club C 85 by Tyrrell Winston
Self shot imagery for END. and Reebok Club C 85 by Tyrrell Winston
Marcel Duchamp, the French-American painter, sculptor and writer, claimed “An ordinary object could be elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist”. This approach to artwork is underpinned by re-contextualisation, viewing art not solely as the retinal, but also the conceptual — something that was epitomised by his seminal work from 1917, “Fountain”.

The philosophy that acts as the driving force behind this is something that inspires Tyrrell Winston’s creative output; the Detroit-based artist re-contextualises the old and discarded, providing new meaning and creating artwork built around storytelling — a visual aid tied to experiences, history and culture beyond what is perceptible at the initial glance.

Since moving to New York in 2006, Winston has been steadfast in championing the found art scene, meticulously obsessing over metropolitan spaces and the materiality of objects readily available within them. The weathering of a deflated basketball, discarded cigarette butts, tattered tarpaulins — all of these things are used as a vehicle for Winston’s broader aim, one that honours their embedded history and allows viewers of his art to form their own personal narratives. 

With “TYRRELL WINSTON & REEBOK’S CLUB C: Discussing the Art of Re-Contextualisation”, END. sits down with the Detroit-based artist ahead of his upcoming Reebok collaboration, discussing the importance in everyday objects, abstract storytelling and the everlasting importance of the iconic Club C.

Self shot imagery for END. and Reebok Club C 85 by Tyrrell Winston

Can you talk about what re-contextualising the everyday, or the discarded, holds for you and your work?

In terms of re-contextualising everyday objects, I have been working with materials that are readily available — and, a lot of times, free — for the better part of ten years. I started with making Dash Snow-esque collages with found paper, but I quickly realised that with collage, I didn’t really have a lot to add to the art history canon — once I kind of got over the fact that I didn’t need to literally say “Screw the government” or “F the police”. I was then getting really frustrated, but it taught me about the materiality of the environments that I was in — because I was scanning in different places around the city, I noticed things in different propensities. A lot of my earlier work dealt with drug paraphernalia I would find, but then I didn’t want to be known as the drug guy — you already alienate half of your audience right away.

 I’m still constantly in awe with metropolitan spaces, there’s things I come across everyday that I see for the first time. I’m lucky that I have had a number of serendipitous moments with cigarettes, basketball nets and tarps, and it all works itself into this greater theme that I have that touches all bodies of my work called embedded history. Embedded history is the idea that there’s a history that’s a part of these objects that I don’t manipulate — it’s somebody else’s hand, somebody else’s energy.

Your work sits at the intersection of many different things, with sport, culture and art all colliding. How important do you feel this idea of connecting things and people together is for you and your work?

It’s one of the pillars of my work. The art world can be super intimidating and inaccessible to a lot of people. You know, a lot of people don’t have the money to afford a $50,000 piece of art. There’s that, but it’s also intimidating when you walk into these spaces. When I was 21 and moved to New York, I didn’t know how to act in an art gallery, I didn’t know if I was even allowed in: I thought I might have to pay money. We’re seeing some of those barriers break down, but, you know, you have people who have been breaking down those barriers — like Keith Haring with his Pop Shop back in the day, that’s the earliest example I can think of. Obviously, you have Warhol and what he did — taking these everyday objects and re-contextualising them. But then you look at KAWS with Original Fake and also Virgil with everything that he done — all of this ushers for a new wave of artists that want to create things that are accessible outside of the idea of “this hangs on a wall” or “this is not to be touched”. I think there’s a lot to be said about being able to learn from a t-shirt or a pair of shoes; Supreme does this really well — they put a lot of people onto Miles Davis, James Brown and Christopher Wool. I think the strength with a lot of my work is that they’re objects that a lot of people recognise, and a lot of times, it’s just one thing — so it says whatever it says to you. It isn’t trying to say anything — like a deflated basketball, a lot of people will look at that and think “Wow, that was well used and loved”, or others will think “Oh, that’s a broken dream”. Once it leaves my studio, I lose control of that narrative — and I’m totally okay with that.

Self shot imagery for END. and Reebok Club C 85 by Tyrrell Winston
"I’ve played basketball my whole life, and I always wanted to be in the NBA, but clearly that didn’t work out. I think of this as a bit like a portrait for me — it’s a dream, but a broken dream."

There’s a notion of endless possibilities with your work — the people behind discarded cigarettes, for instance, or the story behind how a basketball went from being someone’s prize possession to a deflated, unwanted object. Do you feel this is something that inspires you when looking for objects to repurpose?

I think it’s a two-way street. Sometimes I am drawn to objects that hold power, in a lot of ways. When I started doing cigarettes, I was only doing ones which had lipstick on them — and I realised that this may seem a little misogynistic: there are a lot of people who smoke who don’t wear lipstick. I think a lot of the times, I am drawn to the form of something; in all of the stuff I work with, it comes back to childhood — you know the idea, “You’re not supposed to smoke cigarettes”, but cigarettes are cool. I’ve played basketball my whole life, and I always wanted to be in the NBA, but clearly that didn’t work out. I think of this as a bit like a portrait for me — it’s a dream, but a broken dream. I guess the crazy thing about the basketball work is, though, is that I’m far closer to making an impact via the NBA than I think I would have as a player, in terms of the NBA players, managers and owners who are starting to acquire work. It’s one of my ultimate goals to be a creative director for an NBA team.

Can you talk about your background and what initially piqued your interest in turning discarded objects into artwork?

So, I moved to New York in 2006, and that was kind of at the height of the post-9/11 art scene: Dash Snow, Dan Colen and Nate Lowman. These guys were making art that, from the outside and in a very naive and critical lens, just looked like they were partying and doing drugs — living this very hedonistic lifestyle and documenting it. But then I started to dig deeper, and I realised there were other artists they were influenced by — it wasn’t just surface level. When I started making art, I was creating these very Dash Snow-esque collages, and part of that was because I was drawn to the materiality of the way things weather.

Why I started working with discarded objects is I had no money — I couldn’t buy a canvas. There was a point in time after I graduated college, during the financial crisis, I didn’t have a steady job for almost a year. I had a really good deal on an apartment, and I did focus groups and I would go and help friends who had landscaping businesses — but at the same time I really wanted to create work, though I didn’t have money to spend. That was how I had to start out.

Self shot imagery for END. and Reebok Club C 85 by Tyrrell Winston
Self shot imagery for END. and Reebok Club C 85 by Tyrrell Winston

Do you ever go out and specifically look for objects to elevate with your artwork or is it more of a natural process, like when you stumbled across kids complaining about broken basketball nets?

It’s both. I spend a lot of time walking, though I’ve just moved to Detroit, so it’s a little different — it’s not as walkable of a city. It’s not like I walk out of the studio and think, “Okay, today I need to find a new object to work with”. I’ve tried that before, but it just doesn’t work. It’s more just me being outside of the studio and walking, skateboarding, or riding my bike. I have a car, but that doesn’t hit the same way — it’s not as visceral, you don’t hear, see or smell things as intimately. A lot of the stuff I’m incorporating into my work, it’s all about spending time on a street, or spending a lot of time at dive bars. A lot of those ideas come to me sitting at the end of a bar alone.   

There’s a strong community focus with your work, not only in the stories you look to elevate, but also your passion for cleaning up discarded items and fixing broken things. How important is giving back to you and your work?

I think it’s super important. You know, I had a meeting with a curator yesterday, at a dive bar, and I was talking about the sensitivity I want to have in being in Detroit for the first time, learning about the community here. You know, sure, I may be taking a discarded basketball, or removing tatted tarps from an abandoned building, or fixing broken basketball nets, but there needs to be a level of investment in the community, in terms of getting to know people, rather than just being like “Hey, I’m doing this for my art”. It’s something I have figured out how to do in New York — I was on the board for the friends of the Marcy houses, which is a big public housing project in New York. I recently gave up my board position, as I’m not in New York anymore and I don’t know when I’ll be back.

 I want to tell people you can do it, too — I don’t have a background in art, I didn’t go to art school — as where there’s a will there’s a way. But I’m also at a point where I can give back with resources, like greater than just replacing basketball nets; two years ago, I did a print and it’s all these old backboards from the Marcy houses, and they were being discarded — each one of these things is like steel and wood, weighing over 200 lbs. A friend of mine called me and said they’ve just renovated the courts and they have these backboards and they’re going to scrap them. It was raining, and I had someone over for a studio visit, but my initial thought was: “Absolutely not, I can’t let that happen” — so I skated over there. I originally didn’t know what I was going to do with them — I had never done prints before, but I thought I’ll do a print, and it ended up raising over $20,000 for friends of the Marcy Houses. There’s another organisation that’s very dear to my heart called “Let’s Do Better”, and they do these Yankee hats that have the African American flag on the side, and I was able to partner with an artist that works at the same gallery as me, with all of the proceeds going to Let’s Do Better. It’s a really cool thing to be at this point in my career where I can help support them in a small way.

Self shot imagery for END. and Reebok Club C 85 by Tyrrell Winston
"I remember my grandpa in California, he was a dress shoe guy, but whenever he would go in the garden or play tennis, he always had Club Cs on."

Can you talk about your collaboration with Reebok and how your artistic approach has influenced this?

When I started the shoe, I knew I wanted it to be something that both myself and my friends would want to wear everyday. I’m obsessed with this idea of being a racehorse. There’s this HBO series called “The Defiant Ones”, about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre and their takeover of music. Jimmy Iovine has this quote referring to racehorses. Why do they put blinders on a racehorse? Because if you look here or there, you’ll miss a step or fall. That’s kind of a mantra for me, someone will always have a better show, but if I just keep my eyes on the prize, I’m my only competition. So that touch on both shoes with the pony hair — that’s the idea with the racehorse.  

I focused on referencing art without making the shoe art, I had no desire to make it look like one of my basketball pieces — I wouldn’t wear that. It was right when I started working with autographs, and I thought I’m just going to put my autograph on the bottom — that’s my shoe. I do these autograph paintings, but I didn’t want to make it like that. I also really wanted to incorporate my love of New York — I’ve been doing these things called noodles: New York doodles. I’ve been making these shaped canvases of them, and I just thought it would look really sick on the tongue tags.

The Club C seems a natural choice for your partnership with Reebok, given its legend status in the world of sportswear and the sneaker being your studio go-to. What importance does the Club C hold for you?

I remember my grandpa in California, he was a dress shoe guy, but whenever he would go in the garden or play tennis, he always had Club Cs on. I always thought my grandpa had pretty good style, so that was my earliest Club C introduction. Now, I don’t know how many pairs I have in my studio, maybe like 20. They’re becoming like an art piece themselves, not like I’m attempting to. Some of them are pretty gnarly looking and covered with resin — but I don’t want to get rid of them, they’re sat in a shelving unit. They’re super important to me — they’re part of my uniform. But it’s not like I started working with Reebok and then they became part of my uniform, they’ve been part of the uniform for a really long time. There’s nothing better than a new fresh pair, but then I also love a pair that’s been worn perfectly.

Self shot imagery for END. and Reebok Club C 85 by Tyrrell Winston

Release information

Reebok x Tyrrell Winston Club C 85




Release information

Reebok x Tyrrell Winston Question Mid




writerJack Grayson
|photographerTyrrell Winston