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Kehinde Wiley

The LA artist and painter has collaborated on an African-themed World Cup collection of men’s and women’s fashion for Puma

How did you get into art?

I was born in Los Angeles in 1977. I was an LA child of the 1980s when the hood was a rough place. My mother took me to art class to keep me away from trouble and I fell in love with painting. I used to go to museums and stare at paintings all day. I thought it was amazing how magical and artificial everything was.

How did the collaboration with Puma come about?

I’ve always been interested in how to take traditional, decorative African fabrics and turn them into meaningful paintings. I have a big collection of fabrics and I’d started experimenting with fashion by getting tailors to turn them into coats. I was approached by Puma, which sponsors 12 African football teams. One of the reasons I love Puma is because I actually wear the shit. Puma as a brand has always had a swagger like all of the artists I know.

What do you mean?

Well, Nike is performance driven but at Puma beauty is allowed and creativity is allowed. No one at Puma gave me any rules and a big corporation behaving in that way is right up my alley.

What’s the collection like?

The Puma Africa range uses seven graphic patterns from my work and integrates them through the bright, bold colour-blocking patterns of the collection. It includes clothing - anything from football shirts to tracksuit tops, to a full body suit and leggings, to T-shirts - as well as footwear and accessories.

How were you involved in the design process?

I’m not trained as a designer so this is a very different process to painting. It requires a lot of trust and collaborative spirit. I go through my archives and deconstruct design elements of my paintings. The first step is done by Puma and then they bring the samples to me and we work to get the piece closer to what I want. It’s an extraordinary process.

Who do you think will buy the range?

It’s already stocked in Selfridges and Asos will sell it from the beginning of March. I can see anyone from graffiti kids to soccer mums wearing it though. The autumn collection is on sale to retailers now, so we’ll see what happens. It’s an incredible opportunity to get shoppers to see Africa in a new context.

What can we expect from the autumn range?

The collection is a bit more sturdy and consistent. It proves this is no fad. We’ll wait to see what happens beyond autumn 10.

Puma also commissioned some paintings of footballers to mark the World Cup.

Yes, I’ve painted Puma-sponsored players Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, John Mensah of Ghana and Emmanuel Eboué of Ivory Coast. The portraits measure 5ft by 6ft and are going on a travelling exhibition, which started this month in Paris. It’s coming to London on February 22 at the Elms Lesters gallery on Flitcroft Street.

What else is in the pipeline?

I’ve been commissioned to do a portrait of Grace Jones, which is very exciting.

What football team do you support? I shouldn’t have a favourite, but I sort of like Cameroon. My favourite footballer is Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o - when we sat down to do a portrait we really hit it off.

Who would you like to paint? I’m actively campaigning to do the official portrait of President Obama.

What is your favourite fashion brand? Alexander McQueen.

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