How My Art Caught the Attention of Murakami at ComplexCon

quilt complex con artist mobile
Courtesy of Nate Robbins

Nate Robbins is a designer and multimedia fabric artist based in Springfield, Illinois, who took a shot to impress his favorite contemporary pop-culture artist, Takashi Murakami. Here is his story. 

Back in August 2009, while waiting for a table at the Cheesecake Factory in the Chesterfield Mall outside Saint Louis, Missouri, I walked over to Borders (remember Borders?) and read my first issue of Complex magazine. Kid Cudi was featured on the front cover and happened to be my favorite artist. Picking up the copy, I wanted to learn more about the music, sneaker, style and culture scene. This magazine led to hours of lurking on NikeTalk forums, educating myself on the entire sneaker catalog on Flight Club’s website, reading up on brands I’d never heard of before and generating my interest in Japanese denim. I grew up with an Eastbay in my backpack, but this magazine was the gateway that introduced me to a world that didn’t exist outside my front door. That interest helped develop my passion for product, so when ComplexCon announced its first stop in Chicago this July, it was only right that I paid homage to the publication that kickstarted my love of culture.

A few summers ago, with zero experience, I decided to learn how to sew out of a desire to bring my own ideas to life. Steve Jobs’s quote, “Everything around you in life was made up by people no smarter than you, and you can change it,” has stuck with me and I realized my ideas weren’t going to make themselves. With an interest in Japan’s philosophy of wabi-sabi, I began repurposing old jeans into patchwork jackets. In the fall of 2017, I was awarded a scholarship to attend Pensole Design Academy, which led to the opportunity to intern with Puma for 13 weeks as an apparel designer.

Since then, I have played with repurposing military bags into vests, designed embroidered jackets inspired by the albums Kids See Ghosts and Astroworld, and dabbled in the world of appliqué and quilting. I do not have an arts background. I do not paint, nor do I consider myself a “designer,” but the possibility of creating images out of fabric intrigues me. 

I played with that idea on the back of my KSG and Astroworld jackets, and I have started to think on a larger scale. When I first started sewing, I had a distant appreciation for quilting. There’s an architectural and artistic intersection with the shapes, colors and patterns of the fabrics that I find interesting. I feel quilting has a traditional, “made by Grandma” reputation, but I like the idea of taking a folk, blue-collar craft and making it more modern and contemporary.

With ComplexCon making its first stop in Chicago and with Takashi Murakami responsible for the event’s art direction, I decided to blend the two worlds together by visualizing some of my favorite album covers and sneaker colorways through Takashi’s flowers. Originally, I started with 16 small flowers with the intention of making another jacket. By the time I was creating my last flower, I was wishing I had made them larger. I wanted to see these flowers displayed on a wall, not the back of a jacket. I also wanted to use batiks. Batiks are hand-dyed fabrics that resemble watercolors and have much more movement and texture compared with the flat, static kinds of cotton normally used for quilting. So I scrapped the original small flowers, collected new fabrics and recut the existing flowers to a larger scale. What was once 16 flowers blossomed into 45. Titled “Floriculture,” the 45 album- and sneaker-inspired flowers were made from 810 cut pieces, 720 sewn pieces and 136 different batiks and cotton fabrics.

I completed the quilt a few days before ComplexCon, but I was told I could not display it, as it was “non-sanctioned” art.  With the number of hours I invested into the piece, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to contribute, so I decided to pack the quilt in my backpack with the hopes of presenting it in person.

As I carried the folded quilt over my shoulder, people passing by noticed the flowers peeking out and would ask where they could purchase one or if it was available in the gift shop. Humbled by their inquiries, I noted that I had made it—which excited them even more when I revealed the entire piece.

Raising the eyebrows of Murakami himself sealed the successful day. I have received many compliments on my past works, but never from so many people all at one time. As an attendee, I recognized this consumer versus producer relationship. I left ComplexCon more encouraged to improve my craft and felt capable of being on the producer’s side. I’ve always been passionate about product, and I have wanted to be part of a team that delivers a great product. Although I’ve yet to scale my work to a wider audience, if I continue to focus on making great work, I believe good things will follow.

If I continue to focus on making great work, I believe good things will follow.


If there are any takeaways from my ComplexCon experience, they would be…

  1. Follow your curiosity.
  2. Take a swing and get the bat off your shoulder.

Regardless of the outcome, these two pillars will always help contribute to your growth. ComplexCon demonstrated that networking and establishing relationships IRL is still greater than URL. Double-tapping and leaving comments are easy, but connecting with people face-to-face and interacting with people you look up to is far more advantageous in the long run.

Related: A First Look at the New Nike Air Max 270 React 

Related: These '90s-Era Sneakers Are Officially Cool Again

Related: 50 Iconic Sneakers Under $150 That Are Still Dope

Related: 12 Shoes Rappers Love

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down