Jimmy Visaya developed his unique approach to sculpture almost by accident. Now his work resides in the private collections of celebrities, athletes, musicians, and filmmakers around the world. Most of his clients have come via word-of-mouth, but some find his work because they came for donuts or teriyaki to his parents’ restaurant and laundromat, King Donuts, in Rainier Beach, where he is often found cracking wise with customers from behind the counter.
It’s his medium that has brought him attention. Visaya uses upcycled shoes to create posable figures and functional sculptures. His first creation was a robot made from old work boots. A former player for the Chicago Bulls took notice, and when he asked to buy the work, Visaya instead told him to give him his own shoes, which he then converted into a new sculpture—his first commission.
Visaya always works with the clients’ shoes for commissions, which he sculpts according to the memories associated with them. For athletes, shoes worn during an important play become a figurative tableau of that moment. Pink sneakers worn during countless marches and walks in support of breast-cancer research become a flower pot, holding new life and beauty. Sneakers quickly outgrown by a toddler after a first trip to the beach become a toy for the next excursion.
“Shoes mean a lot to a lot of people, and they mean very different things,” Visaya notes. Beyond the obvious connection with a literal journey, more than any other type of clothing, they bear a sense of humility, trustworthiness, and playfulness. Visaya thoroughly cleans the shoes before using them as material, but doesn’t hide the scuffs and worn patches, which become part of the character of the final work.
Visaya has also started to play with other media in connection with his sculptures. For clients who commission one of his fully articulated robot sculptures, he has made stop-motion animations, in which the bots come to life and, in one case, touch the top of the Space Needle (via forced perspective at Kerry Park).
When kids are involved, Visaya enjoys involving them in the creation process so they can start learning to create on their own. Kids often discover new creatures in the shoes that Visaya had not envisioned himself. In the future, he wants to create a workspace where kids can learn his techniques and work with paper and clay as well.
It’s late in the game to commission a new work to be finished for Christmas, but you can pick up one of Visaya’s robo-creations at Capitol Hill’s sneaker mecca, BAIT Seattle (915 E. Pike St., 257-1178). Starting in 2017, you’ll be able to find his work in other locations around town. The best way to contact Visaya and follow his work is on his Instagram page, upcycledsneakers. Followers in Seattle can look forward to an Easter-egg hunt, during which Visaya will leave works in public spaces around town. Get those walking shoes ready.