Nike pays better than Reebok,” laughs Glenn Riley. The 38-year-old Pleasant Ridge artist and graphic designer would know—he’s worked with both. Riley never imagined that he would sell T-shirt designs to both global sports brands before his 21st birthday. His mother, Johnnie Mae, recognized her son’s talent early on and sent examples of his drawings to the company when Riley was still in grade school. His work caught the attention of Nike designer Wilson Smith, who reached out to Riley with encouragement (and the occasional pre-market pair of sneaks). Then, in 1993, Nike wanted a “Keep on Dunkin’ ” basketball T-shirt in the style of R. Crumb’s iconic ’70s Keep on Truckin’ illustration. Says Riley: “R. Crumb has always refused any endorsements, so Nike figured he’d never agree to do it. So they asked me.”
A year later, Riley had a deal with Reebok for 10 T-shirt designs. Then, in 1998, he sold a piece to the New York Yankees. Much of Riley’s art mixes acute brand awareness with a healthy dose of irreverence. His enormous body of work includes a wide range of styles—from clean, modern line drawings to exaggerated caricatures, to large-scale fine art portraits of abolitionists like John Brown and Frederick Douglass.
So why isn’t G. Riley the new R. Crumb? “I don’t really push for a lot of publicity,” he says. He seems content flying under the radar and working on projects that have meaning to him. Riley recently redesigned the logo for Corporate, his friend Matt Tomamichel’s sneaker and street wear boutique in Hyde Park, and created a new logo for the Roger Bacon Spartans basketball uniforms (his alma mater). Riley also contributes graphics and content to arhenetwork.com, a sports database created by his business partner, Jason Woullard. “You’ve heard the term starving artist—that is Glenn Riley,” says Woullard. “He cannot be contained. He would be miserable sitting behind a desk all day, doing what someone else wants.”
Contact Riley at email@example.com
Originally published in the February 2012 issue