In the past year, Motus has been collaborating with an artist from the parkour community, crafting a series of clothing collections displaying designs that explore parkour as artistic expression, from the point of view of a member of the greater parkour community. Tyler Downing, affectionately known as Spiffie Hippie, is the artist behind the slew of new designs. Well known across the parkour community for his insane artistic talent and parkour inspired art pieces, Tyler is on the forefront of parkour culture; creating an expressive visual and sometimes physical representation of our community with the lasting power afforded to the arts.
ME: How long have you been passionate about making art, and what’s your favorite medium to work with?
SPIFF: I’ve been making art for about as long as I can remember. I was always doodling in class and that’s how I first started drawing. I went to art school. It was always kind of the plan to be a parkour athlete and do art as more of a side hustle. Only recently I started applying my art to parkour, which has been really fun. Just finding inspiration in different places and seeing what I can create. My favorite medium to work in right now is digital art. I have been drawing a lot on my Ipad with an app called Procreate. It just kind of speeds up the process from more analog art, which is good for me since I’m pretty impatient hahaha. Before that it was a lot of painting, watercolor, acrylic, and I started using oil paint recently too, which has been fun.
ME: You’ve released a couple of collabs with Motus now. When did they first reach out to you?
SPIFF: So the Motus Projects first reached out to me to do the Motus Ad Populum (M.A.P.) designs in February, I believe. I had been talking to a few of the Motus guys before that, but nothing art related at the time. The M.A.P. designs took quite a while to be honest. They started slowly. At the time I was working for a mural company in Brooklyn, Manhattan, basically painting ads as murals on the sides of buildings. After some time I had a clearer vision of what I wanted to create, and the designs came together really quickly. I think all in all, it was like a 3 months process.
ME: How involved was Motus in the design? Did you basically have free reign?
SPIFF: I basically had free reign. Giles came to me with a concept and a title, “Motus Ad Populum,” he gave me a few ideas they had, and from there I made three different sketches of what I felt the phrase meant. They ended up liking all three sketches, which I then turned into the three pieces that are in the shop today. It’s really exciting to have all of your concepts become a reality, bringing them into fruition. At the time I was living in Brooklyn with Yaron Erkin and Henry Blue. Henry actually helped a lot with the Feedback Loop design. He helped me with putting a bunch of concepts in place and set the whole vibe of the piece; kind of having it like this digital world and seeing things as a feedback loop. I had free reign, which is both good and bad hahaha. I like to have some parameters, something to bounce off of, so that I can get a client’s idea into reality more easily.
ME: What’s your favorite piece out of the collections?
SPIFF: Out of the first collection, my favorite piece was the Navy M.A.P. shirt, I really like the navy colorway. That design kinda just holds a special place in my heart. It was my baby. I was working on that piece as the main piece for quite a while. I spent a lot of brain power to make that piece come together. After that, I love the Bloom shirt, with all of the flowers. It was just really fun to make. It was fun to puzzle-piece the plants in and around the text, it just has a nice contrast, and a nice summery feel to it. The new one coming out Wednesday, August 17, the “Slime” design that’s all WHOOSH. I really like that piece because it is the most Spiffie Hippie, in my opinion.
ME: Some of your work with Motus has been very conceptual; specifically the M.A.P., Spark, and Feedback Loop designs. What inspired these concepts?
SPIFF: So the title Motus Ad Populum means “movement for the people,” in Latin. I took that literally, because it’s a collage of people forming whatever shape you can see. I went on Instagram, looked at different parkour photographers and paid attention to the way people’s bodies moved, and what different shapes they can make. I took the interesting ones, the ones I found appealing, and it was fun just collaging a bunch of these bodies together to see what I could make of it. So it was basically inspired literally by the people, the community, and put on a shirt. It’s a lot going on, haha. For the Spark, it was more about the sense of traveling, and of moving as a group, be it for a jam or whatever. The idea of conversing about different forms of movement, that sparks an idea to do other new movements. It’s the idea that talking about movement can spawn new forms of movement, which is how I feel the sport of parkour is moving today. It’s a lot of talking back and forth online and seeing what is and isn’t possible. The Feedback Loop design was heavily based on the idea that digital media is a main source of inspiration for a lot of athletes. It’s a big connection, a new bridge that has formed in today’s community. It’s the idea of how media inspires you, and how you wouldn’t have that inspiration if it wasn’t for the digital outlet. Like I wouldn’t even have the opportunity to work with Motus if it wasn’t for this virtual platform. Digital media of parkour is how I’ve found my best friends, and I wouldn’t know them at all if it weren’t for this digital connection that we share. Social media connects people within our sport and it adds more layers to the web of the community.
ME: Can you say if you have other collaborations planned?
SPIFF: At the moment I have some commissions from other parkour athletes. I’m just trying to push the visual culture of the sport in a positive direction, push it into a bigger space of viewers. I want more eyes on the sport in a positive way. The way that I see I’m able to do that is creating designs for clothing that not just parkour people would like. Just to kind of steep our culture into the wider ocean of internet viewership. I don’t have any other major collaborations planned right now, I’m just working on as many commissions as possible, and working with as many people as I can, so that we can get more eyes on the sport.
ME: Is art and design work your main source of income?
SPIFF: At the moment, I’m only making money off of my art. I am trying to find other jobs with design and illustration companies, to see what I could do. I’m not going to lie, it’s fun doing commissions for parkour athletes and companies. I am trying to find a “big boy job.”
ME: How does your art and parkour overlap, if it does?
SPIFF: Funny story, as a young’un, I separated parkour and art in my mind. For the first four years or so of my training, there was a big divide between parkour and art, for me at least. It wasn’t until I started joining local parkour teams that were always in need of graphics, designs, and animations, that I started creating art for parkour. I started making different graphics, stickers, and video animations for my team at the time. As time progressed, I got injured, tore my ACL doing parkour, and thankfully I can still train, if not at the level that I was. But, I kind of evolved into more of a parkour artist, and mended the division I made in my brain as a kid. It has come full circle, and I do find a lot of inspiration from parkour at the moment, which is so much fun. I’m having a good time hahaha. I’m even putting my art inspirations into my parkour style, as one does as a parkour athlete. You’re always evolving and seeing what you can do in new spaces and different spots, and finding new opportunities to do things differently. I kind of used my parkour mindset and applied it to my art, and it’s become a nice blend in recent years. I’m having a good time training and making art for athletes and teams.
ME: What do you think is the role of the artist when it comes to parkour?
SPIFF: I think a lot of parkour athletes should not be like me when I was a kid. Do not create a division between parkour and art. A lot of the athletes I come across are artists in their own right– designers, photographers, videographers, as cliche as it sounds, some athletes are artists with their bodies in a space. I don’t think anyone should make the divide because parkour and art are one and the same. You are getting creative in a space, even if your mind is as blank as a piece of paper, it opens up opportunities. It’s imperative that we keep a strong art vibe and creative mindset when it comes to parkour.
Tyler graciously obliged me for this interview, despite me hounding him on his vacation, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. Individuals like Tyler are the ones who immortalize parkour, and record its greatest achievements on canvas; as opposed to yeeting Instagram reels into the ocean of parkour media. Tyler’s work is part of the movement cultivating parkour into something much larger than its practitioners, expanding the collective mind of the community beyond the sport of parkour and into the abstract of culture. The growth of the sport hinges on artistic individuals like Tyler to provide a perspective on parkour that is relatable and inspirational, and refines what it means to practice parkour.
All photos and art featured in this article are the intellectual property of Tyler Downing, and were courteously provided for use in this article.