Local shoe artist Justin Fenwick, who goes by the artist name of Donk'e Punch, never imagined his creations would be featured at a show in Peoria.

The 38-year-old East Peorian will have his artistic shoe creations featured at the IGNITE Peoria event Saturday at the Peoria Civic Center.

Local shoe artist Justin Fenwick, who goes by the artist name of Donk’e Punch, never imagined his creations would be featured at a show in Peoria.

The 38-year-old East Peorian will have his artistic shoe creations featured at the IGNITE Peoria event Saturday at the Peoria Civic Center.

“I never thought any of these art people would take me seriously. I guess I never thought they’d look at my art as a qualified artist,” Fenwick said. “Come to find out they are all about my work. I’ve got to pinch myself sometimes.”

Fenwick said one of the reasons there may be interest in his art is because it’s different. He alters tennis shoes — Nike’s mostly — by painting, embellishing, stitching and more.

“I think people are looking for fresh new talent around here. I guess for the most part the traditional forms of art like the pottery and the ceramics and the canvas paintings and things, it’s so blah and so been around forever,” he said. 

Over the past couple of years, Fenwick has been gaining notoriety. He said it all started with the story about him in the Dec. 5, 2012, edition of the East Peoria Times-Courier.

Since then, he’s had radio interviews, been featured in the Peoria Journal Star, and has a spot on WTVP Channel 47’s “Illinois: Art in the Works.” 

The WTVP spot resulted from being in the right place at the right time. Fenwick was visiting his cousin, Darius Donaldson, an automobile artist.

“He basically paints cars. 

His art form is through metal and automobiles. He creates some kind of furniture that’s car orientated. They originally did a piece on him about his car art. I happened to be down at his shop that day. The director of WTVP, they introduced me as a shoe artist,” Fenwick said.

Fenwick had some of his shoe art in his car and showed it to the director.

“His mind was boggled by it. They had never seen anything like that before,” he said.

Due to his spot on WTVP, Fenwick said people notice him when he is out and about.

“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t know the power of PBS,” he said. “I get stopped now, not on an everyday basis because I don’t go out all the time, but I’ll get stopped and have like older ladies come up to me and go, ‘Excuse me, I don’t want to be rude, but you don’t happen to do tennis shoes?’”

Fenwick said he likes this recognition because it gives him a chance to break down barriers and stereotypes.

“Plus, I always wanted to interject myself more into the art community,” he added. “I can go to these First Fridays and people already know who I am.”

One reason people may notice Fenwick is because he is 6’3” with full tattooed sleeves on both arms and has a flowing brown beard.

Fenwick is in touch with various people in the art world, such as Suzette Boulais of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois. 

Now that he is getting exposure and is plugged in, Fenwick said his goal is to have his own gallery show.

First, Fenwick is focusing on the IGNITE Peoria! event. He is thrilled for the opportunity.

“Basically, the whole thing is catch the fire, ignite Peoria. Come see creative minds. Come see the arts. Come see what people in Peoria are doing. It’s all artists around here for the most part, not just in Peoria, and it’s all different kinds of mediums,” Fenwick said.

In addition to Boulais, Fenwick said artists Doug and Eileen Leunig and Kathy Chitwood, chairwoman for IGNITE Peoria, have been awesome to work with. 

“They basically have kind of positioned me in kind of like a main role for this thing, which I’m taking seriously. I’ve been trying to promote it as much as I can,” Fenwick said.

Fenwick will showcase four or five of his shoes in custom-made cases.

Through his involvement with IGNITE Peoria!, Fenwick said a staff member from the Peoria Public Library also contacted him about doing a show in 2015.

“They want me to work with the young kids or do a gallery show, whatever I want to do,” he said.

If that is not keeping Fenwick busy enough, he is also currently working on a second pair of shoes for Floyd Mayweather Jr., a professional boxer. These shoes will be on display at the IGNITE event.

On a national level, Fenwick said he is planning to enter a custom sneaker contest.

“My work’s been introduced to different people that are open in these avenues for me to be able to have that opportunity,” Fenwick said. “Two years ago that didn’t exist.”

When Fenwick first started working on shoes, he said there were some doubting Thomas’s.

“When I’m tedious on things, when I’m hard on myself, that’s the payoff, that’s why I do that, so somebody else can look and appreciate it. ... You want people to respect what you’re doing,” Fenwick said. “I want people to be blown away by my stuff.” 

Since 2003, Fenwick has created about 900 shoes. He doesn’t generally keep them; mostly they are sold to clients and have been in California, Las Vegas, Chicago, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Europe.

“They’re all over the place. The good thing about this as far as art wise, you know, you do a painting, a canvas work or a sculpture, you either got to come to somebody’s house or go to a museum to see them. If you’re doing sneakers, it’s wearable art. Your stuff goes wherever that person goes,” Fenwick said.

Not everyone buys the shoes to wear them; some keep them on display. Fenwick said he did a Par-A-Dice themed pair of shoes for an executive at the casino in East Peoria. He has another order for a man who owns a bar in Peoria.

The prices for his shoes range from $100 to $1,500.

In the future, Fenwick said he would like to make and donate custom shoes to kids who have a terminal illness.

“I want to get a relationship going with non-profits and volunteer my time because I think that just as much as you get stuff, you should give back too,” Fenwick said. 

Fenwick reflected on how far he has come.

“When you’re telling people about your story, you sit back and kind of think about all of this stuff. It’s given me an opportunity to see how far things have gone, and it’s just unbelievable. It’s so true about not giving up on yourself. Ultimately, it’s in your hands.”