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New Zealand designers on the artists they love

30 January 2017

WORDS BY Fashion Quarterly New Zealand

Fashion's favourite artists (F)

These are art and fashion’s power pairings

The worlds of art and fashion have long been close. There are artists who’ve collaborated with designers to produce exciting collections – Prada and Christophe Chemin – or designers who’ve claimed an artist as their inspirational source. Either way, it seems, art and fashion are inextricably linked.

It was Karen Walker’s recent admission to an abiding fascination with the American photographer Cindy Sherman that got us thinking… which other artists have inspired some of New Zealand fashion’s greatest names.

James Dobson of JimmyD on photographer Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin

James Dobson, the creative force behind New Zealand label Jimmy D, on one of his longest running artistic inspirations, American photographer Nan Goldin

There’s a rawness and a realness to photographer Nan Goldin’s work, James Dobson says, yet it’s still as sexy as hell. And given ‘rawness and realness’ are a kind of guiding force behind the work produced by this avant fashion label, it’s an influence that’s gone some way, the designer claims, in shaping the label’s aesthetic.

James admits to being obsessed with photography as a teenager, and although he can’t pinpoint the exact moment he discovered Goldin’s work, the designer can describe an intimate moment of change after seeing one particular image from Goldin’s seminal book “The Balad of Sexual Dependency” hanging on a gallery wall.

“Everything about it was perfection to me, the composition was at once haphazard and yet almost as rigorously composed as a classical painting. And it glowed. The colours were almost molten hot. It burnt itself into my retinas.”

Stolen Girlfriends Club Marc Moore on visual artist Richard Prince

Richard Prince

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Marc Moore, one third of the Stolen Girlfriends design force on Richard Prince, the artist who has been making a name for himself since the 1970s, in part, by copying and recreating others work.

It’s not really too surprising that Richard Prince figures as an inspirational artistic figure among the Stolen Girlfriends design team. He’s the sort of artist you’d want a glam grunge label like SGC to love because the work he does is so different: it’s confrontational, and not in the least bit obvious. Detractors claim the artist just rips people off, but it’s a position Mark doesn’t stand by, suggesting instead the artist is much more of a renegade and merely uses others work as a starting point in order to create something new.

There’s an aesthetic to Prince’s work that’s difficult to categorise. It’s equal parts beautiful and brash. There’s a tension to it which pushes the work outside of comfortably defined art boundaries, and it’s this, Mark says, that gives the artist his authentic appeal.

“I’ve always loved how controversial he is. People get so up in arms over what he does, it’s quite hilarious. Both him and his work are very polarising – people either love him or hate him but he never seems affected by it and stays true to what he does rather than trying to toe the line and stay in the ‘mild middle’.”

Fashion designer and WORLD co-owner Francis Hooper on glitter artist Reuben Patterson

Photo: Reuben Patterson
Courtesy: Reuben Patterson

WORLD fashion designer Francis Hooper on New Zealand glitter artist Reuben Patterson

If you live in Auckland and shop centrally, chances are you’ve seen Reuben Patterson’s work. The large glitter floral mural at the entrance-way to Newmarket station is unmissable – not just for the warmth and vibrancy it brings to yet another concrete corner of the city but also because it’s a real pleasure to look at.

There’s a special beauty to Patterson’s work – a type of flamboyance that aligns with WORLD’S design ethos – yet it’s not without a level of social commentary, explains designer Francis Hooper. The artist and the label also share quite a bit of history: Patterson worked for WORLD while he was at university, then later collaborated with the label on a series of collections.

Photo: Reuben Patterson
Courtesy: Reuben Patterson

With a fashion motto that states: ‘Glitter is always an option’, this art and fashion power pairing are a natural fit. Creating work that gives cause for celebration is central to both what WORLD and Patterson strive to do. “We must make people feel good,” Hooper says, “his imagery is many things but importantly it makes you think and rejoice at once.”

Fashion Quarterly’s editor Sally-Ann Mullin on painter Michael Smither

Photo: Michael Smither
Courtesy: Michael Smither

Sally-Ann Mullin hails from one of the country’s more interesting artistic outposts: New Plymouth. She speaks about her favourite artist, Michael Smithers

It was a trip to the Govett-Brester – the rural region’s incredible contemporary art gallery, where Sally-Ann says she first discovered the work of painter Michael Smithers.

The artist thrilled her with his ability to transform everyday household objects and familiar landscapes, but it was Smither’s special way with light that completely captivated her.

But, she admits, the artist’s influence also ran a little deeper. Growing up in a place where career options amounted to a choice between nurse, doctor, teacher or farmer’s wife, discovering an artist who came from her hometown, and who actively pursued a creative life, opened her up to the idea of seeking that for herself.

Jokingly she recalls years later meeting her artist and wanting to tell him what an inspiration he’d been to her. “Nerves,” she said, “got the better of me and I couldn’t say that much at all!”

Iconic fashion figurehead Kate Sylvester on cubist movement co-founder Pablo Picasso

Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937.
Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937.

Designer Kate Sylvester on one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso  

Kate Sylvester’s long-standing affiliation with the arts is well known. Each season the designer takes inspiration from books she has read, bands she loves or artists she admires and creates clothing that openly, and generously, references its influences.

Over the years she has been designing Kate says there have been some key figures which have inspired her collections – Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft and abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock but her favourite she says, is a sentimental choice: surrealist painter Pablo Picasso.

Spending “one gloriously, incredibly influential year” in Paris with her husband gave Kate the time to devote to regular visits to the Picasso Museum – which also happened to be in her neighbourhood. She describes falling in love with his way with colour, his humour and his craft and how after so many visits the artist’s work seemed to “seep” into her.

“I also love the women he surrounded himself with. We created a whole collection ‘A Muse’ based on them. I even replicated the way he drew the collars and striped fabric in their portraits. He loved and painted strong, eccentric, beautiful women – just like the clothes I create.”

Words: Emilia Mazza
Photos: Nan Goldin – Museum of Modern Art, New York, Richard Prince, Reuben Patterson, Michael Smithers, Pablo Picasso

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