Clothing & Identity
The weekend long read.
I found myself in a dry spot for inspiration in the last few weeks and I felt it was time to take action. As I work on my own most of the time I need to take real active action to get out of my studio to soak up new ideas and get the brain going. I booked myself a few tickets to exhibitions to kickstart the process and then instantly felt guilty at the thought of taking time out of the studio during working hours. But 'needs must' when it comes to creative inspiration and so I took myself off to the Barbican earlier this week.
The Barbican is one of my favourite places in London to visit. The brutalist architecture is inspiring to walk through and I love sitting with a coffee in the main courtyard or taking an evening trip to the cinema. In my quest to find inspiration I saw the Alice Neil exhibition online and was immediately drawn to her use of colour and style of painting.
Alice Neel was a painter from New York who painted people who were not considered subjects for fine art. Her sitters included pregnant women, gay couples, black children, Latino families and labour politicians. She is hailed for the way she portrayed her sitters in such a raw and honest way, demanding compassion and understanding from the viewer. A ground breaking idea at the time.
Walking round I was genuinely awestruck and it was probably the best exhibition I’ve seen in recent years. It was remarkably powerful and I’m not sure I’ve left an exhibition feeling such a connection to the painter and the subjects before.
What struck me about her paintings was how much she conveyed about each person. Each canvas held such raw and honest emotion that the paintings were truly life like. The most intricate of human emotions were clearly communicated and I think everyone visiting would have had a personal experience and internal conversation with each painting.
Alongside her incredible ability to portray expression I really noticed how she used clothes to tell the story of a person. Clothes are an integral part of her paintings because clothes are an integral part of identity and self. I felt that her clothed sitters had a more powerful sense of identity compared to the nude sitters. These clothed sitters were so perfectly portrayed that I felt I could almost talk to the person on the canvas - you can almost hear their thoughts and worries.
By seeing someones choice of dress you can rapidly build an idea of who that person is. It is why clothing is important to us all. It’s an instinctive need to connect and communicate who we are to the world. No matter who you are and your views on fashion, you actively participate in self expression each day by choosing what you wear to communicate who you are. In this way, fashion is the biggest creative output in the world each day.
I come back time and time again to the power of clothing. It is the most useful form of self expression but it also has the ability to alter how we feel in ourselves. The garments you're dressed in can boost or diminish your mood, such is their power. And I think when you make your clothes you have even more potential to connect who you are to the pieces that hold your body each day.