james viscardi and the fashion of art
Exhibition openings tend to be good places to do a bit of style-spotting. But New York-based artist James Viscardi’s new show at The Sunday Painter gallery in Peckham presents a world in which clothes are stretched not just around the bellies and backs...
How important an influence is contemporary fashion in your work?
Contemporary fashion as well as my own personal tastes in clothing, is an integral part of this project, but neither are by any means the whole story. It's a fine line that artists are taught to avoid from day one. Fashion comes close to contemporary art these days, their systems of dissemination and branding blur more and more. The hyped up dropping of a new sneaker at Nike or hat at Supreme and the opening of a new group of paintings by certain artists are less and less distinguishable - except of course perhaps by the prices.
Really, I think both worlds are so interesting and so strange - the subtle social cues and games being played in both worlds are fascinating. At times tasteful, at other times insanely tacky, but fun and mesmerising to be a part of either way. I definitely think artists have to be wary of falling into the traps of fashion but rather than run away from fashion in art I want to put it all on the table.
Does this honesty affect the actual process of making clothes in your practise?
Well initially I started by making plain white tees to put over my oil paintings. I was feeling very self-conscious about the work I was making at the time and thought that by covering them with white t-shirts I could somehow protect them as I protect my own body and identity with clothing. With clothing we can wear a costume and project the image we want the world to see on a surface level. Eventually I realised the t-shirt on its own attained the identity I was seeking from my paintings, so I ditched the painted canvas and left the t-shirt on its own.
Who makes the best white tees?
Levi's Classic Tees are the best, well made, comfortable. I have four of the same grey Levi's Tee and a couple in white which I wear almost daily.
Can you talk about the decision to hang your work like paintings? To what extent do you consider them as canvasses?
These clothes in the show are not, "like paintings" - they are paintings. Like hyper-impressionism. The fabric folding around the stretcher here is often literally the same as the cotton used to stretch a painting canvas. Clothing may be the subject matter but it is not an article of clothing that comes from my hands, what I'm making is a caricature, an impressionist work. Two pattern pieces stitched together are just two fragments coming together to say something new. The interest in the work doesn't come from the virginal fabric so much as the Frankenstein scars between pieces.
The process of making these pieces while really different materially, is the same as when I make paintings. Each time I put a seam or a zipper through the sewing machine it feels just as unruly and unpredictable as painting. Maybe it's my unskilled hand at sewing but it feels totally out of my control and in the control of the material and process. Whenever I'm finished with a piece and it even remotely looks like what I was intending it's like a miracle.
Do you feel as though the frame echoes a stereotypical male form?
It's funny I've never thought about the frames like that. I definitely love the way the squared off shoulders give the work a certain attitude, like a shrug. From the beginning of this project I have been drawn to the awkward way clothes tailored to a human body stretch and pull over a rectangular stretcher. The way a waist is too tight, with the buttons popping and the corners jutting out disconcertingly. It's protecting the painting and the naked stretcher in the way we cover ourselves.
How do you prepare for an exhibition?
I make it up as I go along. This show primarily focusses on the items of clothing that I live with the most on a daily basis. These clothes are so closely linked to my identity that I feel so at home, looking at the show is like looking into some bizarre, mirror-world version of my own closet.
Text Tom Harrad
Photography Tash Cox