designer patrick church turns his clothes into his canvas
The New York-based British artist's creations have been worn by everyone from Kali Uchis to Megan Thee Stallion.
Images courtesy of Patrick Church.
Few rising figures are injecting New York’s fashion scene with as much new blood as multi-disciplinary artist Patrick Church. The British transplant’s work is largely rooted in painting. For Church, however, the canvas is sometimes eschewed in favor of leather jackets, shoes, and baby grand pianos. His overwhelming signature style is immediately recognizable, layers and layers of distorted faces and bodies à la Edvard Munch interspersed with phrases spanning proclamations of love and self-doubt. His work and ensuing collections have garnered support from the likes of legendary performers like Lil’ Kim to contemporary hitmakers Megan Thee Stallion and Rico Nasty.
Church’s latest and most ambitious collection, “A Hell of My Own Making,” comes with a darkness and a duality the 27-year-old expat has yet to explore. Using the age-old theme of angels and demons, Church serves as a chic Virgil through an underworld of faceless people and celestial bodies entangled with one another, exploring our own humanity and capacity to connect to one another in an age that’s as interconnected as it is isolated. Prior to the exhibition’s opening and the collection’s launch, Church is making an unorthodox move: in direct rebellion to the exclusivity of Fashion Week, an open call will be held that welcomes anyone willing to be photographed to be a part of Church’s vision.
“People ask me what the inspiration behind my work is, and it goes so far beyond that,” says Church. “It's just me. I actively create and wrangle with the subject matter—am I resolving problems or just repeating them over and over in my head? I'm always holed up in here working, so I’m surprised when people even turn up for my shows.”
i-D met with Church in his Brooklyn loft and studio space to talk about his unique approach to art and fashion, dressing Kali Uchis as a modern-day Selena, infusing his work with love and chaos, and his forthcoming solo exhibition and SS20 collection “A Hell of My Own Making.”
I want to ask you about Selena-inspired outfit you designed for Kali Uchis’ Selena for Sanctuary performance at Central Park.
I've been a longtime fan of Selena and Kali both. My husband, who’s Mexican and grew up in Texas, remembers seeing her perform at the county fair when he was 12. When Kali and I connected she told me she had this performance coming up and all the stars aligned. We knew we wanted to do something that was typical Selena. She wore a lot of white, and I love painting onto white: it's just the perfect blank canvas. Kali chose text that was important to her, and I interlinked my artwork, making the pattern smaller so the words stood out.
I was there, and I remember I could tell it was one of your designs from afar. Seeing Kali step out in a silhouette that was so recognizably Selena was jaw-dropping. It gave me goosebumps.
I remember seeing Teyana [Taylor] coming out wearing my stuff in front of so many people for the first time at one of her shows...I never thought anyone would wear any of my stuff.
You've dressed so many heavy-hitters aside from Kali and Teyana, though! Lil' Kim, Rico Nasty, Megan Thee Stallion...
I was just doing this on my bedroom floor a year ago, so it still feels like it's not real. I don't think very highly of myself, and just to see all of this support is very overwhelming. Letting other people, especially my husband Adriel [Church-Herrera], into my creative process has been a huge help.
Can you tell me about the new spring/summer 2020 collection, "A Hell of My Own Making"?
The pieces deal in duality: angels and devils. The prints are taken from my artwork, and I wanted to use a lot of color. I looked at a lot of vintage pieces, amazing clothes my mom use to wear.. I've also been looking a lot at [Yayoi] Kusama's work and how it occupies such large spaces. The exhibition’s main part is a 5000 sq foot mural space, where we're showing reverses—we'll do colored walls with black and white walls, black and white walls with colored paintings. I really want to keep exploring the creation of an environment.
I feel like the collection’s imagery is also the darkest things we've seen from you.
When I moved here I was enamored with New York and everything I painted was light and more playful. I wanted to show a more intense emotional side to my work because I use it as a documentation of my own feelings. I'm still so drawn to the energy of the city, but I wanted to retreat into myself. Even though it's all over the place, it's still just me in this room making work alone. I feel physically unwell if I don't make work—it's a compulsion, the only thing I have besides the love in my life. I like the collection being more palatable, but when you look at the paintings, they're a little more chaotic and less controlled. I want to break free of the control.
As far as style and aesthetic, I read you’ve been inspired by a variety of sources from artist and fashion darling Stephen Sprouse to French Rococo master François Boucher. Who are you looking at these days?
I went to an amazing Basquiat show a few months ago at the Brant Foundation. I was so taken by all his work—it was so chaotic and sexy and modern. It felt futuristic but also immersed in the past. Basquiat’s work is so free of control, and the thing about painting is that in such a digital world it’s a primal method of working. It's cathartic.
Would you say your paintings always in conversation with the clothes?
I'm starting to feel like I can be a fashion designer and I can be an artist and they can be separate entities. That's how I feel at the moment, but maybe in a week I'll be like "I bloody fucking hate fashion, I want to be an artist." At the moment, I want to challenge myself and be good at both of these things, but everything comes from the artwork.
Can you tell me a bit about experience live-painting? I saw that you created a big live piece at Elevastor’s pop-up in Paris.
I'm so uncomfortable and unconfident in so many areas of my life, but when I'm making work I feel like I can conquer the world. I know exactly what I'm doing and feel comfortable in it; it's like a friend or a lover that will always be there. At first I found it really scary having people watching me, but now I find it challenging and empowering and feel a great sense of release. It feels great to be able to share that with other people. Painting is very much a private process, and I think people change how they make work when other people are watching.
I was at your show FW19’ show "Dearly Beloved" and was expecting a runway, but walked in and saw all these people posed in your clothes like statues in a museum.
When I'm designing a collection, I envision it being presented in different ways. We explored relationships intimately for "Dearly Beloved," so I had everyone coupled, which I thought was a very romantic way of doing it.
It also felt very close. I've never felt that close to 'quote unquote' haute couture before.
I wanted people to see the clothes! I want fashion to be accessible and inclusive so everyone can be a part of it.
I wanted to ask you about the big open casting call for this year!
I feel like we're creating a family and I wanted everyone to be a part of it. I've been asked to do a runway show before and it's just not what I want to do right now. Me and Adriel share creative ideas and we were thinking about how to present this collection in a way that's accessible and do something that's unconventional. So many people messaged me saying they wanted to try my clothes or model so I thought "for God's sake, this just needs to happen!" We're building a set inside the exhibition space. Anyone can turn up camera ready. We'll have the collection in every size for people to come, try a look, be photographed and be able to share the photo immediately to speak of their experience. Do you remember Marina Abramovich's piece "The Artist is Present?"
I want to turn this into a piece of performance, a pilgrimage for people to come and take something away from it that's not just like "this is my vision." I want them to be involved.
What are you expecting?
I honestly have no idea... I really want people to have fun and feel fucking great in the clothes and to have a great experience together. I want to see if we can turn the photos into a book or zine or even use some of the images for the campaign.
Your process is so diplomatic.
Fashion is so unattainable, and the process of doing a show can be quite slow. I think things are moving so quickly, especially in New York, so I think doing something like this is exciting. It's about finding new ways to present your work. We're changing, the world is changing and everything is being turned around on its head. We have to be thinking forward.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Patrick Church ’s new solo exhibition, “A Hell of My Own Making ,” is on display from September 5-13 at Wallplay’s 117 Beekman location in Manhattan.
Photos: Savanna Ruedy
Set :Chelsea Finkel
Makeup: Luca Ponce
All clothing Patrick Church SS20