When this arrived, I felt completely unqualified to have an opinion about it. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a costume designer, so what follows are her words.
Artists leave behind traces of their existence through material created that is more permanent than themselves. The average person might be able to tell you the difference between a Van Gogh and a Monet painting, but could they tell you what each artist chose to wear to his studio?
An artist’s choice of clothing can become a further stem of their practice. A great example of this was in the section on Lynn Hershman Leeson. With ‘Roberta Breitmore’ the artist’s choice of clothing became integral to creating the artwork. Her costume, wig and make-up created the character she performed as for 5 years, her choices in clothes helped form a commentary on the treatment women within 1970’s culture.
Filled with an array of artists from sculptors to performance artists mainly during the 20th century, the book takes on an impressive amount of case studies. The text is sandwiched between images of artists in their studios, offering an often intimate window into their life.
Reading as a costume designer and performance artist, at points I wished the author, Charlie Porter, made a greater distinction between an artist wearing fashion or costume.
My personal preferences meant I was most enticed mostly by Porter’s sections referring to what artists wear during a performance. However, I feel a greater separation could have been made between an artist such as Basquiat, who wore designer clothing in the process of creating his art and artists like Louise Bourgeois who wore costumes as her art. Their intentions were entirely different, and I begin to wonder if this investigation could therefore have been split into two editions: artist’s clothes / distinctive clothes worn by artists?
This subject opened up a bees-nest of artists who would fit into this surprisingly intimate investigation. Grayson Perry and Rebecca Horn immediately come to mind and could have perhaps replaced some of the dryer sections discussing Nicole Eisenman, who is a wonderful artist but perhaps wasn’t the best choice for this book. That said, provoking the desire to add artists into this investigation suggests how rich the subject is.
The focus on what artists decide to wear daily and in performance art proves to be a window into the wider culture their art is born into. It situates where they fit or more commonly, resist pressure to comply with their contemporaries.
Click the picture to view on Amazon