Fashion Is Art

Fashion Is Art

Produced and Styled by Mindi Shapiro Levine

Photography by Chuck St. John

Artist Profiles and Text by Brett Levine

Hair by Cierra Richards and Makeup by Somica Sprayley for Cracco, Butrus and Fulmer

Hair by Myca Mac and Makeup by Angela King Layman for Tarrasch, Pleasant and Price

Model: Autumn Dawn Godfrey


While there still seems to be room for debate among some fashion professionals, artists regard the question of whether or not fashion is art as one that clearly falls on the side of art. Here, six amazing artists work with a range of materials, from inexpensive, off-the-rack pieces to custom-printed, one of a kind fabrics. Whether they work with the readymade or the just made, these six artists prove that, without a doubt, fashion is art.

Arthur Price

For Arthur Price, painting a dress was something his wife Caren Matukas-Price had been asking him to do for some time. “She had asked me to do this a few times before,” he smiles, “but I just couldn’t quite figure out how it would fit in with the rest of my work.”

Finally, he took a long-sleeved, flowing Earth Creations dress bought at Whole Foods and, after discussing color options with Caren, proceeded to create. “I dyed the dress first,” he explains, “then while it was still wet I put it over the painting and began to work it into the composition.” As he explains it, the saturation helped pull the paint through the dress, leaving a pattern for the other side. After it had dried partially, Price was able to turn it over and mirror the image on the other side.

He then used the painting as a backdrop. When the model stood in front of it wearing the dress, she blurred the distinctions between what was within the work and what was outside it. The dress itself is covered with leaves, and other patterns and colors drawn from the natural world because, as Price explains it, his work is always about the personification of nature.

Adding further to the idea of a three-dimensional painting, Price used a long piece of canvas, partially painted with complimentary colors, which could clothe the model in a number of ways. While the dress and the painting are literally unified by their colors, the additional canvas, which can be used as anything from a cowl to a shroud to a wrap, helps to create both a visual and a physical separation between the painting and the dress.

Price has not previously worked on any clothing, and it is not something he is sure he would do again. “Working with something like this presents its own challenges,” he smiles. “When I paint, I can simply tack out a canvas on my studio deck and let inspiration and vision guide me.” Something like a dress, on the other hand, brings its specific qualities, including shape and construction, into play. He was careful not to simply create a piece of camouflage, however, something that completely hid the dress altogether. Instead, the painting and the dress have a conversation about nature, and in that process she slowly emerges.

Overall, Price enjoyed the challenge and is happy with the outcome. He knew it would not be easy, but in the end he created something that is beautiful, comfortable, and makes his wife Caren happy to wear.

Dress, Earth Creations at Whole Foods $72; Leather and Enamel Cuff, Leaf and Petal $95; Hammered Metal Ring, Leaf and Petal $146; Three tier scalloped metal necklace, Leaf and Petal $55; Purple stone drop earrings, Leaf and Petal $119

Annie Butrus

Annie Butrus never imagined that her worlds of painting and fashion would intersect. “I had made a paper bustle out of a handmade paper recipe for a wedding cake in graduate school,” she remarks, “but apart from that my two and three dimensional work usually didn’t overlap.”

Being presented with a short, sleeveless dress with an eyelet pattern created a unique series of challenges for the artist. “One of the biggest challenges was getting the texture right,” she explains. “Adding dimension to the dress was one of the most difficult tasks in part because I was working outside all my usual media.” Apart from painting the dress, a process that mirrored her usual works, Butrus relied on exploring craft practices.

Stepping outside her ongoing focus on landscape imagery, Butrus found inspiration while visiting the Frida and Diego exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. “I was particularly taken with one of her self-portraits, ‘The Frame,’ and I wanted to transform the content and imagery from the particular to the abstract. So I used materials that referenced aspects of the work, like the feathers, and I covered the dress with handmade tissue flowers using a technique that I first learned when I must have been five.” The end result was a series of larger and larger flowers, giving the dress more and more depth and dimensionality. Butrus then wove hummingbirds into the top, and created a headpiece for the model as well.

Butrus regards the idea of moving between fashion and her traditional arts practice as one that is intriguing. “I think any time you work in a new way it forces you to think outside your traditional methods, so it opens you up to using materials, techniques or elements that you might not otherwise have considered.”

At its simplest, the process simply provided Butrus with a way to step away from her practice of painting momentarily to consider new ways of working. “Although the process itself was a challenge, I found it inspiring, regenerative and strengthening.”

For an opportunity to see Butrus’ works in context, they can be found at the Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan, and at the Johnson Center for the Arts, Troy-Pike Cultural Center in August.

Dress, Dahlias, $49.99; Green Bead Bracelet, Leaf and Petal $18 Green Chandelier Earrings, Leaf and Petal $18; Multicolor vinyl necklace, Betsy Prince, $119; Prada Soleil Platform shoe, Gus Mayer $520

Jürgen Tarrasch

For Jürgen Tarrasch, fashion has an unusual way of emerging in his life at unexpected times. “I have never worked on a fabric other than canvas or on any garments before,” he observes, “but in the early 1980s in Essen, Germany, I worked for a boutique men’s fashion store called Il Mondo, with the amazing designer Peter Heinz. The clothing was exquisite, and the fabrics were amazing, so although I don’t focus on fashion as an artist I am certainly interested in it and very aware of its influences.”

Tarrasch began with a simple pair of shorts and a cotton button shirt which he transformed into a wearable version of his ongoing interests in nature, vision and geometry. “I think the most difficult part of working this way was actually understanding how to keep the work on the clothing as distinct and precise as I would on any other canvas.” He continues, “in fact, rather than use a specific paint for fabrics, I decided I would simply use the Schmincke acrylic paints that I often use in my work so that my work on the clothing would be as closely related to my paintings, and their qualities of light and color, as it possibly could.”

Now, Tarrasch may begin to explore the ideas of fashion and fabrics more closely. “I see a range of possibilities in fabric design that I might have overlooked before. Perhaps there are ways that every artist could work in different media without feeling as if their creativity has been taken away from them. What was great about this project, and what I will remember in the future, is that the foundation for everything is simply my work, and the question is if I can retain the qualities and values that are important to my practice while possibly expanding the ways in which they might be experienced.”

Recently, Tarrasch completed a large-scale, site-specific installation at Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas. The project is on display through June 23rd. In February 2014 an exhibition of his work will open at the Mason-Scharfenstein Museum of Art at Piedmont College in Demarest, Georgia.

“Maybe the fashion will help people to engage with my work,” Tarrasch muses. “My work is fundamentally about how I see nature, and when people see certain paintings the images may help them to understand how to connect to nature in a different way.”

Women’s Khaki Shorts, Old Navy $22.94; Women’s Classic Shirt, Old Navy $24.94; Blue bracelet, Leaf and Petal $18. (Pretty Ballerina Shoes, Gus Mayer, $240, not pictured.

Amy Pleasant

“While I am interested in fashion, I hadn’t worked with any sort of garments before, and since my work is predominantly about creating space in two dimensions I had not really thought of it being a path I had planned to explore,” Amy Pleasant explains when asked about her previous focus on fashion. “For me,” she continues, “the challenge was the dress itself. It was shorter than I had expected, and I had initially thought that if it had more surface and form I would have considered printing on the existing garment. Instead, I decided that I wanted to explore an approach that allowed me to add volume to the dress and to make it even more three dimensional.”

Her materials came from someplace entirely unexpected. “I had actually been in the studio shredding old paintings that I no longer wanted when I realized I could use them as my own found imagery and construct something with them.”

Pleasant then pushed herself to use skills that she had but she did not often employ. “I think the sewing was actually the most difficult part of the design,” she laughs, “because although I had experience sewing when I was making books in art school, I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who sews. It was really difficult getting the needle and thread through so many layers of canvas and paint, but it made sense once I began to piece the garment together.”

She also found the shift from two to three dimensions to be different, although since she has been exploring three-dimensional objects for just over a year the processes were not entirely foreign. “Since my work is so much about flatness, it was difficult at first for me to visualize exactly how the piece would fit the form.”

In the end, Pleasant really loved the process. “Working with a dress was something entirely unexpected, but really it was simply a  matter of exploring my love for line and repetition in a new and unique way.”

Pleasant’s Suspended project, initially made for the Birmingham Museum of Art, is installed on the lawn of the Columbus State University Department of Art Building in Columbus, Georgia, until March 2014. She is represented by Jeff Bailey Gallery, New York, and whitespace gallery, Atlanta, Georgia.

Dress, New York and Company; Earrings, Leaf and Petal $189; Mother of Pearl and Suede Cuff, Leaf and Petal $112; Stingray and silver bracelet, Leaf and Petal $119; 3-form bracelet, Leaf and Petal $45; Black and white geometric bracelet, Leaf and Petal $32; Betsey Johnson Black Suede Platforms, Belk $99

Rebecca Tully Fulmer

Rebecca Tully Fulmer thinks in three dimensions. “I studied architecture and interior design at Auburn,” she explains, “so when I think about creating works I am always considering form, mass and volume.” Her love for three-dimensionality extends to fashion, but even there she prefers to work on her own terms. “I grew up sewing with my mother,” she continues, “although when I work with a pattern I can’t really follow the rules. I like the processes of sewing and construction, but I am also always willing to explore how an alteration or different approach might result in an outcome that I prefer more. I am always questioning and challenging myself to push the limits.”

For this project, Fulmer designed and printed her own fabric, a Lycra, and then used Japanese inspired patterns to merge the worlds of nature and high fashion. “I am fascinated by the ways that nature can influence fashion,” Tully observes. “If you were to take the leggings and fold them in half lengthwise, for example, they would look like an apple peel. They’re designed so that when you put on the leggings the inseam is straight, while the outer seam creates a ruche effect.”

Fulmer’s biggest challenges weren’t in relation to the construction of her garments themselves—a three–piece ensemble that included a top, a skirt and pants—but instead concerned with how the fabric would lay on the model much like structure to a sculpture. “I worked with Lycra, which can be a little forgiving,” she laughs, “but I also wanted to be sure that the aesthetic I was working from and within translated onto the garments and onto her body.”

Now, the possibility of producing more custom fabrics for use in her artworks may be something that she explores further. “I don’t particularly see myself using these techniques to make more fashion, but I won’t rule that out since I love to sew, I love fashion and I love textiles,” she remarks. “It was really exciting to see how the pieces fit the body. What I really love, though, is the ability to make works that use multiple materials because I like to incorporate variation into all of my works.”

Her next exhibition will be at Gallery 1930 in October of this year.

Clothing created by Rebecca Tully Fulmer. Dusica Kotor Sacks shoes, Betsy Prince $495; Earrings, Leaf and Petal $260; White Molded Bracelet, Leaf and Petal $49; Wooden Ring, Leaf and Petal $26

Derek Cracco

“The idea of working with fashion never really occurred to me, in part because I never could see how it would fit into my regular studio practice,” Derek Cracco explains.  “When I started working on these two pieces,” he continues, “my biggest challenge was understanding how to make the composition I had in mind work with the skirt, particularly because it was in two layers with a sheer underlay and a burnout pattern over the top.” Cracco, who is best known for making works that challenge the constructions, intersections and stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, often within and around the ideas of love, has recently been working on large-scale wallpaper installations but even that experience didn’t translate directly to working with and on fabric.

“For me the most fun part of the project was simply the unknown,” Cracco remarks. “As an artist it is always great to see something come from nothing, to see a vision or an idea transform into a completed work.” While the experience of working with fashion and garments was new, the understandings of a close relationship between fashion and art was not. “I watch shows like Project Runway,” he says, “in part because I am really interested in the idea of fashion as its own art form. What we really have to respect,” he continues, “is that fashion comes with its own skill set, from patternmaking to sewing. So it is far easier for me to work with an existing garment, and to treat it like a sheet of paper or some prepared surface rather than to begin simply with the idea of a fabric and try to work from there.”

One of the strongest connections between the clothing and Cracco’s work is simply the relationship between slick and sexy. “In many ways,” he smiles, “I let the outfit be the link between two separate bodies of works. In fact,” he continues, “the skull work, La Petite Mort, I’ve often considered an outlier. It hasn’t really fit into any of the larger series that I’ve created, but it certainly fit the aesthetic of this shoot and the feeling of this fashion.”

For now, the closest Cracco plans to come to textiles or garment designs will be the ongoing series of site-specific, large-scale wallpaper installations he has mounted all across the United States. One will be on display as part of Round 38 at Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, through June 23rd, and a new body of work that may contain elements drawn from his current interests will open at beta pictoris gallery in Birmingham in November 2013. Cracco is content to leave the fashion on the mannequin, but it is clear from the sexy, stylish and subtle approach he has taken to these simple readymade pieces that his understanding of the relationships between fashion and art are subtle and sophisticated.

Motorcycle Jacket, Forever 21 $29.99; Skirt, New York and Company $49.99; Kate Spade Licorice Pump, Belk $298; Alexis Bittar button earrings, A’mano $80; Alexis Bittar Medium tapered bracelet, A’mano $75; Alexis Bittar Tapestry bracelet, A’mano $225

Behind-the-Scenes”FASHION IS ART” Photoshoot HERE:

2 Responses to “Fashion Is Art”

  1. mary white sowell says:

    Spectacular!!! Great job!

  2. Joanna Lea says:

    What talented people we have here in Birmingham! So proud!

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