Numerous Exhibitions In Different Countries
During 2020 it seemed Ian Berry didn’t take any forced rest like many. In a time many of us had our real life events cancelled he not only had exhibitions on, but in numerous different countries. He got his Clapping Hands around the world, and joined celebrities to Pin Your Thanks. He introduced a new permanent exhibit in San Francisco at the San Fran Flower Mart, showed in Germany at the Levi Strauss Museum and in Basel. And then many of us here in Holland managed to get to see his work up close and personal at Museum Rijswijk.
I caught up with Ian Berry and asked him a few questions regarding his brilliant work. Work that is a huge inspiration for all denim heads, but also for people that is interested in art in general of course.
LJ: I’ve followed your work for a long time now and seeing the show felt like a celebration of your many years working in Denim. With central collections like Behind Closed Doors and Hotel California and the American Jean showing your various technique but coming together to show who you are as an artist. How was it seeing it all together?
IB: First of all, thank you for the many years of supporting me as well as teaching me a lot through your online denim magazine Long John.
There’s no better feeling than seeing all the work hanging all together. There’s something in seeing the indigo shades contrasting against white walls. This one was special as it was the first time a large number of works had been collected from clients to show together, sometimes I had done events where we got back one or two pieces but mainly all new work, but this was many and spanning a decade of my last 15 years working with denim jeans.
As you mentioned there were a few different bodies of work curated together, aided by the vast space we had in the museum and the different rooms. Sometimes out of context my work can be confused, I have been in magazines with a game still life printed next to a single record of a band. These were individual pieces taken from installations, so a record was part of many from a Record Store and the still life hung within a pub installation, both things challenging the changing High Street and fabric of our urban environments.
When you see many of my works together it is good for people to see the consistencies, as, as you know many write about my work as ‘made in denim’ but it’s much more than that. For years, I have portrayed isolation in urban environments as well as a kind of documentation of the changing fabric of our urban environments and the way we live.
LJ: The show is called Splendid Isolation, and it appears you have had a good year – but how have you found it?
IB: It’s funny how on the surface things can seem. I’ll admit when lockdown happened it was a little bit of a respite. As you know I always have something to do but with the pandemic anything in the first months were cancelled, so I felt like I had time. Besides, I was lucky, my studio takes a whole floor within my home in London. I spent a bit more time with Elliott, my son, and the weather was a really nice spring and we live by the canal. But I took the foot off the pedal and with Elliott we ended up doing a project, that turned into #Iclapfor, and then suddenly quite a few months were gone. We had never intended it going around the world, it was meant to be a small personal thing. To be honest I didn’t want to seem like jumping on the bandwagon, and while it did go out of my control, in hindsight, I wonder what would have happened with it had I pushed it more, as well as holding it back for weeks.
But, it did take off and many projectionists were doing things all over the world and councils and buildings were approaching me to do them. It took over every day and really, it was work away from the studio, and as you know, I had multiple shows on. I felt a responsibility to those doing things for the project as well as those we were supporting to make something of it.
Once it came to the shows, I had the added issues of sorting out shipping, and quarantines, with the various museums and time frames. It became, and still is a mine field.
But, it was a time I noticed more what was around me, rather than always thinking I had to go somewhere else to do photoshoots. And this led to me remaking my living room in denim – the place where I spent a lot of lockdown. I think it was a time I questioned my own psychology and what is important.
LJ: Most of your work is sold, how does one acquire or commission a work by you?
IB: Yes, the show is a collection of mainly older works borrowed back from clients thus most are sold. I sell mainly through the galleries that represent me. I’m lucky in many ways that my London gallery, Catto Gallery, sell most of the work I make before the doors open. The issue with that is that not many people get to see the real thing after the show closes. This has been great as they have managed to collect back a large body of work from very nice clients so a wider audience can experience the works in real life – as well as for me to see for the first time in many years!
The main way to acquire a work is to get on the gallery waiting list. I rarely do commissions as often it’s too much hassle and I can make the work I want normally. It has to really align with what I want to do or have an interesting location where it would be seen. With the gallery we have a kind of rule that only someone who has bought my work is allowed to commission something.
LJ: You have shown in many different settings like Galleries, Museums, events like Denim Days and high end fashion stores like Selfridges. Do you have a favoured setting to show your work?
IB: I think it is great to be able to show to different audiences. Many people who have come to my gallery and museum shows have said ‘normally I’m so scared of coming into a gallery, but something made me want to come and see this’ and I think there is something in the denim that does that.
I have shown in many different environments and it has led to a cross pollination of people going to see it in a different venue afterward which is great.
I think you have to be careful where you show sometimes, however. I get invited to so many events and many wouldn’t be right for me. I mean, if you are to show in museums and galleries, it’s not really right to show in a trade fair halfway near the back and next to the bogs. It devalues you and you have to think of the audience that will see it.
LJ: You joined the Virtual Denim Days Amsterdam in the Fall, how did you find that?
IB: Yes, that was great, it was a month before the show opening and as we know, the museum isn’t so far from Amsterdam so it was a great way to be able to talk to the denim community and talk about the show and to attract many to come and see the work in real life.
It was interesting as around the same time I was asking some people there if they would like an invite to the exhibition and a couple of responses was.. ‘oh not another virtual show.’ And I was like, ‘no it is really a real in person show’.
And while I think some people may have been exposed to a lot of different virtual shows, I had been selective. I had a lot to do so didn’t always want to talk on IG live and Zoom things too. But the Denim Days one was great. For me the strength of the Amsterdam and Dutch denim community is the independent brands and the ‘Denim Head’ community that really makes such an authentic base and one that support one another. And as I say, my work is about community and I love to see the denim community often getting together and the friendships that are made. An extension with that is Instagram and they are all on there together, so with something like Denim Days online I really feel the community coming through, even if online. And, I am truly honoured that many have made me feel a part of it.
LJ: You visited AMFI (Amsterdam Fashion Institute) and did a lecture as well as gave the students a tour of the show. How did you enjoy that?
IB: It was great. Guido Kerssens the lecturer has become a good friend of mine and to know that he’s been there so long and has so much passion for it is inspiring – as well as to come across so many of the former students doing so well. He’s the first to talk about the rest of the staff there and it’s not just him. AMFI is a great fashion education name and it was great to go in and tell my story, from what would be quite a different perspective to many they will hear but with many transferable and cross over advice.
The word creative and talent is thrown around so easily, but I am often exposed to some of the biggest ‘creative’ names around from many sectors – be it art, fashion, musicians, advertising or graphic design. I’ll admit (and I have to remember my audience) I find many in denim, and I’m sure non who are reading this, to be lacking in this quality. The big caveat here is I know many great creatives and innovators in denim too. Many.
I think as an industry it is important to put a focus on education and from what I know as meeting the quality of student I think AMFI is a great example of this. Giving my own background in changing direction since education I do spend a lot of time with universities, colleges, and right down to the younger generations to show the possibilities out there and to believe in themselves.
LJ: While the show was like a retrospective of your work, it also brought together some of your past collaborators like Pepe Jeans London, Tonello, Cone Denim and Tencel. I know many brands and mills have wanted to work with you, what is special about these?
IB: It was like you say, a bit of a retrospective and part of that is looking back at those who have supported and helped me get to where I am. Pepe Jean London as you know have supported me for a long time be it with sending me deadstock of jeans or coming to my shows and purchasing work. The latter part very important to me as it shows they saw me as an artist, not just a commercial tool to ask ‘can you make this’.
They supported this show at the Museum Rijswijk really well too enabling the museum in areas like promotion.
Tonello and Cone Denim have been very important especially with my installations, particularly but not only, the Secret Garden installations over the years. Their technical help have improved me as an artist also, which is my biggest aim. They backed this show, and the book and of course they helped make the walkway of Stay Behind Closed Doors with lasering many of the photos of the project making a backdrop but a new and fresh Secret Garden that hung in the museum.
I know people often ask, and even to people like yourself, how do we get to work with Ian Berry and I do often joke, ‘Its pretty easy, become my friends’ and these guys really are friends and along with Tricia Carey at Tencel really so supportive. Tricia has backed me for a number of years now and really supported #iclapfor. It was great to have all these guys involved in the show along with my friend Famore – who make specialist scissors.
This doesn’t mean I am exclusive, I’m friends with many people in denim and it was great to have so many of them there in Museum Rijswijk. A world with only one artist would be boring and the same goes for fashion brands and something I do like about the denim industry is while there can be competition a lot support one another.
LJ: A lot of the Dutch Denim community came out to support the opening of the exhibition, for many of us it was a great chance to get out as well as meet one another. How did this make you feel having so much support?
IB: It was really fantastic to see so many friends from the different denim brands and designers along with many of the ‘denimheads’ come to the show. For many it was the first time they had seen the work in real life, others certainly the first time they had seen a collection of works together. It was great to get their reaction. Sometimes it is sad to constantly get the reaction ‘it is so much better in real life’ but it’s great that so many more now have.
Amsterdam and Holland is obviously a very special place for denim and there is a large concentration of people there. Many have been friends for years but with this I have turned Instagram friends into real friends, as well as met many new people. Not only can I think and watch on and think what a great community, they made me feel really a part of it. I have my foot in many worlds and denim is just one of them.
LJ: You’ve mentioned how you see the evolution of denim especially that of raw denim as an artform and great community?
IB: There’re many ways of looking at the same thing, right? I look at denim in a way how it is universal and the material you expect to see people wearing in our cities and towns. I don’t use raw denim in the work, perhaps in the installations but in the intricate detailed pieces not. I used often very washed denim (I see that as another art form in the laundries) and use that to blend the work together to make photorealism, in denim. Or to make it look like its painted. I’ve often thought raw denim would be too thick for me, but I don’t rule it out – having said that – perhaps a lot of it is too special to cut up! To many of the dudes and dudettes it would be a crime!
Of course, the magic in my work is the fades. Normally from laundry techniques. And it is the fades and evolution of raw denim that I have really started to love over the last several years. More from wearing it myself angle than in the work. But watching and become friends with many, at events or through Instagram has shown this really amazing community and artform and appreciation of a craft and fabric from a different point of view.
LJ: You collaborated with Jenny Beavan OBE the Oscar winner in costume design for Mad Max Fury Road and A Room with a View. Should we expect to see more collaborations and more of a venture into clothing?
IB: Ha, this may be more of a wait and see! For years brands have been asking to do capsule collections and things and I have asked them to wait. I wanted to focus on my art and knew these opportunities were always there for the future. I also wanted to wait to do it on the right level, with the right collaborators. There’s a lot of, let’s say, dross, within the industry with poor mindsets and minds.
Working with Jenny Beavan was great, and she is a great friend and creative. Not only winning two Oscars but having so many nominations. What I love about her is she is telling stories with the garments and that is her main aim. With ours it came together with Pin Your Thanks and we pinned a Blackhorse Lane Jacket with all the different care workers representing all the various groups on the front line during the pandemic. Inside were words of support from the likes of Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry. It will eventually be auctioned off for the NHS and Volunteering Matters.
LJ: What’s on next for you for 2021?
IB: It’s a pity as I actually should be in Holland this week, at the Hague Art Fair where I was going to have then entrance of the fair as well as have a lecture. I totally understand and agree with why it is not going ahead. Unfortunately, the fair will move to September, while I still may play a part it was to have gone perfectly with the show in Rijswijk who they would collaborate with. I will be back there in Holland at some point, especially at the end of the Museum Rijswijk Exhibition.
After that we are talking of moving it on to another European city but with Covid, planning has not been easy, but I hope we can confirm that soon. In the fall I am excited to show at the Textil Museet in Sweden. It’s the National Textile Museum and they put on great shows of both fashion and art in the heart of where the industrial revolution happened in Sweden.
Of course, when we first met I was living in Sweden and knew about the museum for a long time. Connected to it is a brilliant university that when I had a tour I was taken aback by how advanced in textiles it was and I’m looking forward to doing some things with them.
LJ: How long is the show on for at Museum Rijswijk and where can people get tickets?
IB: The show is due to reopen on the 19th January and we will follow the news of what is going on there. Of course, everyone wants visitors to be safe and the museum put a lot of work into that. The good news for me is that with the show due to close on the 5th April so still gives a good run for people to be able to see. Let’s all hope for a better Spring than the Winter has been. Tickets can be booked on the museum website for specific time slots.