Brianne Chapelle, Contributor
Orange Hat by Alex Katz, 1990
Have you ever stood in front of an Alex Katz painting? It’s breathtaking. They’re grand in scale, captivating in their portrayal of people, and blissfully calming in terms of colour. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience of awe standing in front of a rack of clothing.
No? I guess it depends on who I’m talking to.
Imagine an instance in which both possibilities coexist: Katz’s calming colors and beautiful portraits, but on clothes and on products for the home sold at the H&M around the block. I’m going to give you the moment you probably need to process, to gather yourself, and to cry a quick tear of joy if need be.
Now that you’ve had that moment (and you’ve marked down the launch date of December 1, 2016), I’ll share a few thoughts.
I study art history and have a particular penchant for clothes and self-expression. Naturally I was excited about this and fell particularly hard into a google hole (as one does). In reading about the collaboration, the trend of artists collaborating with fashion giants was identified as being incredibly “new.” It makes sense to advance such a claim based on things like Marina Abramović doing the art direction for a recent Givenchy show, Vanessa Beecroft collaborating on the (very problematic) YEEZY Season 4 show this fall, or last year’s H&M line inspired by the Louvre.
However, this is not new and I think that there has always been, historically speaking, a closeness between fashion and art. From painters like Matisse and Picasso designing costumes for the Ballet Russes, to textile artist Sonia Delaunay designing wool bathing suits in the 1920s, or even Elsa Schiaparelli’s multiple collaborations with Surrealist, Salvador Dalí; it seems true that fashion is “wearable art” and what influences artists also influences designers. They operate in a similar, creative world.
Original shoe had designed by Shiarparelli in collaboration with Dalí
Sonia Delaunay’s knit bathing suit from the 1920s.
Matisse design for the Ballet Russe’s production of The Song of the Nightingale in 1920.
Katz told Vogue his musings on how the collaboration is a way for the artist “to work with H&M to make [his] art more accessible to more people.” So, while many people might not have access to owning Katz’s artwork in a tangible way (other than maybe making it their desktop background or clipping it out of a magazine), fashion is a more accessible medium, and working with H&M will allow more people to engage with his work.
Think about how H&M has a store in almost every large city, additional stores in suburban areas, and an online platform. At McGill, we could go from a class discussing Katz’s work and then walk a few blocks to the downtown H&M to buy items his designs. The line will make Katz’s work more publicly accessible than the realm of high art. I think we should invest in projects like these because of the way they are inching towards more accessible art in its many forms.
Whether there is a direct collaboration between artists and fashion designers or not, their expressive value exists either way. What is interesting is that these collaborations allow for the historical, mutual undertaking of fashion and art in expressing the self or particular ideas, while exposing it to larger audiences. H&M x Alex Katz builds on that historic relationship between the two fields of fashion and art.