BETWEEN THE ZIP
A CONCEPT T-SHIRT LINE
Travelling back and forth between countries and thus places, family and friends begins to have a peculiar effect on one’s state of mind. Your world becomes littered with beginnings, endings and strange shifts in identity. Through prolonged periods of absence, the line between the familiar and unfamiliar becomes increasingly blurred. Dynamics change. One feels like a visitor in their own country. An observer rather than a partaker. Constant readjustment becomes the natural default ..
In 2013, I moved from England back to New York City after being away for five years. When I returned, ‘things’ felt acutely and edgily different. I remember walking around downtown Manhattan with a heightened sense of awareness, as though I’d just stepped into a Sartre novel. It wasn’t something I had counted on. It was like trying to find common ground with a lovable enemy. There was no harmony. Just an overwhelming sense of trying to swim upstream. Had I been away too long?
Eventually the city and I fell back in step. While we were reacquainting ourselves, I started to paint. Although I had produced a number of artworks over the years I was usually more of a words/poetry/music person when it came to creative expression. But I had been given this little Japanese watercolour set as a gift and with my head in an existential, ex-pat whirl, it seemed like a good time to put it to use.
I produced nine abstract watercolours in the end, not in quick succession but over the next few months. These works were undoubtedly connected by their style and palette but they were not deliberated over. Instead, they were driven by a desire to capture the essence of an emotional state, whether positive, negative or somewhere in between, as it came into being at a particular time.
In the Spring of 2016 I revisited the nine watercolours. It was a sunny day and my apartment was getting hit with some good natural light. While looking at them I started to see details that I had not noticed before – intricate, rather peculiar faces, creatures and landscapes. Was I going mad?
I proceeded to take a series of digital colour photographs of these details, with each detail becoming a new artwork in itself. The more time I spent just looking at them, the more fascinating they became. Each detail I had photographed seemed to have a separate story to tell. Stories that spoke of alternative worlds and otherworldly inhabitants. Of barren yet eerily beautiful landscapes. Of stillness and movement, sorrow and joy.
They were not fully formed stories with a beginning middle and end. Instead they were torn off strips of stories; faded glimpses of lives once lived, of suspended states of being, of forgotten conversations and of lingering memories, flickering in the half light.
I was perhaps most intrigued by the idea that semi-abstract worlds were now emerging from the abstract. Or rather I was beginning to make a kind of sense of the emotional states I had earlier attempted to paint. Real life mirroring art or was it the other way round? More curious still was that these ‘stories’ I was now discovering had seemingly been there all along, hiding in the shadows, there but just out of sight, waiting for someone to notice them.
By the time I’d finished I had around 30 or so images. I began to experiment with them, trying them out in a monochrome palette – with their colour removed, the images became something different again and took on a stark, isolated beauty. The monochrome palette also seemed to further emphasise the idea of a fast fading, almost forgotten, alternative world. As a means of reinforcing this and to bring to the forefront their singularity, I gave each image a title, which in turn inspired me to write several lines of complimentary narrative, acting like a brief extract from a story – ‘their’ story.
When I started photographing the watercolours it was in the spirit of creative experimentation rather than with an end product in mind. But now, presented with this group of monochrome images, I began to wonder what I might do with them.It was as though I had reawakened a universe close to extinction and it was now my responsibility to breathe life back into it.
I gradually narrowed the images down to 12. Why 12? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps something to do with the hours on a clock, the months in the year and the perpetual ticking of time. Either way, with their titles and narrative in place, the 12 images were beginning to feel like a cohesive collection of sorts.
It was around this time I remembered an old band t.shirt I used to wear. On the front was a white line drawing of a boy in a classic illustrational style, set against a black background. I would wear it under a slightly beat up leather jacket and worn this way, just a glimpse of the image could be seen.
The idea of something only being partly revealed had always appealed to me stylistically. This in turn got me thinking about the images and how they too, along with their titles and accompanying text, only revealed part of a bigger picture or story.
And it was at that moment the stars lined up ..