Sebastian Zinn

 

The ironic allure of corporate chic

Chaz Bear's fictional company, Corporate Solutions, generates lots of buzz, merchandise, and even some paintings

On a damp night in early February, fans of all ages packed cheek-by-jowl into FISK gallery to view a selection of acrylic paintings and screen printed collages created by Chaz Bear (AKA Toro y Moi). In many respects, Bear’s show, titled Corporate Solutions, exceeded the confines of FISK (a small, non-traditional gallery in NE Portland run by a graphic design firm of the same name). The paintings and screen printed images comprised one feature of a multimedia project, which also included merchandise and marketing content disseminated by a fictional company (also called Corporate Solutions) through Bear’s and FISK Gallery’s Instagram profiles: @chaz.wick and @fiskgallery. The marketing content––which consisted of “stock-photos” of Bear and his “coworkers” sporting polo shirts and hard hats bearing the Corporate Solutions logo––amounted to a kind of performance piece. They are shown striking stilted poses, consulting with clients and producing, shipping and installing Bear’s artwork in nondescript office settings. The fictional company’s mission statement reads: “Production – Transportation – Sales.”

Chaz Bear, Corporate Solutions “stock photo.” Image courtesy of FISK Projects.

It’s difficult to know whether or not one should make a distinction between the persona of Toro y Moi, the music artist, and the persona of Chaz Bear, the painter and performance artist. Critics have identified aesthetic similarities between the childlike shapes and vivid colors of Bear’s paintings and the “psychedelic, vibrant textures of [Toro y Moi’s]” melody-driven, synth-pop music. Bear’s personas don’t share the same Instagram, but they occasionally endorse one another’s content on their respective platforms: @chaz.wick and @toroymoi. In any case, it’s worth prefacing this article by citing a lyric from Toro y Moi’s most recent mixtape, Soul Trash (‘19). On the track “zeiss_hifi_v2,” Bear confidently asserts that he’s “Got the fans, I don’t need reviews/Got the bands, get my mama food.” I’m not operating under the assumption that what I write here will have any bearing on his popularity as an artist, but my interest was piqued by Bear’s self-satirizing multimedia project.

Bear received a BFA in graphic design from the University of South Carolina in 2009. He has maintained his studio and design practice since then, even as he’s established an international reputation as the music artist, Toro y Moi. In 2014, he founded a graphic design studio (Company Studios) and a record label (Company Record Label) of his own, in Oakland, California. His artwork has previously been shown at New Image Art Gallery in Los Angeles, California, and Commune Gallery in Tokyo, Japan.

Chaz Bear, Installment view of Corporate Solutions. Photo credit Mario Gallucci, courtesy of FISK Projects.

The crowd’s mood during the opening night of Corporate Solutions was palpably aspirational. Everyone seemed to be trying to catch a glimpse of or a private moment with the elusive artist. From what I could glean, they almost universally settled for the artist’s merchandise: a flurry of gold dust from the higher echelons of social prestige, which included mugs, graphic shirts, pencils and calendars. By merchandising products and producing social media content under the same, enigmatic brand name (Corporate Solutions), Bear managed to collapse the distance between a physical gallery show in Portland and his multi-national audience. What’s more, he did so back in February, just before the age of social distancing, when having a platform to share one’s art virtually suddenly became imperative, and brick-and-mortar cultural institutions were forced to reevaluate their business model.

Corporate Solutions’ opening night was not the ideal context for viewing art. Like concerts, a gallery thronged with visitors inspires a pleasing sense of collective euphoria, but the difficulty of navigating the space can detract from any one viewer’s ability to focus on the artwork. When one is surrounded by other people, it’s much easier to feel overly self-conscious about the unexpected pathways of introspection our minds may take in response to a work of art.

Perhaps two-hundred people visited FISK gallery during Corporate Solutions’ opening night, but tens of thousands of fans have viewed and interacted with images of these paintings on Bear’s Instagram. On the @chaz.wick Instagram page, responses to Bear’s paintings were mixed. In the comment section of an image depicting an untitled canvas from the Corporate Solutions show, R&B and neo soul star, Erykah Badu, remarked, Great Shit [*heart-eyes-emoji*].” Other users free-associated (as one might expect): @360mctwist commented, “who’s your favorite author[?]” Whereas @jose._.morales took the opportunity to self-promote, commenting: “CHECK YOUR DMS I DREW A PICTURE OF YOU PLEASE.” That said, those unable to view Bear’s paintings in person (most everyone, presumably) will miss out. His canvases are rich with evidence of overpainting. Earlier compositions protrude beneath their surfaces, adding texture and a subcutaneous record of the artist’s process to his paintings.

Chaz Bear, Against the Grain (7/8), (2020), collage on paper
21×24 inches. Image courtesy of FISK Projects.

Most of the paintings in the Corporate Solutions show were untitled abstractions rendered in monochromatic pastel colors: pleasing, straightforward arrangements of ovals and rectangles, with a spattering of recurrent, relatively amorphous motifs including wave patterns, checkerboards, and flowers. One series, titled “Against the Grain,” encompassed eight silkscreened collages on paper composed of various iterations of Bear’s signature forms. Amid the recognizable repertoire of abstract squiggles and flowers, one could easily discern a silhouette of a very flexible human figure (reminiscent of the superhero, Elongated Man); a four-legged animal; printed text of the word “HISTORY” in all capital letters; and a donald-duck-style illustration of a crow accompanied by the subtext, “NO JAZZ!” (Possibly a decontextualized reference to the intersecting histories of jazz and Jim Crow laws).

Tip-toeing my way through the teeming crowd at Corporate Solutions’ opening night, I was reminded of Andy Warhol’s Flowers (1964 and 1967), a series of silkscreen prints depicting four ebullient yet ghostly hibiscus flowers suspended against a ground of newsprint-photo quality grass blades. It was not Bear’s screen printed series, but a recurrent motif in his paintings – an elastic, petaloid shape – which reminded me of Warhol (who is credited with establishing screen printing as a fine art medium). Bear’s colors are less neon and more pastel than Warhol’s, but both artists’ flowers are opaque and flat, making them float above their almost monochrome backgrounds. 

Comparisons have already been made between Bear and Keith Haring and Henri Matisse. Bear’s obsession with the flower motif signals a tendency shared by pop artists to plaster over the alienation, narcissism, elitism and violence of consumer culture with gaudy hues, pleasing melodies, and spurius affirmations that one is thriving, even when surrounded by a tempest. Or, as Bear puts it on the album Outer Peace (‘19): “Maximize all the pleasure/Even with all this weather/Nothing can make it better/Maximize all the pleasure” (“Ordinary Pleasure,” Toro y Moi).

Chaz Bear, Untitled 8 (2020). Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of FISK Projects.

Bear doesn’t produce many finished paintings; he thrives on iteration. The works displayed in Corporate Solutions were tries, attempts, or essays in the French sense of the word. A large part of the pleasure one takes in looking at them comes from discerning the pentimenti – the feints and improvisations, the fits and starts – which underlie their surfaces. There is one image-making technique which Bear used to produce the Untitled canvases 3, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 18 which I find endlessly absorbing. He first lays down a gradated wash that transitions from ochre and burnt orange to turquoise, lilac and cobalt, then paints an opaque stencil of a wave pattern or an amoeba-like figure over the wash, allowing the negative space of the stencil to frame the wash underneath. This compositional strategy has the effect of blurring the distinction between figure and ground, and it lends these paintings unanticipated depth.

Paintings don’t really “do” anything. People’s minds and bodies do things in response to paintings (hopefully). As the art critic Peter Schjeldahl pointed out in April, physical works of art are basically “inoperative without the physical presence of attentive viewers.” Many of the audience members at Corporate Solutions were buying things, satisfying an acquisitive impulse. Were they doing so in response to the paintings or in response to Bear’s celebrity status? I suspect the latter, especially after speaking with Bijan Berahimi, the gallery’s owner. Berahimi acknowledged that “FISK [Gallery] doesn’t sell that much art, really. Corporate Solutions is selling well because Chaz is Chaz.” Bear is by no means the first music celebrity to try their hand at painting. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and many others painted with varying degrees of intensity and attained different levels of success as visual artists.

Chaz Bear, Untitled 9 (2020). Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of FISK Projects.

I’m not trying to suggest that every painter should boost their career by moonlighting as a pop musician or a graphic designer. However, Bear’s example suggests that diversifying one’s creative portfolio, curating one’s social media identity, and merchandising can work in an artist’s favor. A Marxist critic like Walter Benjamin might deplore the fact that Bear sells highly reproducible, “entry-level” merchandise like mugs and T-shirts alongside his paintings. Most consumers, however, have been desensitized to that sort of thing by the omnipresent museum gift shop, where museum-goers in every major city can buy umbrellas, fridge magnets and playing cards adorned by reproductions of masterpieces. Bear has at least reclaimed the surplus value generated by his own brand, if not the means of production. Hip consumers, for their part, seem to be shopping for more exclusive merchandise: the fine art world equivalent of a band tour T-shirt. Bear and FISK are merely capitalizing on consumer demand.

Like many contemporary musicians, Bear is keenly attentive to his relationship to the market. On the track, “New House” (Outer Peace), he expresses frustration with his own limitations as a consumer: “I want a brand-new house/Something I cannot buy/Something I can’t afford.” The Corporate Solutions logo is composed of two abstract forms: a turquoise squiggle shaped like an italicized letter N and a crimson dot which sits in the valley formed by the shoulder and arm of the N-shape. The logo recalls the graphic print which decorated those wax-treated “Jazz” cups, popular in the ‘90s. It could be pure abstraction with no figurative value whatsoever, but it bears a striking resemblance to a silhouette of a human torso. The figure’s head and shoulders appear to hunch forward, as one arm extends towards some alluring object as yet unprocured. Read figuratively, the logo suggests the very act of consumption. It could also represent a landscape, a lambent celestial body suspended over an undulating mountain range.
We often use beauty and entertainment as means of escapism. The durability of beautiful objects can be a comfort in a world in which any one source of happiness is fleeting. Entertainment absorbs one’s attention and stimulates one’s sensory palate. Hence the popularity of streaming platforms like Netflix and social media platforms like Instagram. Bear excels at using different media and technologies to create beauty and provide entertainment.

If you’re bored at home, check out the landing page for Company Studios’ Record Label. The page allows visitors to create their own art, Chaz Bear-style. Your cursor becomes a wide, house-painter’s brush. The page itself becomes your “canvas.” Two symmetrical vertical rectangles of opaque complementary colors occupy your browser window. When painting on one canvas, your “pigment” is the color of the other canvas and visa versa. The best part? Whenever you press your cursor down to “paint,” an ambient musical composition begins to play through your computer speakers. It’s magic. I don’t know when this was developed, but it seems like a timely antidote to the moratorium placed on public gatherings. It’s accessible from the privacy of a home computer, and it communicates the same spirit of delighted naīveté that Bear’s paintings do.

Chaz Bear, Corporate Solutions “stock photo” (2020). Image courtesy of FISK Projects.

Toro y Moi’s ability to anticipate the caprices of his listening audience and tailor his sound accordingly is one aspect of his music which I deeply admire. (Bear even created an alter-ego, “Les Sins,” so that he could release experimental electronic dance music without “alienating” fans of Toro y Moi.) Over the course of his career, he has transitioned from chillwave to disco to pop to indie rock, and more recently, to house music, rap, R&B and “sad-trap,” where his technical facility as a producer shines. With Samantha (‘15), Outer Peace (‘19), and Soul Trash (‘19) Toro y Moi tapped into the sublimity inherent in the human voice’s endless malleability, inserting ad-libs and liberally applying autotune and other sensationally freakish vocal distortions to bewitching effect. His dexterity and willingness to experiment as a vocalist is all the more refreshing because of the tendency among popular musicians to codify their voices according to genre, rather than subjecting them to constant changes.

There are moments in Toro y Moi’s last two albums which are overwhelmingly beautiful. Bear hasn’t quite gotten there with his painting. But his efforts show that his creativity is not in decline. Far from it, he won’t allow his success in music to winnow out his enterprises in other media. The myriad components of the Corporate Solutions project are by turn amusing, sincere, ironic, and utterly Delphic. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys these kinds of postmodern stunts, you’ll find it endlessly entertaining.

Artful solutions to foster community

Dana Lynn Louis's newest project transforms chain-link fence into a collage of clouds and waves

Dana Lynn Louis’s large-scale installations are affecting, altering the way viewers perceive and experience space. Many petrify the fractal ephemera of the natural world (root systems, raindrops, flowers, even patterns of sunlight) in man-made spaces using durable materials such as glass, metal, paint, silk tarlatan, sewing thread and fiber optic lighting.  In her latest project, Ripple Effect, Louis has instead enhanced an all too familiar feature of urban life, a chain-link fence, with printed photographs of water and sky.

Louis’s multidisciplinary practice has been documented and reviewed in Arts Watch, Sculpture magazine, Artweek, Glashaus (DE), Culture Now, The Willamette Week, and The Examiner. A fantastic article by Helen Hill was recently published in Street Roots, describing how Louis’s practices as an artist and activist intersect and inform one another. In addition to her studio practice, Louis runs a nonprofit organization called “Gather: Make: Shelter” (founded in 2017), which provides art-making workshops and art supplies to Portland’s unhoused residents.

Continues…

Gallery shows shuttered but not forgotten

You may not be able to see this work in person at Nationale and Third Room but it remains attention worthy

I’m about to do something I’ve never done before: review two gallery shows which were scheduled for March, then abruptly shuttered, due to precautions taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The moment feels ripe for experimentation. Under normal circumstances, the objective of a review is to promote or critique a significant cultural event. This review, however, will serve as a reminder of what we will inevitably miss out on, if we don’t support our cultural institutions during this crisis. While fears about the pandemic were still emerging here in Oregon, Nationale launched a month-long retrospective featuring a series of paintings by the late Carola Penn, titled, Who Am I, Anyway. Around the same time, Third Room––a non-traditional gallery in Northeast Portland operated by a board of patrons––unveiled a solo-show of work by Alexis E. Mabry, an emerging multidisciplinary artist from Austin, Texas, titled Static Age

Penn’s retrospective at Nationale was curated by May Barruel, the gallery’s owner and director, while Mabry’s show was curated by Third Room’s founder, Kalaija Mallery. Both of these galleries excel at offering a great deal to look at in a very small space. Taken together, these shows underscore the collaborative achievements of female curators and artists working in Portland, as well as the significant contributions that small, independent and non-traditional galleries continue to make to the contemporary art scene.

I learned of Carola Penn’s local reputation only after her death, which feels like a betrayal given that Portland’s artistic community has long revered her fidelity to her creative practice, and her facility with a paintbrush. Penn’s key themes are time, its effect on identity, and the incompatibility of natural and urban environments. She spent a significant portion of her career in Portland reflecting on the construction boom’s impact on the natural environment. Lauded for her ability to integrate pastiche and collage into her work, she showed as much concern for how a painting was displayed in relation to other paintings, as she did for its content. 

In sauvie island road, (2013-2018) for example, Penn bisects a landscape of a marshland with another painting depicting an abstraction of a road––two vertical orange lines against an asphalt-colored wash. The left and right panels of the triptych golden state (2014) depict dreary images of an oil field overpopulated by oil wells. The center panel portrays a lush California hillside planted with Eucalyptus trees, bathed in golden afternoon light. Exquisite brushstrokes of yellow ochre and Prussian blue delineate the shadows rippling across the hillside’s gentle slope. The same palette of blues and yellows can be found in the surrounding oil fields, but in this terrain, they lose their vibrancy, appearing muted and macabre.

Penn has a gift for dovetailing private, firsthand observations with universally accessible themes. That said, her paintings reflect a consistent shift away from communal spaces––the urban sprawl of San Francisco and Portland––towards a life of quiet reflection in concert with nature. The series on display at Nationale focuses on her childhood as a second-generation American growing up in the U.S. in the 1950s. The show’s title alone, Who Am I, Anyway, signals introspection. Attuned to the fragmentary nature of human memory and perception, these works feature snapshots from Penn’s early life, coalescing with motifs derived from folktales, mythology, old master paintings, pop culture, and the visual language of advertisement.

Little Lulu sleeps in Van Gogh's bed
Carola Penn, Van Gogh’s Room (2003-2016). Acrylic on wood. 16 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of Nationale.

Two of the paintings at Nationale––Van Gogh’s Room and Van Gogh’s Chair (2003-2016)––reimagine scenes excerpted directly from Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. In one, a small girl (Penn’s autobiographical double, Lulu) sleeps soundly in the master painter’s flaxen bed. The figure of Lulu is appropriated directly from the work of the trailblazing, mid-century comic-book artist and media mogul Marjorie (‘Marge’) Henderson Buell. After her debut in the Saturday Evening Post in 1935, Buell’s comic character, Little Lulu, became wildly popular. Little Lulu was adored by readers of the Post for almost a decade, and later developed an even more far-reaching reputation, earning her creator a fortune in film and advertising deals. In another of Penn’s paintings, we see Lulu climbing up the crossbars of a wicker chair, which first appeared in Van Gogh’s Gauguin’s Chair (1888), preparing to usurp the old master’s seat. Like Van Gogh’s juxtapositions of resonant greens and reds and yellows and blues, all of Penn’s compositions––either in some small detail or in the figure-ground as a whole––contain an unexpected contrast of pastel colors. Her Van Gogh paintings in particular, communicate a deep appreciation for the capacity to see in color, and for the sensation of finding oneself surrounded by it.

Carola Penn, Van Gogh’s Chair (2003-2016). Acrylic on wood. 16 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of Nationale.

Penn makes deep gouges into layers of acrylic paint to physically sculpt the hard edges and contours of her figures. In Van Gogh’s Chair, the wicker seat is rendered in thick blankets of green and yellow paint. The individual wicker slats are vigorously etched into the impasto, forming deep grooves in the painting’s surface, and heightening its mimetic force. Likewise, in Van Gogh’s Bedroom, the hard lines of a pillow are hewn into the paint, giving the cushion an uncanny volume. One can easily imagine the sensation of resting one’s head on the soft, ivory cloud of paint at its center, just as Lulu, the sleeping girl in the painting does. These, unfortunately, are features of Penn’s paintings which must be seen in person to be appreciated.

It’s easy to imbue Penn’s images with meanings. They lend themselves to narrative. In today’s context, an untitled painting of a woman pushing a shopping cart heaped with paper goods which tower above her, looks like a mother diligently preparing for a pandemic. Other images in this series depict matriarchal figures performing superhuman, often surreal feats. One woman in a rose-colored dress flexes eight deft arms, juggling three apples, five eggs, a baby, a butcher’s knife, a bottle, a clock, a typewriter, a pot, and a whetstone. In another painting, Lulu strides confidently through a department store aisle filled with male figureheads, pushing a shopping cart in front of her. Sporting a fiendish grin, she has filled her cart with various countenances plucked from the shelves: potential spouses, or perhaps identities she could grow into.

woman with towering shopping cart
Carola Penn, Shopper (2003-2016). Acrylic on wood. 16 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of Nationale.

Most awe-inspiring among the paintings in Penn’s retrospective is a massive triptych depicting a modern-day Adam and Eve, aptly titled Losing Paradise (2006). It’s here that the artist’s dexterity as both a figurative and abstract painter is in full view. In the left panel, the proverbial couple sits side-by-side on a fallen log. Eve conceals her genitals with her knitting work, whereas Adam screens his with a mug of coffee. In the center panel, we witness a confrontation between the duplicitous serpent and an antique Hoover vacuum cleaner. In the third, a man in a suit and a woman in a red dress regard each other with scepticism or apprehension. Behind them, Penn provides a grim depiction of the fate many married couples are confined to: overcrowded suburbs, ghostly, congested motorways, and a few remaining trees from the garden of original sin, jockeying for a position among colossal telephone poles in the urban skyline.

Carola Penn, Losing Paradise (2006). Acrylic on wood. 6 x 12 feet. Image courtesy of Nationale.

Like Penn’s impasto paintings, the large-scale tapestries in Alexis E. Mabry’s Static Age are exceedingly sculptural. The work on display explores the detritus, substances, social postures and performances of a generation which oscillated between a light-hearted pursuit of pleasure and uninhibited nihilism. Mabry implements a rich cocktail of media, including paint, textiles, and upcycled craft materials. In respect to both form and content, she is a free-spirited bricoleur, often stitching hard lines into the surface of her canvases to define the contours of her figures. These include hieroglyphic depictions of Element, Korn, Marilyn Manson, and Handsome Boy Modeling School T-shirts, adidas shoes, Huffy BMX bikes, and Honda hatchbacks. By appending small sculptural elements to her tapestries’ surfaces, she brings them into the third dimension, further eclipsing the distinction between painting and the plastic arts. The smoke from a cigarette, for example, is recreated as a wisp of synthetic stuffing.

Installation view of Static Age at Third Room. Image courtesy of Third Room.

Set in the mid 90s and early aughts, Mabry’s tapestries impart micro-narratives of communal buffoonery and substance abuse, punctuated and contextualized by still-life ensembles of soft-sculptures, scattered throughout the intimate gallery space. These sculptures physically reproduce the dross of a specific strain of fringe consumerism: a lifestyle cultivated by aspiring skateboarders and BMX bikers, fueled by dimebags, synthetically flavored corn chips, and cheap consumables loaded with caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Mabry’s surprisingly vibrant soft-sculptures include 40oz malt liquor bottles, Doritos bags, PlanB packages, Dasani water bottles, traffic cones, Camel cigarettes, and Rust-Oleum spray-paint canisters. “You don’t have to know Alexis personally to relate to the work, or to care about the imagery she is depicting,” remarks Third Room’s former curator, Kalaija Mallery. She continues: “The Portland scene has been waiting for an experimentation with textiles that is not inherently ‘twee’…Alexis is making a crumpled pack of Camel 99s into a precious art object. It is important to remember that art can be playful too, and that artists from other places can still impart sincere “punctum” (piercing of the heart) onto artists they don’t know or relate to.”

soft sculptures of spray paint, camel box of cigarettes and doritos
Alexis E. Mabry, Krylon Green (2020) Fabric, quilt padding, chicken wire, thread, aerosol paint, acrylic paint. Image courtesy of Third Room.

Mabry’s meditations on her own personal history suggest that what we consume materially, no matter how benign or inconsequential, can leave as dense a residue on our psyche as the experiences we share with our closest human compatriots. Mabry invites viewers to ask: What are the indices of my behaviors as a consumer? Which scraps and fragments would I gather and stitch together to recreate my past?

Static Age is as much about what endures within us, as it is about what remains after we’ve exited a stage of life. The show’s title suggests that nostalgia entails looking back on a fixed or rigid view of one’s personal history. Yet the work implies that our memories of our early years are much more malleable than the experiences themselves. Mabry’s choice of materials, for example, intimates that our impressions of our young-adult life may eventually lose their hard edges, softening over time. Even our most discordant experiences and self-destructive years can eventually become a source of inspiration, or even comfort. But it takes deliberate, intentional work to get to that point. We are tasked with fabricating a coherent sense of self from a tangled, fragmentary set of experiences. The stitches in our patchwork spirit are the traces of that commendable enterprise.

We may not be able to attend exhibitions or performances in person for a while, but some galleries are making their shows available digitally. Supporting local arts venues is now more crucial than ever. If institutions like Nationale and Third Room don’t receive financial support, we may lose them. Established cultural institutions in Oregon are already struggling financially. A few, including the Portland Art Museum, are making some of their services available virtually, but the majority of their revenue comes from ticket sales and concessions. Fortunately, Nationale has other revenue streams. You can support the gallery directly during this time by purchasing original works of art, artist prints, or goods from their webstore

Third Room’s future was uncertain even before this crisis. Since its creation, its founder Kalaija Mallery has been the gallery’s primary source of funding. It is currently supported by the members of its patron board, most of whom are students or recent graduates. Mallery recently moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to pursue a position at The Luminary, and laments that the gallery may not be able to pay rent after this year. You can support Third Room by making a one-time donation, or by becoming a monthly contributor.

Since the first salons, the art world has relied on communal exhibitions to share new work, foster conversation, celebrate bright stars, and precipitate paradigmatic shifts. It’s a shame that my readers may not have the opportunity to see these shows. In the face of a growing pandemic which may incite a global economic recession (or a political revolution, or both), it may also feel inconsequential. As others in the cultural sector have pointed out, this is a fantastic opportunity to make art and devise new ways to share it. Mabry’s and Penn’s work has moved me to look forward, to anticipate how I will look back on this event, and potentially tell its story.


Nationale has plans to extend Carola Penn’s solo-retrospective, “Who Am I, Anyway,” through mid April. Please check www.nationale.us or follow them on Instagram @nationale for updates.

Check in with
http://thirdroom.net or follow them on Instagram @thirdrooomproject for details about workshops, conferences, and upcoming shows.

This article was made possible with support from The Ford Family Foundation’s Visual Arts Program.

Upcycled and avant garde at Everywhere Space

A designer collective on East Burnside aims to change the business model of retail fashion

I am holding a pair of cargo pants made from flexible orange nylon. Their surface is symmetrically festooned with several smartly constructed, triangular fanny-pack zipper-compartments, which look large enough to be useful, and small enough not to obstruct the wearer’s mobility. Nearby, the drapey sleeves of an oversized, mustard colored sweater, hanging from the end of a clothing rack reach lazily toward the floor.

The chest of the sweater is divided equally by two geometric patterns. On one side, a white triangle floats atop an ultramarine background. On the other, a thick doughnut of mustard colored fabric is framed by a white square. The sweater seems to transfer the minimalist perfection of a Piet Mondrian composition onto a three dimensional, wearable garment. If sweaters had personalities, this one would be simultaneously blasé and purposeful.

The clothes I am combing through were created by the inquiring minds of the designers at Everywhere Space, an avant garde fashion retail collective on East Burnside. The collective’s co-owners include Alexa Stark (@alexastark), Alec Marchant (@alec.marchant), Ryan Boyle (“Collect Call,” @collect_call_), and Rose Mackey (@thingsrosemakes). Everywhere Space is Stark’s brainchild, and occupies her former studio and retail space. Over the course of several visits to the shop, Stark and I discussed her inspiration for the space, the collective’s ambitions, and her views on the contemporary fashion market.

Pants by Alexa Stark. Photo credit: Alec Marchant.

Everywhere Space, Stark tells me, is a “fun fashion playland, run by designers who want you to feel joy.” Producing “clothing that is affordable, approachable, playful and for everybody,” all the designers in the collective up-cycle, establishing new relationships between raw materials, clothing manufacturers, and consumers. Up-cycling (or reworking) entails deconstructing and reconstructing garments, or creating clothing from materials that would otherwise be scrapped, like “deadstock” fabric. Ryan Boyle (Collect Call), the designer of the orange cargo pants described above, often uses found materials excavated from waste bins and free boxes. Boyle explains: “Not only is new fabric unsustainable, it’s financially unattainable. Even if I could afford new materials, I rarely find anything that inspires me…I learn a lot from taking apart pre-existing clothing.”

Continues…