ONETSHIRT had a cup of tea with the multi-faceted British artist and talked about fashion, design, and of course his love for bold and distinctive patterns.
You seem to be working with very few patterns. How did you choose them?
They have evolved over eight or ten years. I like the idea of having a very small palette of patterns. What becomes interesting to me is the different architectures or the different surfaces that the patterns are used on and how a similar pattern, floral, for example, will work on one type of building or on a piece of furniture. It's about the relationship between the pattern and the host that the selected pattern is placed on. So, rather than increasing the amount of patterns, I find the idea of actually reducing them more appealing. This way, the relationship between the patterns and the objects that they are applied on becomes more interesting.
Would you say that you are obsessed with them?
That’s a good question. [laughs] I like the fact that they kind of take over in a way, but I wouldn’t say I am obsessed with them... but that’s probably for you to answer I'd say!
How would you feel if your patterns overtook the world one day? Would that make things more visually appealing to you or not?
Not really, because I think that the patterns are made to be incredibly powerful and bright and harsh, so if they were everywhere I don’t think it would be particularly pleasant. I like the idea that they bump up against the real world as opposed to completely enveloping the real world, and the bit that interests me is the bit where the sharpness of the pattern meets the everyday world I suppose.
Do you share any similar ideas or traits with William Morris when it comes to the way you embrace patterns and designs?
I really like William Morris in the way that he encouraged this sort of sociability of art-making or design-making, and I’ve always enjoyed that. For him, it’s like everything was a collaboration, so I enjoyed the social aspect of this approach, or even the sociological aspects of William Morris. For me he’s the most interesting pre-Raphaelite for those reasons. I'm not sure our patterns have got that much in common literally, but I really enjoy his working methods and the way he wanted to portray his work in the world.
If you wanted to communicate to the world with one t-shirt, what would your message be?
I don’t really want to communicate with the world with just one pattern or one t-shirt. What I like is that the patterns have conversations with each other, so I think that you need to buy all of the t-shirts [laughs]. (Ed. note: of the collection)
You cover actual bricks or wood surfaces with your designs, creating a camouflage in a sense. With your designs for ONESHIRT do you want to make people “disappear” in their urban environments? Or are they more likely to stand out because of them?
This is a really interesting question because the patterns I make are very bright, but that’s partly about me, disciplinary; I don’t like to be in the centre of things, so the patterns work as a kind of a camouflage for me. However, I would hope that for the people that bought them, they would have the opposite effect - that people would want to wear them not to camouflage themselves but to show their joy, so hopefully it means a very different thing to the people who wear them than it does to me.
You have been collaborating with Paul Smith since 2002. Could you tell us about your work with him?
I work with quite a lot of designers and artists and architects, and I really enjoy our collaborations in the same way that I enjoy working with the guys in the studio or the technicians. Collaborating is very much a central part of what I do; I am not an artist that enjoys being in the studio on my own. So, working with other people is not particularly a remarkable thing for me, it’s part of a sociable art making disposition that I have and I'm always keen to do more collaborations. I think working with others is an incredibly underrated art act.
What were the ideas and the challenges behind the design you did for the Comme des Garçons flagship store in Osaka?
I wanted to make something that was kind of very, very harsh, and the idea was to use just black and white. For me black and white are the most 'colourful colours', so I wanted something that was incredibly colourful but that also showed off the clothes. The main idea was the use of black and white working against the red of the architecture, as I wanted something that was incredibly colourful without using any colour at all.
Can you tell us about your work experience with fashion icon Isabella Blow?
Isabella Blow, that was the first commission I ever did. I met her in 1999 I think, and that was an amazing thing for me because that was basically my big break. She just showed me the house and said, “Do whatever you want to do with it.” It was fantastic. I think she has been a great inspiration to a lot of artists and designers because she had a lot of faith in people who up until the point when she met them wouldn’t know.
What is hiding under all these surfaces that you design?
Well, probably me [laughs]. Sort of me not wanting to be seen probably [laughs].