Abundant, cheap clothing characterizes modern life for millions of people around the globe. Here in N. America, grocery, big box and large retail stores provide us with a phenomenal turnover of clothing colors and styles. Easily discarded, worn items may find their way to re-sale shops and huge, profitable outlets such as Frenchies and Value Village. Unsold items from these stores, shipped to developing countries, continue their well-traveled life cycles. Sometimes, ironically, garment workers who make these clothes in sweat shops and crowded factories, encounter them again in their own countries as resale items. These clothes make money for their buyers and sellers all along the chain.
When I enter a store like Value Village, after several eye-watering sneezes brought on by the aroma of industrial strength laundry detergent, I enjoy a feast of looking and touching. I forget about the background of the garments, who made them and where they came from. I enjoy a kind of symphony of the sewn. The variety of colors, shapes and textures always draws me into a deeply satisfying session in communion with cloth. Over time, several paintings from these sessions have evolved.
Thematically opposite to “throw away” culture, paintings completed during an artist residency at the New Brunswick Museum in 2010 dwell on preservation and clothing shaped by hand stitches made one by one. Inspired by the construction and elaborate embellishment ofclothing displayed in the decorative arts gallery of the museum, I explored Acadian shift, 1800’s wedding dress, christening gowns and Japanese kimono in my works of art.
Third in this homage to threads are recent paintings, a triptych based on the statue of Nike Athena, “winged victory of Samothrace.” The statue itself, created in 200 BC, which now resides in the Louvre in Paris, depicts the Goddess Nike landing on the prow of a ship. Most interesting to me is the dramatic drapery of the peplos she wears. In my research I found that the peplos, a rectangular linen cloth worn by ancient Greek women, contained rich symbolic function in Greek culture. While painting an image of the statue, I saw “code” at work in the way the folds of the cloth moved and gathered, as seen in its original carving. Also, I was keen to give Nike a head, imagining what she might be yelling in the wind that flaps all around her.
Rounding out this exhibition with an altered book, I invite the viewer/reader to contemplate the implications of our access to cheap clothing. A throw-away flyer from Joe Fresh provided a canvas upon which to react to the working conditions of those who make our clothes and the recent devastating factory fires and collapse in Bangladesh. In this case, WORN might become WARN. How does the ancient and traditional need to cover, warm, and grace the body impact the lives of others? What is our role as wearers?