I have a confession to make. Actually, it’s wrong to describe it as a confession. It’s only in the nature of a confession because it’s about something I feel a little bit guilty about. Most people wouldn’t feel any shame at all; and goodness knows why I do. Perhaps it’s because I dislike superficial judgments and superficial values and deriving pleasure from dressing up on one view is a supremely frivolous activity.
Because it’s all about clothes.The delight of textiles and colour and fabric texture. It has been a passion for me my whole life, although in the last decade and a half, a submerged passion. But now it’s resurrected in all its live glory and I’m glorying in my indulgence.
When I was little, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I spent hours and hours drawing fashion designs for my entire childhood. Of course, I couldn’t possibly be a fashion designer. What a ridiculous notion that was in the academic and cultural environment I grew up in. The top priority was a safe secure career for life. That pretty much excluded every single creative career possibility.
Lack of enthusiasm from others for the world of fashion didn’t stop me daydreaming though. Nor did it stop me making certain important life decisions based on clothing options.
At 11, I chose the Chester City High School for Girls over The Queen’s School because I preferred the royal blue tunic with a royal blue and yellow striped tie (the sort of uniform girls wore in school stories) of the former over the plain dark navy skirt and dark maroon tieless uniform of the latter. From my parents’ perspective, there were no school fees and they persuaded themselves the education was better. So we were all happy.
At 21, a decade later, I chose to become a solicitor rather than a barrister, because the idea of spending my work life dressed in black was simply too appalling a prospect.
In terms of education or career, neither was the right choice but at least I was happy with my clothes.
And I did end up working as a solicitor in Paris for a few years which was total joy from a fashion perspective.
Fast forward then through the last 12 years or so when I gave up law, became an artist, and, er, gained a ton of weight. Quirky style was still on the cards, but I was living quite delusionally if I in any way felt my passion for fashion was being met. And let’s face it: most artists engrossed in making work find it more convenient to live in paint-spattered ancient garb.
I’ve noticed too that artists can be quite judgmental about other artists dressed up to the nines. As though having fun dressing up is incompatible with serious art-making. I once helped out interviewing prospective students on my degree course. One applicant was dismissed as clearly a more suitable candidate for the graphic art course. I asked why? Her portfolio had some nice stuff. The interviewing tutor said it was her clothes; she was obviously concerned with style and appearance. Not a fine art approach at all.
These intellectual snobby hierarchies within the artworld. Given my penchant for figure drawing and narrative content, what sort of label will be slapped on me if I’m caught tripping around the studio in magenta jeans and high-heeled violet suede shoes with suede flower?
But to return to the present: recent weight loss has allowed me to revert to type. I was inspired by a photo of David Hockney oil painting en plein air attired in a three piece suit. And why not, I thought? I have a heap of clothes, vintage power-dressing stuff from the 80s and a whole host of other unearthed fantastic clothing and shoes.
I don’t see the point of keeping stuff for special occasions. If its nice, if I love it, I want to wear it and enjoy it all the time. It seems blindingly obvious now that my choice of career should not impede this love of dressing up. And so I am investing in overalls, and dressing up every day to go to my studio and make a mess.
It’s all very liberating. And fun.