Chances are you’ve seen Ian Berry’s beautiful scenes from everyday life, or his #iclapfor project last year inspired by his son Elliot. His skill and attention to detail is incredible before you realise that it is constructed entirely from denim. However, putting his medium aside it’s his sensitivity and shining a light on scenes we take for granted that really make him stand out as a textile artist. I caught up with him to find out more.
What is your background in textile art?
I actually have no formal training, well, not in textile art – on the day I was supposed to go to Art School I didn’t go, I was still in Australia for the summer after college and I’d decided instead to go on a creative advertising course at University. I was from a northern town in England, Huddersfield, and I listened to those who said there was no career in art. I don’t have any regrets in many ways, the course and then a few years working in adland were really amazing alongside some very talented people.
But at the end of uni I started working with denim, more to do my own thing away from commercial advertising. Eventually that took over and I didn’t even make my third year working for ad agencies. Since then I’ve had many incredible years seeing the world with my art.
How do you describe your work?
Even after so long I do struggle to give it a name. Some call it collage, but it feels slightly wrong, others mixed media, but its only one, denim. It’s textile art, but I don’t stitch, sew, nor quilt. It’s photorealism, but not in paint.
I portray contemporary life and those in urban environments, and for me denim is an urban material that differs from quite rural origins. What better material to portray contemporary life than the material of our time?
I look at the changing fabric of our urban environments, whether it is the declining high street with the places that used to be centers of the community closing, like the pubs, launderettes and news stands vanishing. To the flip side of that where many spend more time at home, isolated – yet surrounded by materialism. This year my Behind Closed Doors body of work, first started in 2015, took on a new meaning.
Some call it denim art and I detest the phrase, I’m an artist just my medium is denim.
Can you talk us through how you create a piece?
I work from photography, mainly my own or that that I commission. Creating a piece after the idea development in theory is a simple process. It’s just the jeans, or items like denim jackets, cut and stuck, layering them to blend into one another to make the pieces. I use just my eye to find the bits of the denim that have the interesting contrasts and fades – this is the labour intensive part. It can be really tough as you can’t mix it like paint, and sometimes you have one chance to cut the perfect piece out. I can go hours looking.
What inspired your amazing iClapFor series?
It was quite the accident and was never planned to become what it did. My son Elliott was taken aback by the first night of clapping. We are in an old dog biscuit factory and we all went out on the balcony and the opposite balconies were all out, it was quite emotional and really loud. He kept asking when we would do it again and of course asked what it was all about. We were pleased we could tell him, while he was engaged and saw the health care workers as heroes. I’d much prefer him think that way than most of what society celebrates as their heroes. We could tell him about family and friends that were on the front line.
He had drawn a rainbow for his grandma, and we got talking about what else we could make, so – he took a photo of my hands, and we did two. I made them in denim, and he sat with me, then I made a simple animation. We were just going to send it to some friends and family who were health workers. Elliott was then watching a film on the projector and said, ‘can we put the clapping on there?’ The next minute it was being beamed from the balcony. The following night I took the projector out and left it going on to a building on the street, and then tried to put it on the roof of our building – that can be seen from quite a distance around London. It didn’t quite work so I looked into getting a new stronger projector – which led to a man called Andrew Hall in Newcastle. He loved the concept and he said he would do the same up in the North East. Then his network joined in. It went online, and then it went around the world and asked the question (which I think was the strongest part) who do you clap for? www.iclapfor.com
I have a solo show soon at the Rijks Museum the Netherlands. Dates to be confirmed. Textil Museet – the National Textile Museum of Sweden Oct 21 to Jan 2022. The Hague Art Fair TBA. And awaiting more – like everyone else – it’s not easy with Covid.
This is a cut down version of a full interview at www.textilecurator.com