Art

Artist spends months creating a lush garden made from denim

This is the only time we’re in favour of denim on denim.

For the last 10 years, British artist Ian Berry has made a name for himself by creating works of art based on his favourite material: denim. Some of his past works have involved taking mundane everyday settings and reimagining them as made entirely from denim.

For instance, check out this beautiful blue laundromat.

Or this jean-inspired newsstand. Just look at all the details of those magazines. Incredible!

His latest project Secret Garden features an immersive installation right in the middle of New York City’s Children’s Museum of the Arts. The garden, which is also made completely from the same textile, features lush flora and fauna, such as flowers, vines, potted plants, and even bunny rabbits.

According to Berry, the materials he used to make the installation were the last bits of denim that were manufactured in the USA. After 112 years of producing selvage denim, the historic Cone Mills White Oak plant in North Carolina has closed down, and to commemorate it, Berry came up with Secret Garden.

The hope here is that children who get to see the installation will be encouraged to learn more about America’s heritage, as well as be inspired to make great art.

We recently caught up with Berry to learn more about him and his work. Check it out:

Tell us a little about your background. How did you become an artist? How would you describe your work?

“I have been working for over ten years with denim as my medium. It started off with a pile of jeans, mine, as just some trials but I realised I was portraying contemporary life with the material of our time. It makes more sense to me than even using paint – and most of the time I am just using it in the way that a painter uses paint anyhow.

“That said, the thing that doesn’t come across online is the layers in my work. Most people when viewing don’t realise it’s made from denim it’s both a compliment and not so good, as its only when that moment happens when they realise that you see their expression change.”

Where’d you get the idea to make a denim garden?

“It wasn’t actually the original idea, I was going to show my piece with the woman on the staircase first Behind Closed Doors, and re-create the stairs and walls, with all denim pictures on the walls, all out of denim. However, we decided to put that piece in the window and I wanted something to contrast against that piece.

“When I was making it, I imagined the lady on the stairs was like that, as her children had left, possibly to uni and now living away. The nest, as perfect as it was, was empty. As you go into the museum, it was like going into the back garden, which is where the children used to play.

“I thought a lot about the children’s point of view, not just on the safety factor as I wanted them to be able to walk in. I possibly sacrificed some of my art, to make sure that the kids found somewhere interesting to go into and see.

“I wanted to make it a lot more like a community garden in New York, perhaps with some street art on the walls and more denim brick walls, but I also had visions of Alice in Wonderland and of course, the title of Secret Garden, which was just a working title, that stuck.

“When I think of children now, I think of them with iPads, and not playing outside. I grew up with a garden, and woods nearby and would always be playing outside. With all our busy lives now, I do fear that it’s easier to put an iPad in front of a child and leave them in the corner. Is this going to be good long-term?

“So, while I haven’t said it before my hope was there would be on some level the feeling of the lady on the steps who now misses her children to then parents being in the garden exploring and playing in there and perhaps thinking, I’ll take them to the community garden on the corner, or of course, the great parks of New York.

“The most rewarding thing has been seeing the children’s faces. If it can inspire one to believe in creating art, that that would be great.”

Why denim?

“Why denim? Well, of course it is the material I have used for ten years, however, with this it makes sense as we all want to educate the children – and it was great to show them a cotton plant, and explain that was what jeans are made from so here goes and forgive me… this was for kids… It was plants, to pants, to plants again.

“It’s also a great material and way to use it to get them creating with it – and other materials.”

Take us through your creative process. How do you come up with your denim designs?

“For the garden, it was very unusual as I normally don’t do installations. I did the launderette and the record store, the newsstand and the living room scene over the years. All by hand. With this one, because of the time frame, I enlisted some help.

“Over the last ten years different denim brands and companies have wanting to work with me but I liked the independence and also thought everything should be done by my hand, as all my work has been. But this one, it would not have been possible at all, and I enlisted dozens of helpers.

“Tonello, an Italian washing and laser technology leading company, helped. I would go back and forth to Italy to work with them making the vines and other parts of the garden.

“I loved working with them as they are at the forefront with sustainable technology in denim and that is the way we have to go. The consumer, I hope soon, will demand to know their denim is correctly and safely made.

“It would have taken me years to hand cut them, and also it wouldn’t have cut the same. It was also great that Cone Denim gave me some of their last material from the White Oak plant that sadly has just closed. That was the last major mill that made denim in the whole of the USA.

“It’s a tragedy, not least for the hundreds of highly skilled workers from the plant. Again, the industry can do more, but many of the consumers will always go for the cheapest.

“I came up with the design, part thinking of an English garden, but mainly thinking of a small space in New York, the gaps between a couple of buildings that had been taken over by a communal garden. I had walked around many over the last few years and they are amazing places to catch a moment away from the busy streets.”

How long did it take you to complete the entire installation? What proved to be the hardest part of making it?

“You may be shocked to know it only took a couple of months, but it was a lot of work in that time. First, the back and forth to Italy. I also had some friends based in France helping to make some of the plants. Me making in my studio, and then of course, once in New York.

“It took a couple of weeks to install. I’d hoped to have it done before I went down to Miami Basel, but I had to cut that rip short as I had to get back to complete it – and all the way to a few moments before the opening.

“By far the hardest part was the logistics of all those countries and the Atlantic ocean to cross. It was also a challenge to think of the safety of the children as well as working in this format as we had to apply the denim to the roof as well.

“I also got to the museum and the space was a lot bigger than I had remembered, so we had to track down another laser machine in Manhattan!”

What do you hope for your viewers to get out of this installation?

“While I was always thinking of the child as it was in the Children’s Museum of the Arts, I also was thinking of the parent. I want the child to see the world differently, to think what materials there are, where they are from.

“To look at nature a different way. To compare my work, to what they see outside. To go and experiment with denim, and of course other fabrics. To be inspired by art and to enjoy art, not to be scared by it.

“As I mentioned before, I’d love the parent to also encourage their child to express themselves with art, to be brave to make art and see that it is not just the fun, but valueless subject.

“I’d also like them to experience the garden together – and perhaps think of going together to other gardens and getting off their iPhones and spend time together… After taking a picture of the garden of course…”

And the most important question of all, what do you think about wearing denim on denim?

“Well, I guess it is a case by case issue. I do, but perhaps another may laugh. Justin didn’t quite get it right when he was with Brittany, but in general and because of the people I come across (in the denim world) they seem to pull it off very well.

“I’d say people should just wear the clothes they feel comfortable wearing. It comes down to knowing what goes together, and not.

“What am I saying? Let’s go with this: it doesn’t work at all, never do it again, never wear it again – send them to me and I’ll make my art out of it.”

Secret Garden will run until 29 April 2018 at NYC’s Children’s Museum of the Arts. You can find out more about Ian Berry and his art by heading over here.