African-American artist John Outterbridge is known for his works that incorporate found objects. He considers the items he includes in his sculptures and installations not just as a cheap alternative to more traditional materials, but as “pieces of the language of life”, elements that can directly connect a work of art to the lives of real people while hinting at other themes.
His "Deja Vu-Do" (1979-1992) - currently on display at the 55th International Venice Art Biennale - features for example a doll like figure with its head trapped under a cage flanked by an American flag, suggesting themes such as confinement, repression and struggle against discrimination and segregation.
Outterbridge's works call to mind the assemblages and innovative combinations of materials of another American artist, Robert Rauschenberg, famous for his "Combines" in which he brought together disparate elements and materials.
Fashion designer Ryan Morar and textile designer Melissa Avalos, graduates of the School of Fashion at San Francisco's Academy of Art University, moved from Rauschenberg's artworks to create their collection, showcased in May during the school's fashion show.
Assemblages are disparate and discontinuous linkages of elements and fragments that at times also feature bits and pieces of magazines and newspapers, domestic items and random objects. Rather than incorporating three-dimensional objects into their fabrics, Morar and Avalos applied the assemblage concept to the surfaces of the textiles employed for menswear garments characterised by boxy shapes.
Rauschenberg's intention was to combine art and life while involving painting in both; Morar and Avalos combined art and fashion, using fabrics as canvases and interpreting their menswear garments as wearable "pieces of the language of life".
Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Ryan Morar: I was born in Santa Monica, on November 10, 1990. I moved to West Los Angeles in May 1997. I studied high school at Alexander Hamilton High with a focus on music as I had started playing violin back in 1998, and I played in the school’s orchestra. I had a minor in Fine Art at Hamilton High where I had taken classes in Animation as well as Fine Art Sketching and AP Art. I have always been interested in fashion since I was a child and would sketch clothes and costumes from films or spend hours drawing in sketchbooks at home. I first got really interested in the Fashion Industry when my sister came back from a trip to New York with some fashion magazines and “Louis Vuitton” purses from Canal Street in the early 2000s. I am currently based back home in Los Angeles, but I have plans on moving to New York in the near future.
Melissa Avalos: I was born in Houston, Texas and grew up partially in Houston and in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. When I wasn't in school I would be visiting my grandma and the rest of my family in Mexico. I graduated high school in Houston and knew as my high school years came to an end that I would be doing something fashion-related. Initially, though, I wanted to become an anesthesiologist - go figure. In deciding what college to attend it was between Parsons and Academy of Art. At the age of 18 I brought two huge suitcases and was navigating my way through check-ins at the dorm I was assigned to. Looking back, I was a very brave 18 year old to just pick up and leave to a city I had never been to nor had any family or friends in. I had enrolled in the fashion department, as a womenswear designer at the beginning and mid-way through the program I wasn’t really feeling the collections I was producing, so I switched majors into Textile Design. That I haven't regretted since!
What's the most important thing you learnt from your years at AAU?
Ryan Morar: I don’t think I can pinpoint just one thing, but the sewing and construction skills plus the drawing and illustration were the most important things.
Melissa Avalos: Improvisation and not being afraid of it. For example, I have a particular peer of mine that works in a very strategic manner. He plans everything out from designing to production. I don't work that way. I can have a drawing/shape that I really like and I will shoot it to the screen and from there I will play with direction/layering/spacing and so on, when I go in to print. Once I print the first layer of the drawing I can then step back and see what works best. From there I let it just take its course and eventually end up with a print. It's a lot more "free-style" or organic if you can call it like that and I really stand proud of the work that I have produced in this manner.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career choices?
Ryan Morar: My sister and my mother have been the greatest influences on my career choices. Since I was initially looking into Universities, they have always been pushing me and been extremely supportive.
Melissa Avalos: My mother has been a driving force and source of inspiration to me ever since I could comprehend her hardworking nature. Being a first generation Mexican American there are some valuable things I have experienced from growing up with a parent who worked long hours to provide for her family. I truly believe I got her work ethic and the end goal for me is just to take care of my mother for all the years she dedicated to making my life better. I wouldn’t change anything about my childhood and family, those things are what have made me into the young adult that I am now.
Can you tell us more about your creative process?
Ryan Morar: My creative process usually begins with a feeling I get from music I’m currently listening to at the time. This feeling usually evokes a movement and I can get ideas for overall silhouettes and the hang of garments and such. Colors come to me by usually picking a shade I haven’t used yet and picking harmonious nuances that go with it. I then go to source materials where I’m usually drawn to interesting textures and patterns. The sourcing usually goes hand-in-hand with sketching for me.
Melissa Avalos: I really enjoy the beginning process of being inspired, really taking a look at the shapes in what is that I am inspired by at the moment, getting settled into my workspace, playing some good music in the background and then just starting to draw with whatever medium feels right. I try keeping my eyes open to everyday things, environments and people I come into contact with. From checking out the newest exhibition at the SF MOMA to liking the arrangement of polka dots on my shampoo bottle. For some reason I gravitate towards shapes and the negative space they create, from there my mind goes on a tangent.
How did you feel at showcasing your collection at the Academy of the Arts fashion show?
Ryan Morar: I felt really great showing my collection in the Fashion Show, I’m glad I got to showcase my unique style and bring something new to the world of Menswear.
Melissa Avalos: The day of the fashion show I was excited and just really wanted to see the hard work come down the runway. I was able to sneak into the backstage area and see the models in the close before it hit the runway, which was awesome! Also I am very grateful for the opportunity that was given to me to participate in the fashion show. Thanks to Rhona MacKenzie, the head of the Textile Design program at AAU, and to Fashion Director Simon Ungless!
What inspired your graduate collection?
Ryan Morar: I drew inspiration from the discordant sounds from one of Sonic Youth’s first albums entitled "Confusion Is Next". I felt the moods and feelings from this album related to the raw aesthetic of Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media art, "Combines". I’ve always been a fan of Rauschenberg’s "Combines" and the idea behind them where the meaning of each of the objects in each piece transform their individual meaning when they’re put in context to make a new object. Thus, I used this concept to transform the garments - shirting fabrics used as pants, coating fabric used for T-shirt and thus making T-shirt a coat, and so on.
What kind of materials did you employ for your collection?
Ryan Morar: I mostly used boiled wools that I had treated myself. I used reclaimed vintage knit fabrics for undershirts. Other materials I used were canvas, wool mohair, cotton lawn fabric (very lightweight fabric), and wool jersey.
Melissa Avalos: As the textile designer for Ryan Morar’s collection I only used one silk screen throughout the collection. The rest of the prints were hand-painted onto the fabric. In some of the prints I used my hands to apply the pigment directly onto the fabric along with layering the pigments to create different blends of color. I also used squeegees to move around the pigment due to the large size of the fabric yardage and making sure that the pigment would dry in one stop. I moved rather quickly to get the effects I needed. Finally my favorite print from the collection was also the most tedious and time-consuming for me. It is a herringbone print that was created into a pair of trousers, the first large piece of fabric I pinned down took me five days to hand paint. On top of that I was using what we call a T-pin, that is a T-shaped piece of metal that is no more than one inch long. My hands, back and legs were so tense at the end of the five days I was relieved when I finished it.
In your opinion, is it difficult to innovate menswear?
Ryan Morar: I think it can be more difficult to innovate menswear, but not impossible. Menswear isn’t deemed innovative by just complicated seaming of garments, rather I believe it’s innovative by new ways of fabric application and manipulation, as well as new ways of layering garments. The cuts of garments are a slower moving process than womenswear because it takes a while for the majority of men to respond to modern silhouettes.
Can you tell us more about the art inspirations behind your collection?
Ryan Morar: I gave Melissa the Robert Rauschenberg inspiration and she was mainly inspired by the loose and raw paint application to his pieces along with selected colors she saw in them. She then washed the fabrics after printing the textiles to loosen them up, and I power sanded the fabrics to give them an even more raw, and vintage feeling.
Melissa Avalos: Rauschenberg's paintings were a mixture of found objects he would come across and then later incorporate them into his paintings. In the paintings you could find photographic imagery, an article of clothing mixing in with trash and 2D/3D objects. I must admit I was a bit puzzled at first about this inspiration, but then things worked out.
Did you find any stages of your collaboration difficult or challenging?
Ryan Morar: I found working with Melissa very pleasant. It was easy for me to tell her my inspirations and for me to listen to her input and eventually finding a way to meet in the middle. I was quite pleased with the textiles she produced.
Melissa Avalos: When reviewing Ryan’s process book and seeing the paintings we were going to use as inspiration, I initially didn’t know where to begin. I was caught off guard because of the way in which the paintings were composed; I had never really used any material similar in fashion as a source of reference for previous projects. In my process book that can be seen on my website the initial direction I was going in was in a way very restricted. After producing many swatches that were supposed to be then reviewed by directors I hated all the prints. After meeting with my director what really stuck was her saying, "you just need to go crazy with it" and then left me to be. This happened a couple of days before I was suppose to have my final meeting in which the final prints were to be selected! I had to produce a lot of new prints in a very short period of time and they had to be good, but I must say that when I am put under pressure I work better! I remember sitting in the printing lab in the evening while it was completely empty and just started to paint directly onto the fabric so the new direction definitely had a "fine art" approach it. At that point then I realized I was in the flow of printing and really translating what I had envisioned. Eventually the meeting went well and I was happy about the prints that were picked and showcased at the fashion show.
What are your future plans?
Ryan Morar: My current plans are to move back home to Los Angeles and eventually move to New York or Europe. I’ve been looking for internships and jobs, but, in the meantime, I’m planning on developing my line primarily online and seeing where it takes me.
Melissa Avalos: Right now I am enjoying the free time that has opened since school has ended. But, at the same time, I am applying for internships and full-time positions. I am really gunning for an opportunity within an organization where I can contribute my perspective while learning and growing whether it is in San Francisco or somewhere else. I have been in San Francisco for some time now and I think I am ready to move on to a new city and explore. In the meantime, while keeping my day job that pays my rent, I am still continuously drawing and producing work along with planning travels to Japan and Europe.
Images of Ryan Morar and Melissa Avalos's collection in this post by Randy Brooke/WireImage
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos