NEW YORK — While some artists exaggerate their distance from the fashion world, Enrique Padilla Jr., whose first solo show will open at NoLIta’s Sterilemind Gallery Thursday, has found his experience in the industry a major source of inspiration. Padilla’s unsettling images of fashionably dressed Barbie and Ken dolls — photographs printed on canvas — depict scenes from the artist’s life and the lives of those around him, as well as fictional scenarios.

But while Padilla, who now works at Jeffrey, has tried acting and did design work for the Camp Beverly Hills brand in the Eighties, windows for Barneys New York and sales for Yohji Yamamoto, he never thought dolls would become his artistic medium. “When I was a kid, I played with dolls,” he says. “My mother’s way of dropping the ax was that I just woke up one morning and they were all gone.” Years later, Padilla’s mother sought forgiveness, sending him a doll in the mail. Padilla gave Barbie a makeover.

This story first appeared in the January 13, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“I started collecting dolls and I suddenly had this little community of chic women,” he says. “They started to remind me of people I know, and I started to photograph them. They’re characters in my movie stills.”

Like all artists, someday Padilla hopes to pursue his artistic career full time. But he also imagines a life à la Karl Lagerfeld.

“I’d love to do fashion for real people,” says Padilla, who designed the clothes his dolls wear in the photos. “Lagerfeld is a Renaissance man. He can design clothes and work as a photographer.”

Now the only question is how Padilla will dress himself for the art opening. “What should I wear?” he asks. Look for the artist in the Balenciaga bomber jacket.

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