“I’m the worst at being commercial. It’s my Achilles heel,” confesses New York-based artist Cheryl Donegan.
But for someone who sees herself on the sidelines of the industry, admiring the cool kids from afar, she’s not exactly a newbie.
On July 2, two dozen of her new ensembles will be presented in Aspen, Colo., in a fashion show complete with a casting call and choreography during her solo exhibit, “Cheryl Donegan: GRLZ + VEILS,” which will run at the Aspen Art Museum through Dec. 16. Donegan, whose textile works and one-off garments are the antithesis of fashion’s sales-driven, revolving-door reality, advances previous performances for New Museum and NADA art fair by upcycling Print All Over Me’s basics in exclusive prints of her digital photographs through hand-dyeing, cutting and weaving.
“It would be incredibly exciting if I could create my own silhouettes,” she says, making do in the meantime with the online service’s standard, long T-shirt and silk slipdress transformed into various outcomes from a crop top to a toga, which are for sale in the museum’s gift shop at prices more in line with commercial clothing than loftier art prices. “These are simple techniques that can be found on Pinterest and that everyone, especially young people, can engage in to alter their clothes.”
Donegan used to direct her voyeuristic tendencies to more online sources like Style.com, but product fatigue set in, so she turned her attention to the street for inspiration. Too shy to be a street photographer, the self-proclaimed stalker makes mental notes instead. (“I’ll literally turn around or change my pace just to get a look.”)
The street is also where she discovered and documented her current subject, air-conditioner grills tagged with graffiti, with her smartphone. Describing them as “spontaneous abstract paintings,” the artist in her saw the beauty in the mundane, and they became the seed for her new body of work abridged to “GRLZ.” It departs from her prior theme, a meta exercise for which photographs of eBay-bought garments were digitally printed on fabrics and made into clothes.
“It’s a little bit like how Margiela printed a sequined gown on a T-shirt,” she says, further comparing her crossover niche to Keith Haring’s Pop Shop and Kim Gordon, one of her muses from her early days in Manhattan, after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. “Kim wasn’t afraid to mix art, fashion and people. Rather than being expensive, her style was more about social engagement.”
Despite the fashion hype and her video art background, which brought her initial success, the exhibit is the first to focus on her paintings — 40 including eight new works depicting garments digitally printed on hand-dyed fabric. Their mark making of repetitive, abstract patterns ties into the graffiti angle, strengthened by a selection of the new garments displayed on mannequins dispersed throughout the gallery.
“In all this mishmash, they’re coherent,” says Donegan, who’s warming up to the idea of collaborating with fashion brands — as long as they take care of the logistics while she stays in the studio. “I have never considered myself tied to one medium. They’re all modes of expression.”
“Cheryl Donegan: GRLZ + VEILS” travels to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 2019.
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