Is it a painting? Is it a photograph? No. This is art. Denim art. And Ian Berry tells us how.
If we tell you wearing denim is not the only way to use denim, what would you say? Intrigued? Well, we certainly were when we first got to know of Denimu’s Ian Berry who believes “denim is a reflection of the world in which we live.” When you look at Ian’s work, your first impression is that of an indigo coloured oil painting, or a photograph in blue. And for most, even when they’re at touching distance of his installations, it is hard to believe that the entire artwork is made from scratch and contains only scraps of denim in varying shades of blue.
Ian hails from Yorkshire, but has exhibitions and installations at various sites across the world. He is deeply inspired by textile artists like Mark Evans, Shezaad Dawood, Luke Haynes, to name a few. “In most countries if you walk down any street, most of the people will be wearing denim. It’s the default item of clothing and the material of our time. So what better way to portray contemporary life than with the material we all wear?”
Speaking exclusively to Home Review, Ian goes on to say, “Denim is full of many dualities. A symbol of democracy, with a bad past with poor conditions, and still it is also a material that unites us all and tells us that we are all alike.” As we see it, denim being everywhere ceases to be a symbol of individuality. But Ian points out, “Once someone wears a pair of jeans it becomes unique only to that person.”
Denimu literally began to take shape when Ian was cleaning out his old bedroom and saw a pile of denim. “The different shades of denim were contrasting against each other and that intrigued me,” Ian says. From there, began his tryst with denim. “I started out with rather simple works, and I would complete one in a day’s time. They were also quite flat. I used ‘block’ pieces, where all the denim is in the same shade. This would be followed by another set in a different shade. However, both the blocks would have near similar shades.”
The evolution of Ian’s art can be traced in the timeline of his work. From ‘simple work’ to creating beautifully complex portraits of renowned personalities, his art has been appreciated and lauded across the world. He goes on to say, “Today, my works are layered, sometimes a dozen or more layers in places, thereby making the final piece three dimensional. Each piece, no matter how small, has a piece of denim in it, either washed or faded, in order to help it merge with the other bits of denim so when you step back, it is indiscernible that it is just denim.”
Photorealism is a movement or genre that brings together various kinds of art form where the artist recreates an image or photograph (after close observation) as realistically as his skills enable him to.
The movement became increasingly popular in the last century, and over the last couple of decades has seen tremendous change with digital machinery making it a near-precise art.
When asked where denim fits in with this movement, Ian says, “Many people think of my work as blue-toned photographs or paintings when they first come across them. And that’s great, but sometimes you want them to come closer and have that ‘Aha!’ moment when they realise that what is in front of them is nothing but denim.” Ian maintains that because of the depth and numerous textures found in his works, likening it to photorealism wouldn’t be right. “My works are more like sculptures,” he says.
In 2014, Ian unveiled his tribute to Brazilian racing driver and one of Formula One’s greatest – Ayrton Senna de Silva. The portrait was made from scraps of denim donated by Senna’s family. This was done to mark the 20th death anniversary of the Formula One legend. The money from the sale of the final portrait is said to have been donated to the Instituto Ayrton Senna in the hope to help improve the standards of education.
For Ian, there isn’t really a favourite piece “as by the time it gets printed, there may be a new one in the offing.” However, the exhibition ‘Behind Closed Doors’ – melancholic urban scenes – remains close to his heart. “The emotional response I got meant a lot and that is what it is all about – connecting with people.”
What separates Ian from other artists is his ability to recreate metallic finishes in his works and his vociferous admission that he does not use Photoshop or any other software to enhance his art – “just my eye!” he signs off.
Text By Priyanka Menon
Photographs Courtesy Ian Berry