The artist Ian Berry swaps oil paints for denim…
How did denim become your medium of choice?
I think denim became the material of choice by accident, but maybe many underlying reasons which I didn’t realise quite at the time. In simple truth, I saw a pile of denim and saw all the indigo shades contrasting against one another, I didn’t want to throw them out and started cutting them up, at first just for a bit of fun (in fact, it helped fund my backpacking!) It was only with working with it that I really started thinking more about denim as a material, and what it meant to me – and more importantly, others. It was other peoples reaction to it that drove me on which I fed off.
Where did your interest in denim come from? (is there a political/ecological slant)
It is often said that it is the most democratic of fabrics, and I really feel like I can tap into this, and can communicate with people as there is something about the denim that draws them in, even if they find my work unusual, it is still something familiar. You don’t need to be a connoisseur to enjoy denim, anyone can wear it. While it started as a very rural material, I feel now it is a very urban one, and the layers of urban life is what interests me, so what better material is there to depict our contemporary life, than with the material of our time.
How do you source your materials?
It all started with my own jeans, then, my friends donations, then charity and vintage stores but now I am getting deliveries from all over the world, as well as opening my studio door and finding bags full of them. I wash them of course. I do like using worn jeans as it helps in some ways with the history of the piece – and of course if I do a portrait. I also get many shipments from Pepe Jeans London which has been awesome, as you get many similar shades that can help consistency and they have brilliant washes in them – which is a massive bonus as this is what I use in the work, every piece I cut has a gradient in – which aids in my strive for making photo realistic pieces.
Can you tell me a bit about your compositions? How do they come about? Are they fictional or real?
I now work from photography, from scenes that I set up. Like in Behind Closed Doors, having to get a model and home and shooting them. I do so many more shoots than I actually end up making in denim, as they take so long and labour intensive. While ‘set up’ the scenes, they are based on truths and are there to portray daily, often mundane life.
What’s the hardest part of your making process? (are they sewn/glued..?)
There are many hard parts, like finding the right jeans to match together, by shade but also cast and then also making sure you have a right amount of the denim. I always have to work on only one at a time, as if I lose the jeans I am working with it is very hard to find another to match it. You can’t mix denim like paint. Not only is it hard to match the right denim, its also to match the washes gradient. sometimes I have cut several pieces out before I get it to match.
I have come to realise that this year, the hardest part though is that I sit on the floor working. My knees are not in a good way (I do now have knee pads) and I also sit crossed legged, on my bum all day. My osteopath freaked out when he saw me and fears I will turn into Quasimodo.
Have your making always had a relationship with textiles?
Even though I am from a textile town (wool though, not cotton) in Huddersfield I never had a background at all in textiles and kind of came through the back door. I possibly wouldn’t be advised to say this, but ten years ago if you had have said quilting, I would have thought of the W.I, now I find so many amazing quilters, but not just that, so many talented people working is innovative and creative ways with fibre art and textiles.
Your show is Called Behind Closed Doors, what is it about?
Fundamentally it has been based on how we all look at one another, especially in this crazy year. How material goods especially property can be a symbol for someone of how well someone is doing – how a house is an asset not a home and how someone could appear to have everything, but we must understand they themselves may still have issues.
Until 30 November