Assignment 4 – Project 2: Stage 1 Research

Research 6 Artists/Designers of my choice.

The full extent of my research into each artist will be available to my tutor and assessors.  Herewith a short summary of each:

Christo (& Jeanne-Claude).
(Christo Vladimirov Javacheff & Jeanne-Claude Marie Denat (1935-2009))

Both born in 1935, children of World War II era, though in different parts of the globe they first met in Paris in 1958.  Christo was earning his living as a portrait painter to the wealthy and was commissioned to paint Jeanne-Claude’s mother.  Having studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria, between 1953-56 he then migrated to France where he made his living in portraiture, although not his preferred art practice.  He and Jeanne-Claude moved to the USA in 1964 remaining there together.

Christo had been profoundly effected by the ruination and destruction that came with war, the moving of borders and the abandonment of regions.  In Paris, he collected everyday items, discarded pieces usually, and concentrated on what he called his ‘real’ work, entitled InventoryChristo-Wrapped-Paintings

Whilst not the first to wrap items as art pieces Christo concentrated on tied plastic and fabric coverings.  So although an item may be something uninspiring and quite ordinary, once wrapped it is left to the viewer to visualise the contents.

Left: Wrapped Paintings, 1968, a gift from the John Kaldor Family Collection to the AGNSW in 2011 is an excellent example of one of the earlier smaller installations Christo and Jeanne-Claude undertook.

Recently shown at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre as part of a touring Christo exhibition I was intrigued by this.  They’re paintings inside, aren’t they?  Am I sure they really are?  What are the paintings of?  Who painted them?  How did he choose which ones to wrap?  What is the significance of these particular paintings?  My curiosity is burning.

Isn’t that the essence of the artist – to pique the curiosity, to leave the viewer wondering and still asking questions, to awaken an interest that otherwise would have been missed?  Their website is listed in the Sources section at the conclusion of this post.  This is just a titbit to introduce you to the amazing installations of this unique couple.

Ed Pien.

I’ve already had a brief look at Ed Pien and documented some of his work and history here.  To recap:

Born in 1958 in Taipei, Taiwan, Ed Pien emigrated to Canada with his family at the age of eleven.  He has a Master of Fine Arts degree, an Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and has studied Art and Architecture in Venice.  He has exhibited nationally and internationally for many years, around the world.  He regularly stages solo exhibitions, and his website shows roughly one a year since 1995, whilst contributing to group exhibitions extensively since 1993.  He currently teaches part-time at the University of Toronto and, obviously, still creates artworks for exhibition.

I am primarily drawn to his installations and paper-cut work but his practice also covers drawing, video, photos and other large-scale works for public display.  He has been drawing for over 30 years and uses this as a basis for his cut-work installations which are multi-layered and brought to life using both static and projected light – often projecting moving images – and sound.

Source-2-webSource-6-webSource, Ed Pien, 18th Sydney Biennale, 2012.

His inspiration comes from many places including fairy tales, folklore, legends and myths from different cultures.  His characters and creatures are fantastical, many grotesque and otherworldly but still semi-recognisable – albeit not realistic.  He wavers between the violent and unpredictable to the relative calm of the aquatic realms, but even here we see an environment that is both bizarre but alluring.

His website hosts a feast of information and each installation has been meticulously photographed and recorded in situ, followed by a detailed description of the story being portrayed.

I find the layering, light and shadow effects, the lace cut-outs and the sheer size of these pieces very attractive.  The fact that the viewer can become immersed in his world by entering and moving through his installations adds to the sense of personal involvement.

Loeb Strauss / Levy Strauss / Levi Strauss (1829-1902).

Whilst strictly speaking not a designer of the 20th century I feel that the progressive attitude and forward thinking of this amazing man and the continuing international success and growth of Levi Strauss & Co from its humble beginnings in 1853 justifies this research.  Denim, as fashioned by Levi Strauss and further developed and evolved by his nephews, has shaped workwear, clothing trends, moods and opinions of the 20th and 21st centuries in a manner that finds practically every person on the planet in possession of at least one item of clothing manufactured from denim or ‘jeans’ cloth.

Born in 1829 in Bavaria as Loeb Strauss he, his mother and two sisters emigrated to New York when he was 18 years old – two years after his father passed away.  Two older half brothers, from his fathers first marriage, already there took him into their dry goods business where he worked for several years amongst bolts of fabrics, clothing, underwear, etc..

In the early 1850s he moved to San Francisco, starting a West Coast division of the family business and opening a similar venture of his own.  At the time of the Gold Rush small stores and general merchants were springing up and Loeb (who had renamed himself Levy and later Levi in 1850) supplied many of these and became well-known and successful.  He was very active within the city and promoted business and culture mainly, but not exclusively, within the Jewish community.

His business grew and his brother-in-law (married to his sister Fanny) David Stern joined the company.  In 1872 Levi was contacted by a tailor from Nevada, Jacob Davis, who was manufacturing what were known at the time as ‘waist overalls’ for miners using denim fabric supplied by Levi Strauss & Co.  He wished to patent his technique for strengthening points of strain on the work pants he made.  He used metal rivets on pocket corners and at the base of the button fly so ensuring the garments were more durable and long-wearing but he did not have the finances to do this alone.  The two men took out the patent together  in May 1873 and so began a great demand for these riveted waist overalls as their first West Coast plant went into production.  The first pant is regarded as the original 501 although that Lot number wasn’t ascribed to the product until 1890

Denims, later becoming known as jeans, started primarily as strong, durable working clothes and remained that way for a substantial time.  Some history is vague due to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire which demolished the company headquarters and, as fire raged over 3 days, all records were lost.

Levi Strauss passed away 26th September 1902 and left the bulk of his $6million estate to his nephews (the four sons of David Stern).  Four years later came the San Francisco destruction.  Jacob Stern, now in charge of the business, along with his brothers rebuilt and reinvigorated the company whilst still concentrating on hard-wearing overall style pants.

It was during the 1930s and the advent of Western movies with the authentic cowboys wearing Levis that opinions started to change and over the 80 years since we have seen many innovations and views on the humble denim jeans.  For some long time they were still considered the garb of the working man.  This was later replaced with the view that jeans seemed to signal youth, rebellion, violence and unpredictability – as they were a prominent feature of striking and demonstrating University students and other youth groups.  As more and more Americans bought jeans (renamed by the youth of America after WW II) and travelled abroad they became more widely seen and the demand increased with people from around the world writing to the company asking how they could obtain a pair.  Americans were frequently asked to trade, swap or sell their jeans whilst overseas.

By the late 1960s international sales had become a flood and the cloth became a fashion statement.  Whilst there have been other fabrics and styles innovated over the last century+ none has had the market domination that this cotton twill has, and continues to have – in all its forms.

Jenny Kee.

With a Chinese immigrant heritage on her father’s side and British convict mixed with Italian ancestry from her mother’s family, Jenny Kee was born in Sydney on 24 January 1947.  She, along with her brother and sister, suffered racial abuse during their early years but this only caused to toughen her up and make her more resilient.  Her father, an agent at Haymarket produce market, spent a good deal of his time either there or in Chinatown and the children were mainly reared by their mother.

In 1963 she studied dress design at East Sydney Tech College and also attended a Beauty & Deportment school.  Soon after, she obtained a few modelling jobs.

JK-modellingIt was the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison and others coming out to Australia that opened her eyes to the rest of the world and something going on ‘out there’ that wasn’t happening in Australia.  No longer living at home with her family she partied extensively and sometimes outrageously, experimented with drugs, hung out with many young people on the cusp of becoming famous, enjoyed mingling in the gay Sydney underworld (although not gay herself) and fell in love over and over.

Late 1965 found her on a boat to the UK.  She worked in the London Biba store for 10 months, followed by time with style guru and vintage trailblazer Vern Lambert at London’s Chelsea Antique Market.  It was what she had been yearning for.

JK-3In 1973 she returned to Australia and opened her dress shop, Flamingo Park, in the famous Sydney Strand Arcade.  Her shop sign is now part of the Powerhouse Museum collection and can be seen here along with a significant write-up about her life.  The Powerhouse Museum Jenny Kee Collection was obtained in 1998/99 and features many of her colourful works,  both textiles and painting.

Her textiles and designs spanning the last 40 years document many cultural changes within Australia.  She has worked on paper, canvas and various fabrics including wool, cotton and silk.  She has many influences, not the least of which come from Aboriginal culture, Australian flora and fauna and her own mixed heritage.

JK-4Her work is represented in many museums and galleries around the world including the V & A in London, Marimura Museum in Tokyo, Art Gallery of NSW and National Art Gallery in Canberra, to name a few.

Her wearables have been featured in many fashion magazines including Italian Vogue and New York’s Women’s Wear Daily.  Princess Diana was photographed wearing one of her Koala Knits and her Opal design was used by Chanel.

Her distinctive style, bright and bold, has won her many commissions over the years including designing a huge parade of garments for the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

A transcript of a marvellous interview with Jenny Kee by Peter Thompson, from the ABC show Talking Heads, can be read here and she has recently been inducted into the Design Institute of Australia ‘ Hall of Fame’.

Yinka Shonibare.

Whilst there are many sources including books, magazine articles, websites and video interviews concerning Yinka Shonibare I find there is actually very little content within them.  Each echo the other, and each quote from the other.  Even where he himself is quoted, or video interviewed, it is the same message, almost word for word, each time.

Born in 1962 in England to Nigerian parents, he spent the first three years of his life there before returning to Nigeria (Lagos) until the age of sixteen.  At that point his family sent him back to England to boarding school, which he followed with studying Fine Art at Byam Shaw College of Art and later continued his education at Goldsmiths College, where he obtained his MFA.

The catalyst which seems to have sent him on the path he has taken was a remark by a tutor whilst he was studying at Byam Shaw College of Art and creating politically inspired work around perestroika and the Soviet Union.  Whilst the tutor appreciated the work the question was asked why he didn’t concentrate on authentic African art, as that is his heritage.  This led Shonibare to consider the meaning of ‘authentic’ art.

Although he obviously has ties to Africa and can speak the language of his traditional Yoruba background, he insists he is a product of his schooling in Britain but accepts and promotes ‘duality’ and that no one can be exactly ‘pure’.  It is this complicated European-African relationship that is often played out through his work.

YS-2How to Blow up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006.

The African style prints he favours are in fact Dutch Wax fabrics made to represent the Batik patterns of Indonesia but highly favoured all over Africa.  His mannequins are full-size fibre-glass statues, always headless – he references this to the French Revolution, where the upper classes were beheaded.  Whilst many of his installations are playful, amusing and appear lighthearted they are usually designed with serious messages behind them.  His interest lies not only in art history but also world history, especially colonialism, post-colonialism, class divides, cultural differences, ethnicity, war and the power some groups (countries, leaders, heads of state, etc.) have over others and the results these effect.

His art practice covers more than these sculptural settings, although these are probably his most recognised trademark, and he also produces paintings, photography, film and performance art.  His website is a riot of colour and images.  Click here to view it.

Through the Tony Gilbert Bequest Fund (2012) the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) has recently acquired a large-scale painting entitled Alien toy painting, created in 2011.  The size is not documented but, having paced it out myself, I estimate it to be around 7m in length along each wall and 2m+ in height.

YS-3Alien toy painting, 2011, Yinka Shonibare. Materials: 75 panels, synthetic polymer paint, batik, fabric, steel, spray paint, MDF board.

YS-4Close up of some components from Alien toy painting.

Ken Done.

An only child, Ken Done was born in 1940 in Sydney.  Even as a very adored child, with grandparents and aunts providing a stable and loving environment, Ken was affected by the absence of his father who was away fighting the war.  Much of his artwork reflects symbolism from his childhood, major influences and depictions (including portraits) of his family and parents.  His answer to the horror of war, loss and destruction has been to paint life-enhancing, brightly coloured, vibrant images.  At first glance these seem simplistic and ‘too’ cheerful but look closer and inclusions of personal imagery become clear: an aeroplane in a portrait of his father indicates his RAAF war record, a red bicycle symbolises the first bike his father gave him, trucks refer to his father’s trucking business and so on.  These items form an inventory of his childhood, a remembrance of times and specific events, almost a personal diary.

He drew from a very early age and his family encouraged him, even arranging for him to leave school at 14 and attend the National Art School in Sydney.  Being raised on the coastline, from as early as he can remember he was entranced by water – the sea, the harbour, the boats, the foreshore skyline – and Sydney was his backyard.  Even when his family moved away from the area he frequently visited relatives in Manly (the north side of Sydney) and recalls the excitement of his first view of the ocean each time, the sparkling surface, the harbour, the hundreds of people sun-worshipping on the beach, the lucky boat-owners with sails billowing as they spent an afternoon sailing the shimmering waters.  His art practice was profoundly influenced by this deep affinity with the ocean and surroundings, especially Sydney, the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

KD-1-webLeft:  Saturday Morning Sydney, 2013.  Centre:  Late Ferry, 2013.  Right:  Sydney Heatwave, 2010.

KD-2-webAbove:  Sunday, 1982.  Collection of the artist.

Whilst showing great talent and attending art school at such a young age, there proved to be some disadvantages to this early entrance.  After five years of studying, at the age of 19, he was devastated to fail his diploma.  Naivety and immaturity at this age obviously contributed to this along with his lack of understanding regarding critiquing, analysing and the separation existing in the art world between design work and ‘high art’.  A positive that came from this was that he moved away from recognised art circles, becoming more independent and pursuing his own design path, and over the next years he travelled extensively, working, learning and evolving his style.

KD-3-webHe held his first solo exhibition in 1980, in Sydney, and as a memento of the show (and a brilliant marketing move) he printed t-shirts with a simplified image of Sydney Harbour Bridge and handed them out to the media.

This was his first move into translating and transferring his designs to textiles.  This  aspect went from strength to strength and became a global design business, with products widely available and all instantly recognisable as coming from the hand of Ken Done.  His range includes (or has included over time); homewares such as aprons, tea towels, place mats and pot holders; wearables including t-shirts, sweatshirts, scarves, swimwear and fabric for dresses, pants (trousers) and so on; accessories like bags and umbrellas.

He has worked extensively for many charities over a long period, especially those involved with children.  His website details some of his involvement with these organisations as well as other work for major events and institutions including the Sydney Olympic Games, Powerhouse Museum and an Art Car for BWM amongst others.

He still paints extensively and his gallery has an excellent array of his work, new and old, some for sale and others on exhibition as part of his own collection.  He has become an Australian icon and his depictions of major Sydney attractions catch the attention of both locals and visitors and his gallery is well attended.  If you can’t afford an original Done painting, perhaps a limited edition print, a poster or a postcard will suffice.  And as Vogue once said “You can hang a Done on your wall or a Done on yourself” (Ref 1).  In 1992 he was awarded the Order of Australia (A.M.) for services to Art, Design and Tourism.

An absolutely excellent article, written by the Sydney Morning Herald in May 2012, with a lot of insight into his life, works and standing (or not) in the art community can be read here.

Note:  Whilst I have concentrated on his work involving mainly Sydney and surrounds, it should be recognised that his art practice covers a much wider subject base.


(Christo) – various pages

(Christo) Veronica Kavass, Artists in Love, Welcome Books, New York,2012 ISBN 978-1-59962-113-5. Pages 144-153.

(Christo) Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Powerhouse Road, Liverpool, NSW.

(Ed Pien)

(Ed Pien)

(Levi Strauss)

(Levi Strauss)

(Jenny Kee) Jenny Kee with Samantha Trenoweth, A Big Life, Published by Penguin Group (Australia), Camberwell, Vic. 2006. ISBN 978-1-920989-34-7.

(Jenny Kee)

(Jenny Kee)

(Yinka Shonibare) various pages including biography and press pages.

(Yinka Shonibare) and

(Yinka Shonibare)

(Yinka Shonibare) – pdf download.

(Yinka Shonibare) Chloé Colchester, Textiles Today, Published by Thames & Hudson, London, 2009 (paperback edition).  ISBN 978-0-500-28803-0.  Pages 171-175.

(Ken Done) Janet McKenzie, The Art of Ken Done, Published by Fine Art Publishing, Sydney, 2002.  ISBN 1-877004-23-5.

(Ken Done)

(Ken Done) Ref 1


(Christo) Wrapped Paintings. Photograph by Claire Brach with permission from Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, 22nd December 2013.

(Ed Pien), accessed 7/7/13.  Photos reproduced with permission from the artist.

(Jenny Kee) Images 1 & 2 – Jenny Kee with Samantha Trenoweth, A Big Life, Published by Penguin Group (Australia), Camberwell, Vic. 2006. ISBN 978-1-920989-34-7 Pages 38/39

(Jenny Kee) Images 3 & 4 – Elina Mackay, The Great Aussie Fashion, Published by Kevin Weldon and Associates, McMahons Point, NSW. 1984. ISBN 0-949708-11-9 Pages 20/22

(Yinka Shonibare) How to Blow up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006 – Image from postcard bought at Yinka Shonibare exhibition, 2008, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

(Yinka Shonibare) Alien toy painting – Photographs by Claire Brach, December 2013.  Taken and used with permission from AGNSW.

(Ken Done) Images 1,2 & 3 – Photographs by Claire Brach, 28 December 2013, at Ken Done Gallery, The Rocks, Sydney.  I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Ken Done Gallery for their generous attention, active help in sourcing relevant material for my use and allowing me unrestricted photography.

About Claire B

I'm a passionate printmaker, paper-maker and a poor sketcher (which I'm working to improve). I've stitched from early childhood and am a perpetual student, loving learning and participating in everything creative.
This entry was posted in Assignment 4: Contextual Studies, Project 2, Textiles 1: Exploring Ideas and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Assignment 4 – Project 2: Stage 1 Research

  1. Phil says:

    Wow! This is brilliant work Claire. I also think that Yinka Shonibare’s art is just fantastic.

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