Adorning the walls with painted clothes

We spoke with artist Phillip Reeves about the inspiration behind his tantalisingly unwearable, and immensely delightful ‘Paper Clothes’ series.

December 4, 2018

Infinite Multiple: You’ve just graduated from Goldsmiths with an MFA Fine Art (congratulations) and with a line of rather fetching paper fashion garments, much like the ones you are producing for Infinite Multiple. They’re reminiscent of Paper Dolls that children used to play with in more analogue times, and dressmaking patterns… where did the idea to produce these extraordinary multiples come from?

Phillip Reeves: From multiple sources. You are right about Paper Dolls, these are something I remember having around the floor as a child, picked up from my sister, Eleanor. However, the Paper Doll aspect is a smaller element of reference compared to my incidental fondness of ‘Joss Clothing’.

A decade or so ago, hunting for frozen dumplings, I would visit a Vietnamese shop in Mare Street in Hackney, near the Dolphin Pub. Here I discovered you could buy all manner of objects manufactured out of paper – mobile phones, Rolex watches, dollar bills, jewellery, shoes, hats and other props. Foolish to their purpose, I coveted these items and would occasionally buy them for people as presents, or wear them at parties. A few years later someone told me - “Hey these are for burning to remember the dead”. Interest either evaporated or I decided it was now too gloomy a gift as presents, and they became lost in the back rooms of my mind.

Then two years ago whilst in Hong Kong, again I browsed shops with many of these paper items. My interest renewed. I decided I simply liked them as objects in their own right, and that it was OK if I was aware of their meaning in certain cultures. So to re-appropriate them for myself I started making my own versions. I had already been painting on paper and making large scale costume works for ‘Paper Walls’, a solo show at Le Salon Vert, Geneva, 2014. Incorporating this previous experience of working with oil on paper and taking encouragement from Joss Clothing and the cut-out game of Paper Dolls, I started to make these very impishly produced cut-outs.

Within the context of painting, my aim is to remove the painted clothes from the traditional confines of the stretcher bars or frames. In doing so, I hope to let them be free and have an existence outside of these historically rigid structures.

IM: Do you ever see your paper clothes as being worn objects? Or is there something key in their 2 dimensional nature and removal from the physical body?

PR: Presently I am not interested in making things to be worn. I am a great fan of artists such as Sonia Delaunay and Lyubov Popova, these glamorous characters who designed clothing patterns, as well as artists such as Oskar Schlemmer, who made outrageously bombastic costumes for performance. Where I am at the moment - I want to adorn walls, not bodies. I have had requests - ”‘If you could make a jumper for me I could wear – I would have one”, or I have been told that I should make these clothes ‘for real.’ Partly when hear this I assume some people consider the paper clothes merely plans or maquettes - when they are in fact the intended outcome.

That someone might wish to wear them - and cannot, I hope perhaps there is an allure or a frustration in my viewer. That I quite enjoy. Perhaps parallel to a toy being kept in a box and never played with, or seeing something in a shop window at night and you cannot get to it as the shop is closed. I like the idea that the ‘Paper Clothes’ are a fine art object which are not to be touched. I hope the unwearable version of a piece of clothing may tantalise the viewer in this way.

A separate issue for the pieces not to be reproduced to wear is the way I design the clothes, it is all about creating the ideal form in terms of composition and line. For example, with my paper shoes I am interested in sweeping curves, striving to draw the shoe as a perfect form in weight and proportions. Of course perfection can never be achieved, only ever searched for. But in my quest for the perfect shape I am creating designs that would be anatomically incorrect to make for a person to wear, and so I gladly leave that job to the real cordwainers of this world to suffer the practical limitations that I can leap over.

IM: What are you working on now? Where can we see your work?

PR: I was offered a lot of opportunities to show after I graduated from Goldsmiths this summer. I think I will have done about 10 group shows between September and Christmas this year. The one I worked hardest on and where I am showing my film ‘Sausages’ that I made this year in the Bedwyr Williams installment of ‘Visions in the Nunnery’ at Nunnery Gallery towards the end of November. In terms of solo projects, next year I am creating a performance installation with curator Vlada Tychaderia at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. This is a very relevant setting in terms of my performance work as it is the birthplace of the Dada movement in 1916. In this month of November, I start a six month studio residency at HUSK in Limehouse, which will conclude in a solo show in the HUSK Gallery next year.

Image: Close up of Phillip's 'Prawn Jumper' from the Paper Clothes series.