Ian Berry is a British-born world Famous Passionate Denim artist who creates artwork solely from denim. Berry re-uses jeans, jackets, and other denim clothing to create portraits, landscapes and other unique works. At first glance, many believe that Ian Berry’s works are blue-toned photographs or indigo coloured oil paintings. This is not only when viewed online or in print, when much of the depth and detail is lost, but even up close. Even at touching distance, many viewers don’t realise that they are looking at many layers, and shades, of denim jeans. But of course, it is a testament to his work that it is not all about it is just about it being art in old jeans that makes it special. It is simply his medium for seeing the world, his paint, and what material to use in this modern world; with all its symbols and dualities, as well as being such a common item of clothing that unites many around the globe.
Ian Berry has also some personal views about the denim industry towards sustainability and innovation issues. Recently he shared his own perception, thoughts, ideas and future plan with Bangladesh-based Magazine Denim Focus Coordinator, Mr. Pranta Biswas, in a Virtual meeting. For our readers, the conversation is narrated below.
Pranta Biswas: What inspired you to create such an innovative art with Denim?
Ian Berry: When I started it was a little by accident, I saw a pile of jeans at my family home and noticed the shades. I’d just done a newspaper collage of Tony Blair and thought I could do similar in denim. I had no guidance of how to use it as there was nothing like it (and it was the early days of the internet and way before social media) and there was no ‘dummies guide to Denim Art so I spent a lot of time practicing with the technique. I started to think about my connection to denim, especially in the early days it was my denim I cut up, then when people saw them, I saw they had a connection. I really think there is something in denim that helps to connect. Then when I was portraying contemporary life I realised that denim is the material of our time. What better medium to use to depict it!
Pranta Biswas: How do you create your pieces with Denim?
Ian Berry: After thinking about what I want to say and make a collection around I set about doing photoshoots. I work from all my own shoots or those I have commissions or worked with a photographer to take. There are some out there that will just rip anything off the net and make into work, but for me this is not the right thing to do. Yes, it takes longer, but anything worth doing is best doing right.
I then work from this image (still in colour) and work about cutting and layering the
different pieces of denim to make it look like it’s not denim. When I started I wanted to show it was denim, using the pockets and buttons to almost go… hey look this is denim. Now I use all those bits to try and show it isn’t denim. Most people don’t realise until almost their nose touches, but also, they then realise how layered it is. For example, a launderette piece is about 15 layers of denim around the ring of the door.
In the end, it’s simple, just my hands, scissors and glue. Of course there are the installations where I work with Tonello to make bigger pieces but I like to think this is still true to the concept as I’m using the tools the denim industry now uses. As well as an emotive collection and theme, each time I want to challenge myself to see how light hits objects. and to try to make denim ‘shine’. Like the ripples in water, the shiny bar top, or metallic objects like a laundry machine or tiles floor. With the portraits I do, officially with the people I portray, I try and make it look more like it is made with a palette knife, using the interesting parts of denim to merge into one another.
Pranta Biswas: How do you think about Denim post-COVID’s?
Ian Berry: I’d really hope that it cuts a lot of the bad people out – sadly, and I’m not in the denim industry so don’t lose anything by saying – there are too many. Many don’t even realise it.
The Fast Fashion for a start of course, as I hope people will really think about what this waste will do (of course I know I have benefitted by there being too much denim in the world). The flip side maybe, people’s wallets, or some, have been hit, so will they want to pay more than they have been used to paying?
I don’t hope workers lose their jobs, but so they get paid more for their work and are more skilled and the consumer will buy less, but keep longer. The trend within the industry has to talk nonstop about sustainability and while that can be commended, it’s become meaningless, everyone seems to be ‘sustainable’. I never talk about myself being a sustainable artist as it isn’t the core reason for my art, yes a nice side effect, but I feel the word is as useful in English as ‘nice’. It’s been used so much and without much qualifying factors.
As it has become the buzzword and all people talk about, I, from outside the industry looking in, don’t hear enough about the workers anymore. A ‘sustainable jean’ for £14 – and I do understand economies of scale – but someone is getting fucked – what of the sustainability of people? Of course, sweeping generalizations don’t help – and there are so many good people really pushing the sustainability agenda, and of course some awards for it – to qualify and quantify what is sustainable along with tracking systems.
I’d love to think it would become more local to where people live rather than always being shipped around the world. The main thing though is the demand and the will of the consumer need to be there. Teaching, educating and rewarding them for buying more sustainable goods and almost making it ‘uncool’ to wear fast fashion. I don’t think I’m saying anything original by saying I see that remaking clothes will become a big trend if it isn’t already.
Shopping experiences need to be made more special, more destinations as the internet take over with sales and the ability to return. People, especially this summer (we hope) will want to go out and spend, and shop, try on new clothes (many may have new body shapes!) but in the long run, shops and stores will need to entice customers in with experiences, be it with art, music events and other and not just rely on putting the clothes on shelves.
Of course, this can put the price up, but we really need to live in a world where people get paid for what they do. The undercutting in the industry is just embarrassing and while so many get away with fast fashion, abusing the environment that has a massive cost to us all. It’s a bit like the plastic bag (and please folks, don’t send me your latest sustainable jeans in multiple plastic bags!) it’s been cheap to produce for them, but we are paying the price now.
I think on the supply side of the industry the thing that I think will happen is that there will be less trade shows. Again, I’m outside the industry, I have many friends who both attend and own the shows. But I think only a few will survive, and hopefully the better ones. There are way too many, and I speak to the exhausted people I know having to go to them all, the FOMO is quite big, and it seems to smack in the face of sustainability. Making so many collections, for each season, trying to present in ways to stand out to the next booth. In an industry under pressure to always bring out new things (and, lets face it, many just copy, yes, it seems one of the few industry mentalities where ‘inspire’ means rip off) and then fly all of these fabrics around the world. Many that never will be ever made.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a great community and it is great to see one another. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be so often. I’d love to see the true creatives have the time to bring out the best designed and really sustainable, more timeless collections rather than overproducing with lots of stock left. I’d love to see many of the smaller brands grow stronger, as the big brands took over. Here in the UK the high street became so dull with the same multinationals and their strength and buying power was too powerful – often bullying their suppliers. It killed the towns. It stretched their suppliers. All while people could walk around in new cheap clothes every week.
There are hopes, covid made many realise the effects of how we were living on the world. I remember looking out of this very window and seeing the canal outside become a fresh home to so many more birds, swans and also seeing the fish last year from the balcony. We could see the skies were more clean. We could see the supply chains breaking. Let’s hope for a better, morally better world.
Pranta Biswas: Any special exhibitions from you in the upcoming year?
Ian Berry: Like many, I have a few canceled and a few that may be in danger so the one I can say for sure is my show in Holland at Museum Rijswijk will eventually open and then will be extended, so that will still have a good run. It had a great start last year, including many from denim coming to see. After that, there will be a few but I don’t want to tempt fate so the one I will say for sure is my show at Textil Museet in Sweden, the national fashion and textile museum. It will be one of my largest shows to date with a lot of new work. but what it will be… will be of interest to those in denim, but also a secret for now. That will open in October and run till April 2022.
Team Denim Focus is indebted to Mr. Ian Berry for such an informative interview. We also put our sole gratitude to Mr. Ian Berry for allowing us to use more than 30 photos from his own collection. We believe, our collaboration will make a great impact on the denim and jeans industry development towards sustainability.