Contemporary Art

Disobedient Bodies: Jonathan Anderson in Conversation

By Navaz Batliwalla

O ne of the world’s most influential fashion designers, Jonathan Anderson is creative director of both his own brand J.W.Anderson and Spanish luxury house Loewe. With an obsessive passion for British art and craft, he is a natural curator whose eye for unusual juxtaposition informs his brands and his personal art collection. A new collaboration sees him curating a major exhibition, Disobedient Bodies: J.W.Anderson at the Hepworth Wakefield, an exploration of the human form in art and fashion. We talked to Anderson about the art of curating and collecting and why he has supersized sweaters suspended from the ceiling.


Navaz Batliwalla: How did your relationship with art begin? Can you remember the first artist you were drawn to?

Jonathan Anderson: My grandfather was very into British ceramics. He was collecting a lot of Japanese and Chinese ceramics, and then it moved to British – Staffordshire, Prattware, early British Delftware. When you grow up with a grandfather like that it becomes part of this idea of researching something, or obsession. In my own life I have that obsession, it’s rubbed off on me.  I first fell in love with Basil Blackshaw, the Irish painter. He did a show at the Ulster Museum, very abstracted with windowpanes. That’s something I always remember, as a child of ten or eleven seeing that show. He had such an amazing body of work, probably one of the best bodies of work.


NB: You seem to be a confident collector, how would you describe your process and the work that makes it into your collection?

JA: My process is I just trawl by myself in terms of wanting to find. They find you in the end. I collect anything from early British textiles, to black and white photography, from the beginning of photography to the present day. I like abstraction, so Lionel Wendt is a person who I collect quite a lot of. Why do I collect? It’s more of an academic thing, I quite like watching or looking at things together, for example photography that looks very contemporary but maybe was done in the 40s. So things that look modern for their period. When it comes to painting and sculpture, I prefer to buy new – contemporary art or contemporary sculpture. Whereas when it comes to ceramics, I collect Lucie Rie and John Ward. But for anyone old, I need to have a counterbalance of someone younger. For example John Ward, but then I collect an Irish ceramicist called Sara Flynn. So you always have a correspondent where you’re mixing up everything. I always think it’s important to collect within your period but then it’s nice to juxtapose that with the past. That’s how I see collecting.  

NB: Are there any new artists you’re especially passionate about?

JA: A new British artist I’m completely obsessed with, who actually I first saw at the Hepworth in a show curated by Andrew Bonacina, is Magali Reus. I think she’s an incredible artist. She does these massive abstract padlocks that protrude from a wall or curved structures that look like paving curbs, but using materials I don't even know of. In my house I have those with George Platt Lynes photography from the 40s. There’s something interesting about the dialogue between that, the idea of the reclining figure, and this idea of what she does. There’s this thing that doesn’t work but at the same time I love the conversation between the two.


NB: And now you're bringing your curator’s eye to the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery with the Disobedient Bodies exhibition. Why?

JA: I’ve been to the Hepworth many times and the director Simon Wallis approached me two years ago about doing a show. They wanted to try to get different creatives to work with their collection. It took me a bit of time to get my head around it and then a year down the line I was like, OK, let’s do it! I wanted to be able to show the way in which the body has been tackled over the last 100 years in terms of the sculptural form.

I thought it was interesting to look at this idea of the dialogue between how for example Helmut Lang reduced the form as much as Richard Tuttle or Giacometti. It’s about looking at classicism, right through to abstraction. I like this idea that you can put clothing and sculpture on a level playing field. And also from my own work, this idea of gender and how you can take something to a neutral form that is neither man nor woman. Sometimes in sculpture you get that, this idea where gender is no longer.


NB: What sorts of fashion abstractions can we expect to see?

JA: The aim is to extract the idea of the body and the actual creative merit in something. If you look at someone like Rei Kawakubo and what she’s achieved over the last 40 years, it’s incredible what she’s done in terms of changing the human form. And if you look at Christian Dior, he was abstracting the body in a way that was never really seen. The idea of the New Look is it changed the shape in everyday wear. In the show we have a 1952 dress by Dior, which has protruding structures on the front of it that sits alongside a Hans Arp from 1962.

The correlation between the two is incredible. We’ve also done an interactive installation, which is like ten metre jumpers that are suspended from the roof. There are thirty of them in thirty different textures and the idea is that you can go up and underneath them or tie them all together to create a sort of working sculpture. It’s this idea of clothing whereby you understand that it’s a silhouette of a jumper, but then it becomes abstract when people engage with it.

Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson Curates The Hepworth Wakefield | 18 March – 18 June 2017

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