I had heard of all the fashion brands, and I often paid attention when an artist such as Jeff Koons or Raymond Pettibon did a project with a big house, but beyond that I was really just a casual observer. My style is pretty consistent: black T-shirts, pants, and boots. So when I was asked if I would be interested in collaborating with Hedi Slimane on a project for Celine, I was naturally a little surprised. Hedi has such a reputation that when my gallery forwarded his e-mail to me, they included a disclaimer that it could be a hoax. But Hedi’s interest was very real.
I have been working as an artist for many years. I’ve shown my paintings and drawings internationally, and I think I have a recognizable style. I definitely have a reputation and an audience. Using images and advertisements from fashion magazines as source material, my drawings always lead me to words and language. I critique my own place in the world based on the image I’m rendering, or on the desire or expectation that it is intended to conjure. Then I come up with a funny sentence to characterize my failure to live up to this untenable standard.
I have often made bags, T-shirts, and pins that are reproductions of my paintings and drawings. I love the irony of mass-producing something that is sometimes difficult to sell. It’s fun to see people walking around at one of my openings wearing a T-shirt with an image of a painting that is up on the wall. This says something about the market and about pop culture, which are both subjects that I like to discuss through my work. With that in mind, I suppose it does make sense that Hedi approached me.
I love the irony of mass-producing something that is sometimes difficult to sell.
When we started in on our project, Hedi asked to see almost everything I had ever done. Eventually we came back to the work I started producing in the summer of 2018, when I spent a month in Zurich as the guest of a collector. It was a very fruitful time, and over the course of the residency I gained many new followers on Instagram, where I was sharing images of recent pieces. My work from that time was colorful and funny, as well as nostalgic, perhaps because I was away from home. And I began to write more and more on my paintings about halcyon memories.
Hedi is an excellent collaborator. Even though I often find myself trying to make a piece again in a different medium or at a more challenging scale, ultimately I return to the original piece as my guidepost. But Hedi did not fall back on what was familiar. I was happy to see him lift my text right off of my paintings and stick them on entirely new surfaces. He was liberating and inventive, and, most importantly, he had very specific ideas when he made decisions. His liberty was never arbitrary. I never imagined my text on wicker bags, but they quickly became some of my favorite pieces in the collection.
I grew a lot as an artist through this project. I have had many exhibitions and been part of some important shows, but there is not much that can compare with the excitement of seeing a runway show centered around my work—particularly when Hedi is organizing it. Last June, I went to Paris with my wife for the men’s spring-summer 2020 show. Seeing my words flashed across the runway was a heart-racing experience. I saw my phrases take on even bigger meaning through a live performance of fashion, music, and light. I credit Hedi with the insight to amplify my ideas, and also for allowing me to retain credit for my part of this collaboration. I am still, pretty much, a black-T-shirt-and-pants kind of guy, but I am very happy that my work influenced some of the best-looking clothes I have ever seen.
David Kramer is an artist based in New York