WHAT DOES AN ARTIST WEAR?: an enquiry by Alison Carter Tai

What does an artist wear?

Claire Deniau
This is my "studiowear".

What does an artist wear?

Sophie Loss
Today, 26th Oct 2010, I do not have a camera
but here is the relevant info. Forgot the socks
- stripy, like an understated wasp, mustard and black.

What does an artist wear?

Cally Trench
Painty apron, baggy trousers,
striped socks and rolled-up sleeves.

Photograph by Philip Lee

What does an artist wear?

Tineke Bruijnzeels
It is always cold in my studio so I have
confiscated an old fake-fur lined shirt
of my husband, which is too big for me
so I can wear lots of layers underneath.
My shoes are my walking boots, which
are warm as well.

Photograph by Anniek Bruijnzeels

What does an artist wear?

Philip Lee
This shows what I wear when I
perform. In this case, slip (clay and
water) and mars violet pigment,
during Corpus Slip II on 15 October
Photograph by Romain Forquy.

What does an artist wear?

Lynne Grace

An image of me in my usual painting clothes, used not
only for art painting but also painting the interior rooms
of our house. I've been wearing them a lot recently!

What does an artist wear?

Theodore Hill
I am wearing a coat because the central
heating in my house is barely functional.

Photograph by Cally Trench

What does an artist wear?

Jane Grisewood
I wear black most of the time, for
performing and when working in my
studio. If the work is messy, or it's
cold, I'll be in old jeans and a

What does an artist wear?

Linda Francis
I like to wear something that I am not concerned about keeping clean or
'preserving' so I wear this old coat that used to be my daughter's when she
was about 15 (she is now 31). It has an emotional attachment, of course;
my daughter remembers persuading me to buy it for her and assuring me
that she would wear it, but it must have been far too big for her as there is
still space for several jumpers when I am wearing it. The buttons keep
falling off and have to be replaced when I can no longer close the coat.
I was brought up to wear little white socks, dresses (never trousers) and
with my hair tied back with a bow, even though my main hobby was
climbing trees. I now live in jeans but still very occasionally enjoy
reverting to something more 'feminine'.

What does an artist wear?

Joan Skelton Smith
Inking an etching plate at the Bucks New
University print studio, wearing my standard
university ensemble: plastic headband,
turtleneck, quilted gilet and jeans, with
American Indian sliver bead necklace.

What does an artist wear?

Patrick Jeffs
It is me - wearing my
dirty old painting clothes
in my studio.

Photograph by Polly Jeffs

What does an artist wear?

Steve Perfect
This is a still from my video
Ten Similar Thoughts.
In my case the artist wears the same things as the person

What does an artist wear?

Judy Goldhill Photograph by Harriet Smithson

What does an artist wear?

Roger Perkins
It is what I wear most of the time!
There's little distinction other than
when I do particularly 'dirty'

What does an artist wear?

Alison Carter Tai
This is what I wore on an art course in Puglia in October 2009
around the time I started working as an artist with the Remarkables,
and it is what I am comfortable wearing - my look is textural, layered,
unstructured. Without going into the underwear (for once), I am
wearing a Per Una cotton skirt with chequered floral appliqué,
overlaid with printed lock-knit rayon and linen tunic dress by Diesel,
overlaid with black cotton denim shirt with side cross-hatch detail
from Rani of Farnham, all in shades of grey, brown and black, and
a craft-made pink cashmere knit rose brooch.

Photograph by Grania Little

Alan Prosser

Alan Prosser
Alison Carter Tai writes: As a jazz musician his work outfit is intended to be the
epitome of muso cool: tailored black suit, and combinations of white shirt and
black bow tie or single colour tie, with shiny black leather shoes. For rehearsals,
jeans and black tee shirt are worn.

Photograph by Andrew Dewar

Alison Carter Tai writes: Is an artist's clothing practical and comfortable, loose-fitting, not thought about, always a variation on a theme, perhaps chosen at random from a pile of shirts and jeans? Or is it made of materials that can take the wiping down of a sticky hand or a paint-loaded palette knife onto its surface, with impunity? And with practical features like a pouch or pockets, for the artist's tool kit, whatever that comprises on the day?

Perhaps it is 'not always the same thing', donned on a whim, as the mood takes the artist, at dusk or dawn? Does this allow an arsenal of personas? Or is it to do with wearing different outfits, according to what one is working on? Clean clothes, messy clothes. Is the 'artist's clothing' ever just a single over-layer, covering 'respectable' day clothes, as in the past with artists' smocks or overalls? Taken off for a trip to the supermarket (or not)? Maybe you would argue that artists are typically so impoverished that they don't have many clothes? Does this mean they take great efforts to remove the paint and stains, or is that a step too far? Do charity shops play their part in providing this wardrobe? So is last year's/decade/century's fashion 'in fashion' with artists? If so, I wonder if this is, perversely, quite a statement in itself. Or are clothes important to the artist in another way, part of the comfort zone that allows them to work in solitary state, a refuge, perhaps with specific tactile qualities or layers? Are there favourite pieces that have stories attached ('worn when I painted the first piece that I sold'), or with personal connections (family's or friends' items)? If the artist is 'messy' i.e. gets paint and glue and clay (and other debris?) from the studio on their clothes, is this in any way done in a self-conscious manner? So is what an artist wears ever studied, part of an act, what the artist thinks an artist ought to wear? Is it perhaps integral to the personality of the artist, unselfconsciously reflecting and revealing information about their way of being, and way of working?

What about the private versus the public artist? An artist working in an open studio space might dress differently from an artist in the privacy of their own home, perhaps (discuss!). A private view of an artist's work might involve them dressing in something appropriate to their work on exhibit, or a self-conscious 'dressing for the occasion', to meet their peers and admirers. What is the decision-making process here (to wear something memorable and striking, or bland and self-effacing)?

Joan Skelton Smith writes: I think that this is a very interesting project; as a costumer, I know how important clothes are in depicting a character's persona. When I grew up in the Dallas in the 1950's to 1960's what one wore was extremely important. My mother would never have allowed me to go into downtown Dallas without the proper attire.

I am always aware of what I am wearing and how that will relate to the setting where I will be. When I went for my interview at university I wore a grey t shirt and dark jeans in order to be as nondescript as possible, so as not to detract from my artwork. At exhibitions I think it is likewise advisable not to detract from the work. Visiting exhibitions and galleries in London I still feel a certain degree of sophistication is appropriate even though many people would wear jeans and t shirts, I suppose this is a holdover from my upbringing. Also what is appropriate for a twenty year old art student is not so appropriate for a 60 year old.

Alison Carter Tai adds: This was a thoroughly worthwhile investigation for me, as a dress historian, and provoked quite a bit of discussion and debate, but was best summarised in the set of photographs on this webpage. It developed out of my initial question 'What is an artist?' which started as a naive attempt to define the label that artists apply to themselves and/or have applied to them by others.

Back to Alison Carter Tai
Back to Claire Deniau
Back to Philip Lee
Back to Roger Perkins
Back to Cally Trench
Back to Tineke Bruijnzeels
Back to Sophie Loss
Back to Theodore Hill
Back to Jane Grisewood
Back to Judy Goldhill
Back to Joan Skelton Smith
Back to Patrick Jeffs
Back to Steve Perfect
Back to Linda Francis
Back to Lynne Grace
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