Ian Berry is someone we’ve happily featured on Creative Boom before. He’s the artist famous for “painting with denim”, using only discarded pieces of the popular material to create unique, blue toned artworks.
Of course, at first glance, you’d think the landscapes are oil paintings or perhaps even photographs. But on closer inspection, you become aware of the depth, texture and layers, and discover how each piece has been considered and crafted out of jeans with different washes and fades.
Why denim? “At first, I just loved the shades and borrowing that cool factor of denim,” Ian tells Creative Boom, “but I mainly portray contemporary life now and what better material to use to represent that than the material of our time, denim jeans. It represents both the good and the bad.”
To The Place I Was Before (Mondrian Hotel) – 61 x 122cm © Ian Berry
Such a Lovely Place – 63 x 122cm © Ian Berry
For his latest series, Hotel California, Ian is inspired by Californian hotels and their swimming pools, cleverly recreating the ripples, distortions and reflections of the water. Not something you’d expect is an easy feat. “I love the way light hits things and that has been often a driving force in my work. How water and light work together – that has been a big challenge,” Ian adds.
If you’re reminded of fellow Yorkshireman, David Hockney, you’d be on the right track: Ian became friends with Hockney last year, which inspired his new pool paintings. In fact, the series features a portrait of the swimming pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, for which Hockney painted a mural in 1988.
Ian’s technical achievement in these works is certainly remarkable. But so is the emotional core. The artist depicts the surface glamour of LA affluence with immense skill, whilst also conveying its undercurrent of dislocation and melancholy. This is most evident in his depiction of isolated patrons at a diner, with its nod to Edward Hopper.
I Had to Stop for The Night – Denim © Ian Berry on Denim | 61 x 122 cm | 2019
There She Stood in the Doorway – 63 x 122cm © Ian Berry
How does he do it? “First, after working out what to do, I’ll set up photo shoots and scenes. I work from the photography and then layer up the denim shades to blend them into one another, no bleach, no dyes nor paint. People don’t realise how layered they are, until they see them in real life, and then only close up.
“I imagine that I am painting like photorealism, or in portraits with a palette knife. I have to find each little bit of denim that has the right tones to blend into the next piece, so when you stand back it hides that it is denim. In fact, that is what is strange, I thought I would go more abstract, but I always challenge myself to make it look like it isn’t denim. When I began I used the bits to go, ‘look, it’s denim’, so like putting pockets and zips in, and now I use all the interesting bits of denim to hide that it is denim. My work is much much more than being made out of denim, it’s just my medium.”
Hotel California by Ian Berry is currently on show at the Catto Gallery in Hampstead, London, until 28 July 2019. Find out more at www.ianberry.org.