Marcel Duchamp's upside-down urinal entitled, The Fountain (1917) is one of the most striking examples of creating art from a most unassuming object. If a urinal can be art so too can the stole be used to keep shoulders warm in chilly weather. It can be argued that the essence of fashion is rooted in the premise that articles of clothing can lend themselves to creative inclinations. In 1920, artist, poet, and Dadaist, Richard Huelsenbeck, wrote in what is now regarded a canonical work in the historical account of the Dada movement, En Avant Dada: "The passion of an aesthete is absolutely inaccessible to the man of ordinary concept who calls a dog a dog and a spoon a spoon." Artist Lauren Luna is very much the prototypical Huelsenbeck "aesthete" because for her, a shoe is not just a shoe.
Luna is the type of artist that is difficult to define in singular terms. Her subject matters on canvas cover a large breadth of issues. Some of her pieces are socio-political commentaries on her struggles with identity as a child of an interracial marriage; others explore the body, which speaks to her art school background; her cityscape series is by far her most visually striking work. But Luna isn't strictly a painter, she explores techniques and other art mediums - and sometimes she's just a girl drawing on her kicks. Being protean isn't a negative quality for her and she lets me know right away that she's not afraid of evolving, "art has always been my life and within that lifetime, my personal wheel has grown and changed; it's constantly reinvented."
Manolo Blahnik shoe inspiration.
Recently, in exploring modern iconography as a part of a painted series entitled The Se7en Deadly Sins, she began to use linocut techniques to represent the sin of Wrath with linocut prints of shoes. The prints are made from linoleum into which she carves her designs. Even though they are "prints", they are still very much original works of art since she eschews the technology of the printing press, creating all of the prints by hand. "Lots o' work," she chimes. The resulting shoe linoprints have a ready-made quality to them much like Andy Warhol's pop-up art, specifically his photographic silk screens of Marilyn Monroe - even though the process used to create the Marilyns required much less time and manual effort.
While searching in vain for the perfect pair of Converse sneakers, she decided that if manufacturers couldn't make something to her unique tastes, she would create her own perfect pair. Armed with a paint brush, she crossed the threshold from art on canvas into fashion design, "and it all blew up from there," says Luna. From painting onto the shoe, which she is perhaps best known for, she has also designed an array of footwear. Her sneakers are on display this month at the H-Town Sneaker Summit in Houston where sneaker enthusiasts gather once a year. It's the largest event of its kind in southwest America. Her other footwear, or non-sneakers, are on display at her own introductory show, SHOEGASM: The Lauren Luna Experience.
Lauren Luna painted Nike sneaker
I wondered if there was a cohesive aesthetic or theme uniting all of Luna's footwear and paintings or whether she followed a free-for-all creative impulse. Is Luna the kind of designer akin to contemporary fashion designers like Tom Ford or Rick Owens who explore a particular idea for every spring, fall, and sometimes, cruise collection? "As creatives, we are always exploring other ways to express ourselves. The linocuts were designs of shoes that I had made, with the exception of the one Manolo Blahnik drawing I was inspired by." For Luna, it's about envisioning a certain aesthetic in all of it's forms. The transition from canvas (art), to designing a shoe (fashion) doesn't necessarily result in a singular product - the shoe or the painting - instead both are final products. "I'm more of the reverse. Shoe designers at any level start with drawings of their shoes. What I've done is turned these fashion drawings into the art itself. And instead of leaving it as just a drawing, taking it to other levels, with sculpture, printmaking and paintings."
Lauren Luna original footwear
Now that her shoes are in the exciting process of becoming a commercial product - she just landed a deal with a sneaker company - Luna faces an altogether new challenge: mass production. The challenge is something all artist, designers, and creative people encounter when their work becomes suitable for a commercial market. "It is every designer's dream to have their one of a kind pieces manufactured, but there is a sacrifice of creativity," says Luna. She must cut down on detail in order to profit from production costs. She says, "though this is disheartening, mass production is really the only way that designers can make any money. The cost of the production is less and can reach more people, while one-of-a-kind is higher priced and reaches a select few." Very few artists are like Damien Hirst, whose diamond encrusted human skull is priced at a cool $100m, and are able to make a living solely within the higher end of the art market. (Although it should be noted that his skull is still for sale.) Most artists, on the other hand, must balance the more costly pieces with items that will turn a profit - or at least in the beginning and sometimes, towards the end of a career in hopes of one last moment of glory.
But Luna's prospect is one of beginnings. Her works call into question the value of art in fashion design from the artist's perspective - a side of the equation that is becoming increasingly invaluable to the way we think about fashion.
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