Earlier this fall, during fashion week in Milan, a particularly scathing op-ed posted on Vogue.com decried bloggers for “heralding the death of style” with their endless parade of new – and often borrowed – designer outfits. As soon as the HTML code was uploaded, bloggers everywhere fought back, arguing that their extravagant personal brands had become more influential than those of the editors who wrote the piece. In today’s Instagram-dominated world, it’s certainly true that a self-styled, self-promoted image sells – so much so that the blogger effect, for better or worse, has extended beyond the realm of fashion weeks and into the world of contemporary art.
“Fair season” is a newly minted construct describing the twice-yearly spate of international art shows. This fall, it includes Art Basel Miami Beach, Frieze London and the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain, or FIAC, in Paris. The shows have morphed into must-attend events, attracting dealers, designers and scene darlings with their promise of glamorous parties and selfie-taking opportunities. As the social media-izing of the art world now parallels fashion’s digital footprint, it requires that artists hoping to make an impact have an equally entrepreneurial approach to selling themselves; a look through the recent designer-laden Instagram feeds of Canadian art stars like Petra Collins and Chloe Wise, who both were propelled by breakout moments in Miami, proves that point.
“I’d imagine that personal style has an effect on how people see my work and I like that. Honestly, I think that as long as one’s style is not contrived, the branding aspect is a positive one,” says Andy Dixon, a Vancouver-based artist whose work incorporates saturated, neon hues that mimic the palette of his wardrobe.
“Take, for instance, one of my painting heroes, David Hockney. It’s impossible to separate my experience of looking at The Bigger Splash with my memory of his flamboyant suits and bright, mismatched socks, and I don’t think I should have to since it’s all part of his story; one augments the other, in a way,” he says. Dixon’s own style signature is a bubble-gum pink suit he wears for most professional occasions including Art Basel, which he’ll be attending next month. “I’d like to believe I’d wear my pink suit even if I were the last person on Earth, I Am Legend style. It’s a nice bonus, though, that it seems to help tell an audience a little bit about me and my tastes.”
Yet fashioning a look isn’t just for the latter-day Beau Brummels. Kim Dorland, best known for his technicolour takes on Canadiana, has a defined, albeit subtler aesthetic as well. “For shows, it’s my favourite black R13 jeans, grey or black Common Projects sneakers and a black T-shirt or sweater. Sometimes a black Acne jacket,” he says. “I would say that my personal style is similar to my work in that I try to put myself together and be presentable but I usually end up looking sort of disheveled like my paintings.”
Must everyone aspire to have a visual identity as iconic as Andy Warhol’s wig or Salvador Dalí’s moustache? “I think that personal branding is a weird, vile concept that should be thrown out all together,” says Sojourner-Truth Parsons. The 32-year-old Vancouver-born artist doesn’t attend art fairs, opting to spend her creative energy in the studio. But from her vibrant work, one could easily assume she was always up for a little razzle dazzle in her attire; after all, at Art Toronto in October she exhibited large-scale paintings of pastel rescue puppies wearing glitter eye shadow.
Parsons personal style – her eclectic closet is full of intricate textiles and ethically sourced materials – might stand out but it’s for her own benefit and not set in stone. Her work will be exhibited at the New Art Dealers Alliance show during Art Basel, and if she were to attend, she says she’d opt for a handmade sequinned T-shirt that says “Tracy Chapman for president.” “There is this concept that your image or ideas or interests become fixed,” Parsons says. “This isn’t something that I can relate to, [because] I feel these things naturally change all the time.”Report Typo/Error
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