In a moment of rarity and pleasure, you may have had the occasion of speaking with an artist over a glass of wine or cup of coffee in a small cafe.
While watching the lights from the traffic outside illuminating the paths of raindrops on the restaurant window, lovers walking past unaware of the wonders that are spoken of just on the other side of the pane, the entire city seems oblivious to the lines which haunt and inspire the artist’s mind that sits before you. It is like stepping into another landscape to which you have never travelled before.
In speaking with them, the lines of thought in your own mind suddenly seem truncated, the world seems bigger, and what you thought were concepts hard and fast and true that you could count on, seem now somewhat vague and fluid, looking as though they need to be negotiated once more, this time with respect to this newly discovered artistic vision. You will leave the restaurant not quite sure what to do about it, not even sure that you completely understand. The worst part will be that you know that you cannot blame the wine.
Yet it would seem that understanding is exactly what we search for in our meeting with the artist. We are in such moments of privilege on a grand quest for understanding, seeking not only understanding of an artistic disposition but even a greater understanding of ourselves.
In talking with the artist, you are now suddenly aware that there is even more in the world to explore than you had previously imagined. At the same time, you remain dodged by the feeling that you are failing to fully understand that world. Here now, you have momentary access to a world to which you normally do not. You feel as though you are standing looking up at the walls of a medieval castle, knowing that if you can scale those walls you will find yourself admitted into an entirely new way of seeing the world.
In this spirit, imagine yourself now sharing a late evening dinner with Award-winning Canadian designer of women’s clothing, Lisa Aviva. You’ve become friends over time. You have the chance now to talk to her about her work. You hesitate for a moment wondering where to start. And then you begin by asking her how she imagines the creation of a garment as a work of art. It is a question that cuts straight to the heart of the matter, because art wears many different faces. You ask her, then, about the relationship between the concept of art and her creations of women’s garments.
"When creating a new garment design ... I allow textiles to speak to me, first and foremost. Textiles dictate silhouette and drape, and I prefer to ... [enhance the garment’s] natural properties through design."
Lisa reflects for a moment, smiles, and then replies:
“For me, creating a garment is a unique combination of the principles and elements of design. How a designer utilizes colour, shape and texture, for example, can culminate in an endless array of combinations and permutations. Then, the application of rhythm, movement and harmony (another example) - leads to another set of variables that ultimately, determines a designer's aesthetic and a garment's design.”
You start to ask another question thinking that was all, but Lisa has more to add, and you hold back your next question for now... Lisa sips her coffee and continues thoughtfully:
"I believe that it is absolutely necessary for a designer to understand their aesthetic, though whether they choose to work within it or challenge their creative process, is a unique choice. A designer might also choose to work for a company that embraces or challenges their unique aesthetic. I do believe that constant growth is healthy for designers and keeps the work interesting. I suppose that it is ultimately a question of whether a designer thrives on challenges or comfort, when producing their best work."
You think to yourself that Lisa’s words have an underlying and universal wisdom to them... we all, in a way, are posed between these same two choices of working and creating within our self-created and self-enclosed worlds or taking up our set of tools and venturing into new spaces to find opportunities to explore our craft and life in unknown and unexplored ways and landscapes.
You take a sip of your wine. The taste is heavy on your tongue, velvety. The waiter, in a slight French accent, asks if everything is fine, Mademoiselle. You reply that it is.
Next you want to know a little bit more about the process that Ms. Aviva employs in her creations. So, you ask her to tell you about the creative process that she uses when creating a new garment design.
Lisa’s eyes, once more, light up a little. She is intrigued by the process. She replies:
"When creating a new garment design for my current collection, I allow textiles to speak to me, first and foremost. Textiles dictate silhouette and drape, and I prefer to allow the garment to evolve organically - enhancing its natural properties through design. While I have silhouettes in mind, ultimately the textiles determine the final garment design."
You are, in turn, intrigued by her answer. You see the parallels immediately between the way that Lisa allows the textiles to speak her and the way that, say, a landscape might speak to an artist painting in oil on canvas. It is, it would seem, in large part a matter of sensitivity, of remaining open to what the artist perceives in their environment and materials as to their character, potential and limitations and in knowing themselves well enough to know what to do with it. If we think of our life as a work of art, it becomes the same for all of us.
You next ask her about colour... how does colour figure into design? Lisa replies:
"Colour selections are secondary. I am fortunate to work with a mill in Italy that produces outstanding textiles in beautiful colourways. Working with the best, makes my job that much easier. It is impossible not to be inspired by the quality of the textiles and the colours, in which they are available.
Once my textile choices are finalized, the designs come to life. While I attend textile shows with concepts in mind, I believe in the importance of allowing the materials to speak for themselves. The weight of a fabric is equally as important as the surface texture, and one must know what can and can't be done with a textile."
Weight. Texture. Colour. Garment speaking. Artist listening. And how does she feel when the process has reached its maturity?
"It is then, with the expert assistance of a seasoned patternmaker, that the designs come to fruition. There is no comparable feeling to seeing first samples after months of research and development."
The connection between clothing design and oil on canvas works of art gets you thinking in yet another direction. You pause for a moment and then you go on to ask Lisa as to influences from the art world. Again, with pleasure, Lisa responds:
"The list of artists that inspire me are endless, and each for their unique gift. I am most inspired by the American Minimalists and Conceptual Artists of the 1970's. While many of the artists of these genres are sculptors, installation artists and land artists, they communicate through their art with clear, concise thoughts and messages. All elements of their work are absolutely necessary, there is nothing extraneous. There is no room for embellishment, it would only cloud the work."
"There are no flourishes for the sake of drama. Lines are clean and concise ... I prefer to celebrate the rich colours of nature."
And then the next natural question would be with regard to how these influences get actually transplanted into her work. Lisa, as if knowing what’s running through your mind, helps you here by going on to explain that...
"This is the approach I share in my design. There are no flourishes for the sake of drama. Lines are clean and concise. Colours are rich and multi-dimensional. And I prefer not to design in black - for numerous reasons, but primarily as (in traditional colour theory) it is the absence of all colour. As well, for many years, it was one of the most popular options available to plus-size women. I prefer to celebrate the rich colours of nature."
You appreciate her answer... but you still do not know who specifically has influenced her. You are intrigued by her answer:
"One of my favourite artists, is Donald Judd. His sculptures involve geometric shapes, often grouped in multiples. One of my favourite memories of art school, involves numerous critiques where one would inevitably hear, "I'd like to see more of them...and LARGER!" Donald Judd fits the bill. His use of multiple geometrics to define both positive and negative space, created art where none previously existed.
This is a thrilling concept I have begun to explore through hand knits and hope to explore more thoroughly in the future... Donald Judd also used colour sparingly. It is used for maximum impact, there are no patterns. Once again, it would detract from the clarity of the work. This is a concept at the heart of much of my design."
The hour has grown late now. The restaurant crowd has emptied somewhat. It is time to close the evening. It is in the closing moments of an evening like this that we find a particular richness to life. The glow of the candlelight illuminating the residual red wine in our glass.
Even for the uninitiated, the artistry is indisputable. And when we look behind the curtain that secludes garment and creator from the rest of the world, we come to appreciate all the more the divide that separates the everyday from moments of creative ecstasy, like a flame that burns through the night reminding all who see it that there are ideas and processes in the human mind and spirit that render beauty onto the canvas of necessity. Art of every kind holds the capacity to inspire us too, if we are but sensitive enough to allow it. It is a little like reading a book that we might not normally read.
We may never completely understand all of the references, all of the influences, all of the yearnings that are represented by a garment, or any other piece of artwork for that matter. There is, admittedly, at times something which remains hidden, secluded, however unintentionally. Yet, it seems nevertheless incumbent upon us to try, to try to understand the mind and approach of the artist. In this very attempt to understand, moreover, one finds that one’s appreciation for art, as for life itself, is all the richer.
Photo credits: Walter Singh, Darren Trentacosta