So detailed they appear to be blue-toned photographs at first glance, Ian Berry’s layered denim compositions subvert expectations about textile art, rendering urban scenes in shades ranging from the palest powder blue to the deepest navy. Based in London, the artist previously known as “Denimu” recently found himself inspired by the sunny vibes of Los Angeles while in California for an installation in San Francisco, planting the seeds for a series called “Hotel California.”
Depicting poolside scenes, palm trees, watery portraits, and famous hotels like The Roosevelt, the series captures the simultaneously breezy and melancholic sense of dread conjured in the iconic Eagles song from which it takes its name. Berry says he’s particularly inspired by street art and the way kids of the 80s viewed Los Angeles through a prism of pop culture.
While the exclusive use of denim as a medium may appear to be a bit of a gimmick, Berry notes that it’s just his choice of “paint,” providing interesting textures to each piece. A key to getting the right details in each composition is lining up the grain of the fabric and finding just the right fade lines, which can serve as watery reflections, the veins of leaves, and whiskers on cats. The recycled denim that goes into each piece comes from all over the world, with people sending Berry donations and neighbors leaving bags of jeans outside his door.
“I use the washes and fades in the denim to create my work, and it is connecting each piece that really has pushed my work further and further in skill,” says Berry in an interview with Textile Artist. “If you were to look at any piece of mine, each piece, even the smallest, will be cut out of the gradient of the shade within a pair of jeans. It is what helps create that painterly look.”
Quite a bit of the impact of the pieces is lost when viewing them online, adds Berry. You only get a real sense of them in person due to the way the denim is layered, creating a dimensional relief-style texture. Some of the pieces of fabric are even molded and shaped.
“I am learning everyday new ways of using the denim and how to keep pushing it, and this excites me and keeps me going. I often get asked if I would ever use another material and I very much doubt it as I love to push the medium to see how much I achieve with it.”
“I actually thought I would go quite abstract with it, however I found myself drawn to see how photorealistic I could make the pieces challenging myself all the time. Sometimes this backfires as people don’t realize it is denim. While that is the aim, it is pretty rewarding to see some people’s reaction when they do realize it is denim. Not all do and go away believing it is a painting or photograph.”
Since it’s difficult to get a real sense of this work on a screen, Berry has provided a cool way to experience it a little more realistically. Check out his website for a page full of interactive 360-degree shots that let you view them from various angles.
Hotel California will be on view at London’s Catto Gallery through July 28th, 2019.