Artist Patricia Ayres discusses the evolution of her creations
Story by Ken Courtney / Photography by Aliya Naumoff
On a rainy, damp afternoon just a few weeks ago, I sat down with New York artist and designer Patricia Ayres in a Greenwich Village café to talk about art, fashion, her latest projects, and the killer new Long Island City studio space she just scored across the way from P.S.1.
What struck me most about Ayres was her approach to creating, which focuses on the actual process, and never planning in advance — even when she designs clothing. For her most recent capsule collection, for example, her starting point was a piece of fabric draped over a dress form. From there, she allowed the creative process to take over and created the first of a seven-piece collection, not knowing how many other pieces there would be, or what they’d be, until the first was under way.
Ayres’ spontaneous, automatic approach to designing clothing likens her more to an abstract expressionist painter than to a modern day fashion designer. She works in an undefined space where the idea, not the medium, drives her work. Artist, designer, sculptor — are all words one could use to describe Ayres, but her work defies categorization, which is exactly what all artists should strive for.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Brentwood, Long Island — a town that was founded as an anarchist utopia.
Were you aware of art when you were a kid?
Although there were some of my grandmother’s drawings around, I never saw her make art or discuss it. I went to a special high school for advertising, art, and design but it wasn’t until a little later when my mom took me to a museum to see a Picasso exhibit. I was moved by his sculptures. Soon after, I saw Robert Rauschenberg’s combines and a soft sculpture by Claus Oldenburg. I was blown away. Those pieces made my heart beat fast.
Is this how you got into art as a living?
After working on a couple of collections, I realized I had the sensibility of an artist. It was from that point that I started on the path to developing into an artist. First by meeting an artist named Mariah Fee in a mixed media/collage course at Parsons. She believed in me and helped me build a foundation to work from. After that I enrolled in Brooklyn College’s BFA program. That’s where everything really started to come together for me.
Do you produce all of your own work?
Yes, I make all my first samples. It gives me the opportunity to allow the piece to develop fully.
Tell me a little bit about your process.
While I start with something conceptually, I let the process guide me intuitively. I begin by doing many sketches. Then I think about materials and the size. I ask myself a lot of questions. In one large-scale installation, I used over 100 yards of industrial elastic, which I then transformed by obsessively staining and stitching with my sewing machine, creating a painterly quality. By adding straps, metal hardware, and hooks from women’s undergarments, the content of the piece evolved to conjure up thoughts of physical and mental restraint and confinement. But the process is often challenging and even painful, to get to that place where the piece is visually cohesive and coherent with the content.
Tell me about the projects you’re currently working on.
A capsule collection for Fall/Winter ’09 and ‘10. It’s about concealing while simultaneously revealing. Using felt, boiled wool, and men’s suiting fabrics in shades of greys, blacks and military green. It’s austere yet complex, understated and feminine. Another project is a series of photos of the dismal side of Las Vegas. The photos show no people, just empty spaces and architecture that originally was meant for the masses but now evoke loneliness and despair. I am working on re-contextualizing these images.
I have a theory that most artists and designers have obsessive qualities in their personalities. They get obsessed with a certain fabric or a color or an idea and that obsession propels them. Does this apply to you?
I can be a little obsessive, like right now I’m going through a minimalist phase and I carry that through to my personal life. The only furniture in my apartment is a steel desk, and I only got that a few days ago. I feel that limiting my material possessions enriches my work.
From what I’ve seen of your work, I’m guessing you’re interested in women’s issues and fashion.
Of course I’m interested in women’s issues, however I never approach my work from that point of view. I never set out to make a feminist statement. Obviously, my experiences help shape my art so in that respect my work can reflect feminist issues.
So what does influence your work?
Memory, dreams, pain, loss. Sometimes what the viewer sees and what your intentions are can be quite different. True, I can lead the viewer in a certain direction, but if the viewer can draw on a personal experience and somehow relate it to the work for a more defined understanding, then we have connected.