At first glance, Ian Berry’s works look like blue-toned photos or paintings, especially if you see them online or in print. However it’s only when you look closer that you realise that these oeuvres are made up of myriad pieces and shades of denim – hundreds and thousands of tiny fragments of denim jeans, painstakingly cut up and glued into place to form incredibly detailed works of art.
Emerging as an exciting young British artist over the last decade, today Ian is internationally known for his works made solely out of pairs of jeans, creating stunning trompe l’oeil pieces resembling indigo-hued paintings and photos.
Le SUN caught up with the 35-year-old artist during a visit to Nîmes as part of his recent appointment as Artistin- Residence in Labastide- Rouairoux in the Tarn. Berry had long wanted to visit Nîmes as the home of denim, and so his stay in the former textile town of Labastide-Rouairoux (the birthplace of the denim stonewash effect, and just over two hours from Nîmes) was too good an opportunity to miss.
On his lightning visit, Ian visited the Carré d’Art Jean Bousquet and the denim display at the Musée du Vieux Nîmes, and also met with Les Ateliers de Nîmes’ founder Guillaume Sagot (see story on page 6) and other cultural influencers.
A former school in Labastide- Rouairoux was the location for Berry’s “Secret Garden” installation – a stunning garden setting composed entirely of old jeans, which was inspired by his 2017 installation in the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York, influenced by Manhattan’s community gardens. With a stream running through the work, plants, creepers, trees, roses, cacti – and even a lifesize bunny rabbit and a swing - were all exquisitely fashioned from denim in myriad shades and textures.
"Secret Garden" was truly a community event for Labastide – not only did the town call on its inhabitants to donate old jeans for the effort, but many townspeople also got involved by learning to make the denim roses that became such an iconic symbol of the installation. While some of the roses were kept by their creators, others have found their way to San Francisco as part of Ian’s next horticultural installation, located in the new SF Flower Mart development.
"Being Artist-in-Residence at Labastide-Rouairoux was an amazing experience," said Berry. "It’s a wonderful old textile town, and – like my hometown of Huddersfield - it’s sad to see how these heritage industries have gone elsewhere for cheap labour, leaving communities devastated. However here a disused school was overtaken by nature and reclaimed, in a material that used to make the area successful."
Ian was also honoured with Labastide’s Médaille d’honneur, presented by Mayor Serge Lafon, in grateful thanks for his hard work on behalf of the town – a huge honour, as he is only the fifth recipient (and the first non-French beneficiary) since its inception some 30 years ago.
He first started working with denim when he looked at a pile of jeans in his old bedroom at home in Huddersfield, and noticed the contrasting shades and textures of blue. He started cutting and glueing on his bedroom floor, and quickly became celebrated as one of the Top 30 Artists Under 30, with his work displayed in galleries, museums and art fairs around the world, along with solo shows in London, Europe and the USA - including the home of modern jeans, San Francisco.
Now based in London, his works focus on the changing fabric of the city, ranging from incredibly detailed street scenes, luxury interiors, launderettes, CCTV "images" and more. A series of denim works on New York includes a life-size New York newsstand complete with magazine covers, chocolate bars and a vending machine, while another series on traditional American diners intriguingly manages to create the impression of gleaming metal, polished surfaces and shiny tiled floors.
His first denim images were portraits of iconic jeans-wearers, including James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Debbie Harry. Since then, he has been commissioned to produce official portraits of Harry and Dean, with his James Dean portrait taking pride of place in Dean’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana. Other commissions include Giorgio Armani, Jennifer Saunders, supermodel Giselle Bundchen and designer Lapo Elkann (responsible for the denim-covered SMEG fridge and Ferrari car), while his 2014 portrait of Ayrton Senna was created with denim from the jeans belonging to Senna’s own family members.
Ian’s images are usually big and bold, with each picture taking about one month to complete and using between 10-20 different pairs of jeans. His London studio regularly has around 2,000 pairs of jeans at any given moment, offering an extensive variety of textures, wear-and-tear and shades of blue, in order to give him the widest possible choice when creating his art. Jeans are donated to him by individuals and companies, ranging from friends and neighbours to brands and denim mills. Parts of the Secret Garden were created from some of the last-ever denim produced at the Cone Mills White Oak plant – the last major mill in the USA - which closed last year.
Published in March this year, his book Denim on Denim features over 110 images of his work, specifically exploring the urban environment and issues of community (or lack of), which is what drives Ian’s creativity. "I’m depicting contemporary life, so what better material to portray it with than the material of our time – denim jeans," smiles Berry.