For S/S13, Louis Vuitton put a sharp edge on fashion with a grid-like collection of geometric pop-colour print dresses, made in collaboration with abstract artist Daniel Buren. This season, Alessandro Raho has reinvented the collection in a series of portraits of Young Kim, set against the backdrop of Charles Asprey’s house. “I wanted the day to be part of the art too,” he says. “Charles is a friend and it made it into a great day, it became a social event. When I got there, I found that Charles had a Daniel Buren piece on the wall, purely by chance; he knew nothing about the clothes. It was a good sign.”
Raho graduated from Goldsmiths in the mid nineties, hailed as the wunderkind of his class. He is known for his figurative oil paintings and has held exhibitions across the world, counting Damien Hirst amongst his fans. His painting of Dame Judi Dench hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and he has several pencil studies in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “I’m interested in the profound area of fashion,” he explains. “The spells clothes can create. In painting a fold, the fabric can take on a meaning that is unnoticeable in life.” Young Kim and Raho met last year at a party at the Thadaeus Ropac Gallery for Jack Pierson, where the idea to paint Kim arose. Here, AnOther speaks to Raho about the story.
Is this the first time you have painted in relation to fashion?
When I left Goldsmiths I had a project in Milan where I went to all the fashion houses there and was allowed to pick whichever clothes I wanted to paint my friends in for a magazine called Max. I went to Versace, Moschino, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Ferré. They sent all the clothes over in a huge suitcase so for a few weeks I was the best dressed person in Bermondsey! I was able to use them to make paintings that related to the image culture I was from and was immersed in at the time. Also it tapped in to the illusion of paintings themselves, their diabolical nature. I was able to humanise the images though by using my friends and not models, it wasn’t a fashion shoot as such, it was like we had broken in, it was a theft!
"I’m interested in the profound area of fashion...the spells clothes can create." — Alessandro Raho
What did you like about the Louis Vuitton collection?
The patterns, the simplicity and power of the geometry. I didn’t know Daniel Buren had inspired Marc Jacobs at the time. That was just an added bonus! It created the added dimension of the paintings being about art already, about the strange area of artists being commissioned by fashion houses, with Buren this fitted rather magically. I noticed them first in the ad campaign Louis Vuitton ran. Those floating squares created all kinds of tensions in the picture.
Do you have a favourite designer?
My relationship to fashion is more to do with it being tied to a cultural moment or aesthetic manifesto. Miami Vice for example in the 80s which heavily used Gianfranco Ferré. I liked the collaborative nature of this relationship. Also to me it’s more clothes as costume rather than loyalty to a designer or being fashionable. That has something more to do with good taste, but there can also be a lot of visual pleasure to be had in bad taste! Painting can turn anything to gold.
Having said that I have photos from my childhood in the Bahamas of my mother wearing Pucci which left an indelible mark on my memory of something lost. We weren’t rich but when she was young she had a few of the print-dresses and the photos conjured up desirable spaces that were gone. Pucci's patterns took on a deep meaning for me, where aesthetics became a symbolic force, not just a description of something that was, and painting was an area to express those feelings, that trauma.
What clothing do you hope to paint in the future?
I like the idea of the clothes being even more experimental in shape, like the Cinzia Ruggeri ‘Homage to Levi Strauss’ dress. I’ve made drawings recently where I’ve created my own clothes for the models. I’d love to be able to get hold of a Roberto Capucci. Geometric shapes maybe, but not as printed pattern, the actual clothes themselves, haute couture.
Having said that one of my most successful pictures recently was my sister in a ten pound Mickey Mouse T-shirt bought from Lewisham. I liked the effect of the painted cartoon persona against Jess’s painted face. Painting can transform.
Young Kim by Alessandro Raho is currently on display at I Cheer a Dead Man's Sweetheart, De La Warr Pavilion and can also be found in A Brush With the Real: Figurative Painting Today by Elephant Books
Text by Mhairi Graham