Susie bubble’s fashion conundrum and Chris Ofili’s creative originality.


A couple of weeks ago Susie Bubble posted a fashion conundrum she came across in this email which not surprisingly spawned over 160 comments, if only through disbelief;


Maybe I’m a little old school when it comes to fashion, but I am having a hard time finding the appeal of today’s looks.  My girlfriend is studying fashion and frequently shows me new styles online, some I like, others I think are just silly.  After living in New York City for several years, I have noticed countless styles…and the more eccentric and colorful the outfit, the more snobby and arrogant the individual.

To me, fashion has turned into cries for attention rather than practicality.  Either outfits are designed to sell sex, or scream out for attention by encompassing bizarre trinkets and bright colors.  To me, good fashion requires class, practicality, and creativity. Where has this gone?  I enjoy several of your styles, and find others not so intriguing.  Of course these are my opinions, and I wouldn’t have an opinion if I didn’t care about the subject matter.  I’m afraid people will think I’m ignorant when the reality is I just dont see the practicality behind a lot of today’s looks. I would love to hear your side of the story, and your views on what I call “dramatic” fashion. Thank you so much, and continue blogging!  I’m finding it all very interesting.


So beige cardigan thinking aside a lot of views were raised due to the term “dramatic” fashion.

For anyone unfamiliar with Susie’s site although totally fashion oriented it is very creative, eclectic and inventive while at the same time holding the fashion zeitgeist angle, not surprising because her day job is centred around Dazed and Confused magazine.

I put in my two penarth on the subject – that as usurp flourishes in dress go, it is usually based on a creative gesture and, as in general creativity overall will be one that smacks of difference. The kind of thing I’ve been talking about in my blog; “falling into step with the crowd is still a one-way ticket, not least for creative originality (and god knows how difficult it is to create something absolutely and completely original).”


Susie replied that she had thought about the shock factor in fashion “it’s a dichotomy that I’ve struggled with for a while….that fashion seeks the shock-factor but also is quick to criticise those who step out of line…”


Essential before reading further! **2014 edit update

On a hugely positive note! : Chris Ofili’s new show Night and Day listed here on Artsy. Showing at Marcia Tucker’s, New Museum, Bowery, New York. 29/10/14 until 25/01/15. 

So, picking up on Chris Ofili’s tentative come back, if that is the right word this week at Tate Britain –  I kind of got what Susie was saying. Shocking has always come with the new, but more specifically recently has also become old hat; a lot of what has gone before has not only been done with the reasoning because you can, but because the market has been dictating and being chased by artists and their agents just like in the literary industry; as a crock of gold, the new improved version, the next tantalizing thing, and in so was always going to be vulnerable to the rejection of the commercial establishment and its slavish followers. Selling your work on that level is like competing washing powder brands, so that soon the difference between each work of art is whittled down to minutiae and the fickle choice of consumer whim.


I didn’t know at the time but Chris had apparently not sat comfortably with the art market status quo, so much so that he felt obliged to move and reconsider his approach to making art, because of its relevance to him rather than the market. He basically couldn’t work like that and found he was increasingly putting on his Chris Ofili “artist” hat to engage with that side of his life and return to Chris “the Man U fan” away from his work – the two he felt had become separate and pressure to be “the artist” not a real part of him, so much so he couldn’t see where his work was going next. I am guessing here but almost like his life blood (art) was drying up.


In an interview this week with Ekow Eshun he noted that; “too closely watched by dealers, buyers and museums from too young an age, he had not had the time or the space to dig more deeply into himself, and discover exactly who he was, who he is, who exactly he will become. “It got to a point where I felt the work was really known in a public sense, that the division between public and private was like a thin membrane,”


I have heard this mentioned in a different way a lot in business, of people putting on their characters for the various aspects of work they do and in a way it is nothing new, any Christmas party will throw up the unexpected sides of work colleagues that we never knew existed.


But I think there is something a little different here that Chris has maybe been toying with, people have and are having to address their values and how they approach their lives, after nearly 50 years of consumer driven rhetoric. The back to basics, back to this, back to that, is one of the spin offs for a lot of people, if not also a convenient agenda for a lot of politicians pushing for the luddite.


There is also a sideways shift though, values are having a reshape and the evolution of doing art for the pure bottom line of money is an old bone of contention but has been shifting for a good few years now, I know of a lot of artists actually earning a living from their work who did not feel comfortable with the way the art market was going, I genuinely believe this was not sour grapes about the top earners but a gut feeling.  So it didn’t surprise me that with art, as with all creative markets recently the absurd need to stand out because of the shock of the new  – bolder, brighter, better with clique value add one up-manship etc., was going to find its doppelganger to genuinely new and possibly shocking.


Ofili’s work is, for me, wonderful, I remember seeing his work at The Turner exhibition in ’98. The vibrancy of his work is stunning but at the time the headlines he caught, were, in a lot of arty and non arty corners of the press all about the elephant dung (I saw The Virgin Mary and it was not the whole of that painting but maybe the beginning of the wrong time for that for him) – the shock of it.


He obviously knew what it was he needed to do and has come back to do again at the Tate, which will I am sure be evolved and possibly shocking and this time not be received the other way round being given the tag of shocking and new.


In the same interview Chris suggested that “We can only say looking back in terms of chronology. Ideas are recurring and do not only exist in the past. So I wouldn’t want to relegate something to being an old idea, the date doesn’t matter. You hear an amazing Thelonius Monk track, and the last thing that occurs to you is whether or not it was made at the beginning or at the end of his life. First thing that strikes you is that it’s just a surprising arrangement of sounds. Of individual sounds to make a whole.”


Things evolve and there will always be a man in a beige cardigan to be shocked, but when it becomes a rule of thumb commercial or otherwise to shock, however well crafted, just purely to stand out, the newness or relevance, for me doesn’t ring true. But the genuine gesture of creating something new and inventive as a creative endeavour, in my book, can be as shocking and arrogant as it like.