In many cases, a visual artist’s fashion choices can’t hold a candle to his or her work. The word boring comes to mind. But for others, clothing becomes an extension of the canvas, a way to convey their aesthetic to the world outside of a gallery’s walls. In recent times, there are those few who have become almost as recognizable for their stylistic sensibilities as for their artistic skills. After the jump, check out ten great artists with equally distinctive personal styles.
Warhol — who first became well-known thanks to his illustrations for shoe advertisements — once said that that all art is eventually “going to become fashion art.” While most of his Superstars opted for a more over-the-top aesthetic, his look was more about simplicity. Warhol’s signature color was black, which contrasted nicely with his ash blonde wigs, and his typical outfit featured big black sunglasses (which he was buried wearing), striped shirts, and black jeans.
By the mid-80s Basquiat — the first black American artist to achieve international art stardom — was collaborating with Andy Warhol and partying hard in downtown circles that included Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring, and Madonna (his one-time girlfriend). According to legend, the enfant terrible would paint barefoot in expensive Armani suits, and then go out clubbing in the same paint-splattered outfits. Practical or the height of excess chic?
Frida Kahlo’s signature style, which was inspired by the matriarchal community of Tehuana in southern Mexico, was her way of making a political statement and expressing her pride in indigenous Mexican culture in her paintings. It also helped camouflage her physical ailments. For a more in-depth look at her wardrobe check out Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: The Fashion of Frida Kahlo
, which features photos of many of her personal belongings, most of which had been sealed away for 50 years after her death at the request of Diego Rivera.
O’Keefe found artistic inspiration in the rural Southwest, particularly in New Mexico — in fact, she moved there permanently when Alfred Stieglitz died in 1946 — and you can see this area of the country reflected in her minimalist, androgynous style of dress as well. While at the time she might not have been considered a fashion icon, there’s a sophistication to her stark look that was way ahead of its time.
Bourgeois, who grew up in a family of tapestry makers, was an inspiration to many fashion designers — from Helmut Lang (a close friend) to Rei Kawakubo. According to the New York Times , she was devoted to the designs of Chanel and Poiret in her early years, in part as a way to cloak her own physical flaws: “There are things with clothes that you want to show off, and there are things that you want to hide,” she said. She was also a firm believer in the power of fashion, and even used some of her old pieces in her installation work: “You can retell your life and remember your life by the shape, weight, color and smell of those clothes.”
Mapplethorpe’s work was always steeped in fashion, from styling himself for self-portraits to his photos of fashionable celebrities of the day — women like Grace Jones, Isabella Rossellini, Debbie Harry, and of course, Patti Smith. Before he had really made it as an artist/had the financial support of his lover, Sam Wagstaff, he helped make ends meet by crafting elaborate jewelry. Check out Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, for some excellent descriptions of Mapplethorpe laboring over his elaborate ensembles for nights out at Max’s Kansas City.
The striking and bizarre images in Dali’s surrealist work translated into an equally eccentric style of dress for the artist, who was infamous for loving to draw attention to himself. According to Dali, his ancestors were descended from the Moors, which led to his “love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes.” His now iconic mustache was inspired by 17th century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. He frequently collaborated with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, and in 1950, created a special “costume for the year 2045” with Christian Dior. Like Mapplethorpe, Dali also designed his own jewelry, selecting the materials and precious stones used in each piece. Our favorite: This pair of ruby lips inspired by Mae West.
If you’ve ever spotted New York-based multimedia artist Terence Koh out on the town, it was probably a memorable experience. Frequently dressed in head-to-toe white, the fashion-obsessed provocateur gravitates toward edgier designers like Jeremy Scott, Alexander Wang, and Imitation of Christ. As he recently told the New York Times when asked if he felt like the art world had become too fashionable, “All of my friends are fashion victims. You can’t hope to succeed in New York unless you are a fashion victim. But what is wrong with being a victim? I have never understood why it’s bad to be a fashion victim. Andy Warhol was a victim. Basquiat. Yoko. You name it.”
It makes sense that Kusama — whose colorful artwork is usually focused on obsessive repetition of vivid Pop patterns — is like the Rainbow Brite of the art world, known for her bright wigs and polka-dotted dresses. After arriving in New York from Japan in the late 1950s, she became the avant-It Girl, and opened a fashion boutique offering clothes that were “nude, see-through and mod.” In 1973 she would return to Tokyo and check herself into a mental hospital. Luckily, she was chosen as Japan’s representative at the 1993 Venice Biennale, which led to a major retrospective at the MoMA in 1998, and the resurgence of her profile. Among the people whose work her kooky aesthetic has influenced? Designer Marc Jacobs, as he revealed in a recent documentary.
“I really communicate quite strongly with what I wear,” Ono told New York Magazine back in 2005, and while there has definitely been a progression in her style through the years (just look at her hair), two things remain constant: her devotion to hats and sunglasses and her preference for monochromatic looks. Of her tendency to wear boxy suits, she explains, “I created a kind of outfit that made it easy for me to work. It’s a male society, and you have to not be totally different from them; you have to sort of use their vocabulary in some ways to deal with them.” Recently Ono embarked on her first ever fashion collaboration with THREEASFOUR for their Spring 2010 collection; the looks featured Ono’s rare dot drawings, as translated on cotton and silk prints.