Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
November 24, 2022
For John M Armleder, art exists in many forms. The Swiss artist is known for bodies of work like “Pour” and “Puddle” paintings, and “Furniture Sculptures” that challenge ideas of painting, sculpture, and process. For over forty years, he’s tapped what he calls “a supermarket of forms” to amass a visual vocabulary that delights, questions, and expands our understanding of art and culture.
That approach to art-making is what made Armleder immediately come to mind for the recent collaboration between luxury swimwear brand Vilebrequin and JRP|Editions. Curated by Lionel Bovier, Director of MAMCO in Geneva, the project resulted in a capsule collection of swim trunks, a short-sleeved shirt, and a pouch created with Armleder. “We wanted to curate a collection that would allow us to explore as many voices and designs as possible. This meant bringing together artists with radically different approaches, but who share an interest in how their work can migrate from the canvas or walls to textile,” said Bovier. “They are united by a common thread: the power of their work, the clarity of their artistic language, and the integrity with which Vilebrequin handled their projects.”
Armleder’s “Puddle” paintings felt like a natural fit for the codes of summer and sun, with their colorful tie-dye-like appeal. His oft-used motif of a melting ice cube also felt apropos for a pool, rendered with flocage on a set of teal trunks. “There is no essential difference between a painting, a print, or a swimsuit: what changes fundamentally here is the context and the distribution modes of the object. The forms and compositions can thus migrate freely from one support to the other,” said Armleder.
No stranger to translating his ideas onto objects ranging from socks, to umbrellas, to even cat trees, Armleder spoke with Whitewall about exploring the language of swimwear.
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for this project with Vilebrequin? We understand that you’re a longtime friend and collaborator with Lionel Bovier.
JOHN M ARMLEDER: It’s a very long friendship, I’ve known him forever. Anything he comes up with I’m interested in. I have no boundaries, really. And I’m still planning to do other things, whether traditional art projects or exhibitions, but also publications and various other ideas which come up.
WW: How did you decide which works would be the best fit for swimwear?
JMA: We worked all together on the idea. We decided on one sort of tie-dye, which comes from what I call “Puddle” paintings. And the melting ice cube comes from another series. I thought ice cubes made perfect sense in a pool, especially if the water is too hot, and the tie-dye, of course, seems very obvious.
WW: Can you tell us more about your “Puddle” painting series?
JMA: Since the late ‘70s, I’ve done so-called “Pour” paintings, where I pour paint from the top of the canvas. I also took what fell to the ground. I put another canvas on the floor and would start a “Puddle” painting. The “Pour” paintings and the “Puddle” paintings are inspired by early paintings of Francis Picabia—and late ones, also.
It’s interesting, the life of an artist, or the kind of artist like me who does very different kinds of things. People know you for one thing or another. I used to do a lot of dot paintings, so some people think I am a “Dot” painter, others think I’m a “Pour” painter, or some other people think I’m someone who does objects which combine painting and furniture. There’s this post-modern idea of my generation, where there was no more style or group because everyone was doing everything. There is no right way or wrong way I think.
WW: So, translating your work into a swimsuit then feels quite post-modern! What did you think when you saw the final products?
JMA: It was fun, also because there are other people involved, like Sylvie Fleury, whom I’m very close to. I was a bit jealous because she had a bathing towel, which I don’t have, so I have to work on getting to do one also!
WW: And what’s it like to see your art being worn by others?
JMA: When you’re sitting in a studio to do a painting or sculpture, you think the world is very open, but you have technical boundaries or boundaries of your previous activities. I’m someone who has a lot of diversity in his work, and I don’t do specifically one type of work. I think perfection is in forgetting about perfection. I think there’s more than one way.
If you have something in your mind and you don’t share it, you don’t produce it physically, it doesn’t exist, it’s a virtual idea. You have to have at least one person seeing it, and then that person can reproduce it or transmit it. And that’s the definition of language and culture.
WW: Speaking of language, can you tell us about the titles of the pieces, “GRA” and “NOLA”?
JMA: It’s “Gra – Nola,” “Granola” split in two. Most of the time the titles never give significance to the work. For years and years, my work was untitled. And then for years and years, people asked me, “Could we have Untitled 1975?” And I would say, “They are all untitled!” And then I was very impressed by Paul Klee, who numbered all his drawings. But of course, I never knew what number was what. So, then I would put a title but as there was no reason for a title, I’ll just take a word from a book I was reading, or whatever.
I was always interested in the fact that historical paintings have no titles. It’s a modern thing, the idea of titling them. It started at the end of the 19th century with museums, which were also a novelty at the end of the 19th century. I’m interested in the fact that if people read a title, it directs completely the perception of the art. As opposed to someone who is next to them who didn’t read the label, who is handling the art in a different way. And if you do a title like “GRA” and “NOLA,” it gives you a hint of something, but you don’t know.
WW: Has collaborating with Vilebrequin and JRP|Editions on this collection broadened what you’ve set your sights on next?
JMA: I’m open to any ideas, even the most silly ones. Hopefully, the most silly ones, which are sometimes difficult to come up with. What’s interesting is that the most silly things sometimes are not so different from the most intelligent things. That crossover is something that interests me.