Have you ever loved a piece of art so much you wished there was a way to wear it? Ariel Adkins knows the feeling—in fact, it lead her to start a personal style blog called Artfully Awear. Since 2014, the artist and designer has been creating outfits inspired by her favorite objets d’art and encouraging others to do the same through a series of workshops. Whether it’s the Guggenheim here in New York or Frida Kahlo’s home in Mexico, you can catch Ariel wearing her bespoke garments at exhibition venues all over the world. We recently had the privilege of chatting with Ariel about her childhood love for art, her go-to thrifting spots in NYC and her dreams and plans for Artfully Awear (hint: there may be a clothing line in the works).
AZ: Tell us a little bit about art’s role in your life. Have you had a passion for art since childhood or did it emerge later on?
AA: Art has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember. My parents were both artists, and they really valued creativity and encouraged me to think outside the box. My mother had the amazing skill of making something out of nothing, so to speak – whether that meant a giant sculpture fabricated out of detritus from the trash dump, a pair of moccasins for me (and matching pair for my doll) out of a piece of suede, or a fabulous outfit fished out of the Salvation Army. My father is a craftsman and woodworker, who applies an artistic touch to even the most everyday objects (like frames for my senior exhibition).
AZ: How did you come up with the idea to make outfits inspired by such monumental artworks? Do you remember the first one you ever made?
AA: I’ve always shopped at thrift stores, scouting for the most unique garments. One day I discovered a vintage skirt with a kitschy country pattern that reminded me of Monet’s paintings of haystacks. That skirt started me on my journey to wear art. Over time I became frustrated with the quality and creativity of the clothes I could find within my price range that related formally to the artwork. The first piece I made was a dress I painted using stencils to wear to the Christopher Wool retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2014.
AZ: Walk us through the process of creating a garment.
AA: I start with an artwork that appeals to me – whether I find it beautiful or intriguing or representing a technique or style that I haven’t tried to emulate before. I do some research on the artist and his or her process, creating a concept for the piece. On occasion, I am able to see the work in person ahead of time; otherwise I work from digital images. Typically, I use found garments, sketching out the composition ahead of time. Then I get to work, using paint, stencils, fringe, or whatever type of accoutrement the work requires. When it’s finished, I organize a visit to the museum, gallery, or studio where the work is displayed, and my boyfriend or another friend (or stranger) takes the photos.
AZ: What are some of the challenges you face when turning something you’ve seen in a gallery or museum into something wearable?
AA: When it’s not possible to see the work in person ahead of time, it can be difficult to get the sense of the piece. There have been difficulties with color matching, but I’m learning to embrace the “mistakes” as a part of the process. On a few occasions, the piece I’ve chosen as inspiration is gone when I’ve shown up to take photos. That’s really frustrating.
AZ: Is there a specific type of art that translates particularly well from canvas to clothing?
AA: I tend to focus on painting because I studied it in college, and enjoy the medium. I also love to experiment with new techniques – for example, how to translate a sculptural work into something wearable. It’s not always easy, but that’s part of the fun.
AZ: Would you say more of your inspiration comes from art history or from contemporary art?
AA: I definitely veer more toward Modern & Contemporary Art. In some ways, I think it’s easier to capture the sense of the work in more modern pieces, whereas traditional portraiture or landscape painting, for instance, would create challenges related to verisimilitude. However, it’s not out of the question and I’d like to explore the possibilities there.
AZ: What’s your favorite garment you’ve created so far?
AA: My favorite is a fringe dress inspired by Francis Kéré’s Colorscape installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last fall. I love the color palette and the fact that it is multidimensional. After I visited the artwork, Francis saw my photo on Instagram and invited me to come and meet him when he came to Philadelphia from Africa. He loved the dress and even asked me to make him a jacket just like it!
AZ: Have you ever considered designing a line of your clothing that others could buy?
AA: Yes. I like the way that clothing can make art more accessible, and would love for others to be able to wear my Artfully Awear pieces. I want the collection to be affordable but unique, and I’m working on ways to make that a reality.
AZ: Describe your ideal studio environment. What habits have you cultivated to get your creative juices flowing?
AA: I’m not very particular with my studio habits. As long as I have enough space and good light, I can make it work.
AZ: Do you make other art besides the clothes?
AA: I just started a new series of paintings. They are very fresh, so I haven’t shared any of them yet. Each work is inspired by interesting pieces of clothing I’ve collected from thrift stores, vintage shops, and flea markets. In a way, I’m reversing the Artfully Awear process – making artwork inspired by clothes!
AZ: If you could have a dinner party with five artists, living or dead, who would you invite?
AA: Henri Matisse, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Nick Cave, Yayoi Kusama, and Cindy Sherman.
AZ: Go-to spot for vintage/thrift shopping in NYC?
AA: I love Beacon’s Closet in Park Slope and Goodwill on 23rd Street.
AZ: You do a lot of traveling as well—is there any exhibition space you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t had the chance to yet?
AA: I am dying to go to the Benesse Art Site on the island of Naoshima in Japan.
AZ: What can we expect to see from Artfully Awear in the future? Anything exciting coming up?
AA: I’m traveling to Amsterdam in a few weeks to do a shoot at the Van Gogh Museum, which has been in the works for a while. I’m still working on my piece, inspired by Van Gogh’s famous painting, Sunflowers, 1889. Other than that, I have a number of workshops coming up, so stay tuned if you’re interested in learning how to make your own Artfully Awear piece.
top image // Ariel Adkins