RAM Talks Art : T-shirts: Not your average canvas

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Novelty T-shirts, digitally-enhanced and plasticized photos transformed into contemporary wallets and handbags, sports uniforms, tattooing, fashion design, car and truck airbrushing—the list of non-traditional art is growing day by day.

Art isn’t only what we find in museums or on the walls of corporate America. It’s somewhere on the bodies of a great many teen-agers, on the brick walls of local businesses, and on the T-shirt you wear that either amuses, informs, or blatantly bombards the reader with your personal protestations.

Traditional art is making room for the non-traditional artist. Some artists have formal artistic training, but choose to work in non-traditional media. Some artists are self-taught, and choose to express themselves on subway walls, on sidewalks, or in murals. Many choose to express themselves through what they wear or tattoos they have. Artists no longer restrict themselves to canvases to convey their artistic messages.

Visual Interest, Rockford Art Museum’s newest support group, is dedicated to bringing new and unusual ways to interact with art to Rockford. The most notable way they accomplish this is through their popular Third Thursday events. This month’s event is completely dedicated to the non-traditional art form of T-shirt art. I had the opportunity to talk to Visual Interest’s President Kevin Granato, as well as Visual Interest board member and local artist Javier Jimenez, about this unusual show.

I wanted to know what made Visual Interest decide to dedicate a show entirely to the art of the T-shirt. Kevin said: “T-shirt art and design has sort of become its own genre. Any trip to the Salvation Army’s T-shirt section or a browse on www.threadless.com makes it clear that it has its own niche. The members of Visual Interest don’t recall a show being done like this before, and we wanted to push the limits a bit.”

Since this is such a unique show, I wanted to know why Visual Interest thought T-shirt art was significant. Javier owns Saturated Threads, a Rockford-based screen-printing company that specializes in T-shirts and also produces work for several clothing labels based in the Midwest. He told me there is a huge market for T-shirt design. It also allows him to take any idea he has and put it out there for the world to see, although he prefers creating smaller, limited editions of his work.

Kevin believes T-shirt design is a reflection of our pop culture. T-shirt art is all about what cheeky play on pop culture—or statement about the world—the designer can make to one-up the next guy. Since there is a limited amount of space on a T-shirt, the artist has to design it in such a way it gets its message across quickly.

The Third Thursday T-shirt show, Sept. 20 at Octane, focuses on 15 local artists and their designs. With so many artists and so many ideas, how many different designs will they have? Javier informed me each artist is creating one design. His company, Saturated Threads, will then take these designs and screen-print them onto T-shirts for display. The shirts will also be available for purchase in a variety of styles.

Local artists featured include Laura Berry, Tom Ciciura, Jesus Abraham Correa VII, Nick DalPra, Kevin Granato, Corey Hagberg, Jared Hennis, Javier Jimenez, Lisa Jimenez, Cedric Johnson, Pablo Korona, Marieke McClendon, Dan Minick, Shayna Rever and Isaac Velasco.

Various ideas have been thrown around as to how the show is going to be displayed. Both Kevin and Javier are adamant the show be hung on the walls in some fashion. There is also talk of mannequins and live models.

So…if you are interested in seeing some non-traditional T-shirt art, stop by Visual Interest’s next Third Thursday at Octane InterLounge (124 N. Main St., Rockford) Sept. 20, 6-9 p.m. There’s no cover charge. And if you want to know more about Saturated Threads, contact Javier Jimenez at jav@saturatedthreads.com.

Rockford Art Museum Education Coordinator Stacey Sauer can be reached at ssauer@rockfordartmuseum.org.

from the Sept. 19 – 25, 2007, issue

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