Worlds Collide

Gary Bigeni &
Matthew Johnson

by Yasmin Nguyen AUG 2013

There remains a continuing history of collaboration between the arts and, at the best of times, this has often occurred unwittingly.

The relationship between fashion and art can be traced back to prehistoric religious ritual, from the adornment and the painted symbolic mark. Human civilisation or, more importantly, culture is underpinned by the simple relationships of artistic forms and creative mediums. We often forget fashion is unassumingly represented in the numerous Renaissance portraits that fill our museums; after all, most sitters would have considered exactly what they would wear prior to the artist inscribing their face and shoulders for eternity. We may also consider landscapes with human figures all dressed in their ‘Sunday best' for the day out. The portrayal and importance of art to convey this relationship has been fogged by the instantaneousness of Twitter and the mobile photo that is not necessarily an artwork and neither has a clear relationship to fashion in art nor art in fashion.

Modernism and high couture interpositions really begins with the inspiration of Yves Saint Laurent utilising Mondrian's imagery. His dresses and fashion coincided with the minimalist art movement of the 1960s.

Time travel to the present. A world dominated by corporate fashion behemoths and racy digitisation. And amongst this exists the quirky collaboration of the odd couple: Sydney-based fashion designer Gary Bigeni and Melbourne-based visual artist Matthew Johnson.

It is hard to imagine that such a collaboration could exist considering that their life trajectories are almost to separate universes. As their early childhood recollections would suggest:

‘Bigeni world' consisted of Barbies, scissors and cloth.

“I would steal all the barbies from all the girls in the street and all my cousins too. I would stay up every night and hand sew little outfits and have fashion catwalk shows for Barbie. I was always fascinated with making outfits for her. I had a little book in which I would draw little dresses with matching shoes, hats and gloves. I would go into mum's wardrobe and cut massive circles out of the bottom of her dresses without her knowing, so when she would pull them out to wear she would discover these big cut outs. After that she gave me all the old socks to use (they were not as colourful as her dresses).”

‘Johnson world', in contrast, was that of quasi-military uniforms, collecting insects and bird-watching.

“Most of my childhood years were spent growing up in Manhattan. I joined the Boy Scouts of America and spent most weekends bird spotting or collecting insects. I spent six years searching for an elusive stick insect… my insect collecting paid off. I was and still am the only Boy Scout in Manhattan to receive a coveted gold medal for my efforts. I was proud to wear the uniform, but my real interest [lay] in nature. And this was to continue when I moved from New York to far north Queensland where I discovered tropical rain forests and a nature that I was unfamiliar with. Subscribe to read this article in full

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Art Gallery of New South WalesNGA Metro Govett Brewster NGVBendigo Art Gallery