Image Story

Artventure

Horacio Silva

Willi Smith’s genuine desire to work across formats and disciplines extended to forming WilliWear Productions with Laurie Mallet, whose remit was to collaborate with contemporary artists they admired. The division’s lead-off collection of accessible, artist-designed T-shirts—debuted at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in 1984, where they were presented on cardboard wrapped in cellophane like poster prints in one extra-large size and sold for $37 a pop—created the template for similar efforts today by the likes of Supreme, Uniqlo, and Comme des Garçons. No one seems to have the final count of artists ultimately commissioned to create T-shirts between 1983 and 1987, and only a few examples survive. The launch press release included the following biographies and quotes from participating artists, celebrating and complicating the marriage of art and industry.

Artist T-shirt Press Release, 1984

Gray, white, and black slanted-striped press release announcement for WilliWear Productions Artist T-Shirt campaign

Zephyr

“No comment.”

In the late seventies, Zephyr transformed the Number One Local—the Broadway train—into a lively, moving fresco. As one critic puts it, his images “conjure up the backstreet tattoo parlor.”

David Stoltz

“I like the T-shirt idea. From my standpoint, there is a fine line between commercial and non-commercial art. I felt this project was commercial with class.”

Davis Stoltz’s giant steel sculptures can be seen in public parks and playgrounds around the United States. His style typically evokes a whimsical, exuberant energy. The more he grows as an artist, he claims, the more he goes back to his childhood.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of two models wearing Artist T-Shirts designed by Zephyr and Davis Stoltz

Stewart Wilson

“When people wear these T-shirts they are like walking canvases. But the body is a little too shapely. . . . The backs are better than the fronts.”

Stewart Wilson creates color Xerox “fetishes,” which he calls “representatives of another dimension.” His miniature tableaux have appeared on this planet in galleries and window displays throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Stewart Wilson

Keith Haring & LAII

“LA (Little Angel) did the tag, and I just embellished it with more lines. I guess you could call it a decorative tag. It’s just a T-shirt.”

Keith Haring lives in, paints, and draws on New York City. His cross-cultural hieroglyphics can be seen in subways, on empty walls, and in galleries around the world.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Keith Haring and LA II

Kim Steele

“This combo of fashion and art is a fun project. By incorporating the art onto the surface, the shirt becomes a palette for the artwork. It’s a perfect, plain, simple canvas.”

Kim Steele is a New York City photographer whose work details the dramatic sensuality and power of industrial landscapes. He has photographed factories ranging from steel plants to Boeing 747 plants to nuclear power plants.

Dan Friedman

“Unlike most fashion, the T-shirts make you think. We’ve been taught that fashion is for the moment and that art is something endless. It’s time to break down that notion.”

Dan Friedman’s art is involved with things that have practical purposes. He has created posters, packaging, and logos for many corporations. His “Modern Living” projects have been published throughout the world.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of two models wearing Artist T-Shirts designed by Kim Steele and Dan Friedman

Les Levine

“Most of the words I use are specifically selected to make people think. And when people see the word and wonder about it, then they are doing exactly what I want them to do—wonder.”

Les Levine has been described as the founder of media art. He uses photography and information media to produce environments, billboards, and videotapes. Last year, his “We Are Not Afraid” posters were exhibited in the New York City subways.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Les Levine

Lynn Hershman

“Clothes are our most immediate and intimate environment. The T-shirts reflect how our culture is progressing. What we put on is a signature anyway. It all comes out in the wash . . . not WilliWear’s, let’s hope.”

Lynn Hershman designs large-scale projects to fit into non-art situations. Her work combines painted photographs, film, videos, drawing, and performance, and has been seen throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Ed Schlossberg

“I wanted to make a shirt that responded to the body inside it. The liquid crystal changes color depending on the temperature. The shirt will tell you something about the way the person wearing it is feeling at the moment.”

Ed Schlossberg has been an artist for 15 years. He makes poems, paintings, and architecture with the object of making people aware of themselves.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of two models wearing Artist T-Shirts designed by Lynn Hershman and Ed Schlossberg

Severo

“The T-shirt’s printed image, blending with the multiple activities of its wearer, becomes an extension of artistic space.”

Severo’s recent works contain utopian visions. His canvases are theatrical, involving the viewer both mentally and physically. The fusion of canvas and spectator becomes his work of art.

Todd Siler

“I designed this T-shirt specifically as a comment, so when people looked at it, they’d see themselves. It is a very poetic way of describing my reflection on the brain/universe relationship.”

Todd Siler is a painter and sculptor who is currently completing his PhD in architecture and psychology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His background in the arts and biological sciences stimulated his fascination with the human brain.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of two models wearing Artist T-Shirts designed by Severo and Todd Siler

Soozun Pitt

“Fashion attempts to express or create a feeling of the times. I like the inexpensive quality and accessibility of the T-shirt. Art can be elitist at times, so there is a real challenge in doing design that will be accessible to everyone.”

Soozun Pitt has always worked in a variety of mediums, from animated film and painting to costume and stage design. She conceived and animated the movie Asparagus, which ran for two years at the Waverly.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Soozun Pitt

Futura 2000

“I consider myself more of an aerosol technician than a graffiti artist. Sometimes people have a hard time believing my work comes from a nozzle and not an airbrush. The spray can is the most modern tool in art today.”

Futura 2000 is a 27-year-old graffiti artist living in New York. His abstract work is distinguished by an exacting sense of color, which has earned him the title “the Kandinsky of Graffiti.”

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Futura 2000

Dondi White

“Continuous reflections of the motherland (the yards) lead me to believe that I will be a man among spray cans until death.”

Dondi White has, for the past five years, been refining his craft on the rolling steel of the subway cars. He is known for his colorful images, totem objects of primal graffiti: subway cars, a running stick figure of TV’s The Saint, and the spray can.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Dondi White

Arman

“It’s nice to see a design on living canvas. Once Picasso made a drawing on the back of a girl. But if T-shirts had been popular then he would have done it on them. Poor girl, she couldn’t wash it for years.”

Arman is a sculptor who calls himself an “assemblist,” because his work combines things that already exist into different forms. Throughout his long career, Arman has worked with concrete, garbage, musical instruments, tolls, and ship anchors.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Arman

Jenny Holzer

“I selected a special group of statements for the T-shirts. This way you can take one sentence you like and leave behind those you hate.”

Jenny Holzer’s medium is the word (which she uses to goad, provoke, caution, or amuse). Her work has appeared on posters, stickers, books, and most recently, electronic signs that flash high-speed responses to our “buzzword, catch phrase” culture.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Jenny Holzer

Christo

Although Christo approves of the T-shirts, he derives no income from their sale.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Christo

SITE

“The criss-crossing of mass-production and art is intriguing. Collaboration is what our age is about in terms of art—it’s experimental and it could break into something dynamic and original.”

SITE is an interdisciplinary collaborative of architects, artists, writers, and sociologists. The firm has designed and supervised construction of buildings, interiors, and public spaces for clients, including Best Products Inc., WilliWear, and National Shopping Centers, Inc.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by SITE

Ida Applebroog

“The kind of work I do hopefully can go out to an audience like a mass-produced object that is cheap. I do regular art objects that are able to be thrown away.”

Ida Applebroog’s work is very simplistic, sliced to the bone. She uses images from the culture at large in narrative scenarios, usually on the human condition. She has been working in New York for the last 10 years.

Page from Artist T-Shirt press release with a grayscale image of a model wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Ida Appelbroog

Barbara Kruger

“Since pictures and words are everywhere in our culture, from billboards to magazines to TV, the T-shirt project is a great chance to add my messages to streetwear and its public parade of moving bodies.”

Barbara Kruger’s work attempts to ruin certain representations and welcome a female spectator into the audience of men. Through the use of pictures and words, she couples the ingratiation of wishful thinking with the criticality of knowing better.

Grayscale image of Willi Smith wearing an Artist T-Shirt designed by Barbara Kruger. The T-Shirt features image of an anonymous face in grayscale with the words “I can’t look at you and breathe at the same time” superimposed over the figure’s eyes and chin
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