There is so much to say about the t-shirt that a small exhibition is not enough, it is just whets the appetite for more. The small exhibition that I’m talking about is TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture at the NGV Studio.
The NGV keeps on doing this: small exhibitions in the awkward Studio space on big topics like the Everfresh exhibition and the skateboard exhibition. Meanwhile there is a rather ordinary design exhibition for the Cicely & Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award occupying the larger Gallery 12 on Level 2 where the fashion exhibitions are normally displayed.
There is so much to write about on the subject of t-shirts that this post will be as superficial as fashion. There is logo busting t-shirts, t-shirt memes (“….and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”) and the whole history of the t-shirt. And the TEES exhibition does cover some of this with some of Eddie Zammit’s collection of over 4,000 t-shirts and photographs by Nicole Reed of local t-shirt designers. Many of these designers I know from their street art: Brendan Elliot of Burn and the guys from Everfresh studio (Rone, The Tooth and Meggs).
I was talking with C. about street art and fashion because I’d heard that he had done some designs for Boywolf. He mentioned the usual names and pointed out that a lot of the stickers around are clothing labels and the NGV’s TEES exhibition included a vitrine of labels and stickers.
Street art was made for fashion. Not since punk has an art movement been so closely integrated with the rag trade. Graffiti and hip-hop culture has added its own style to street fashion and there are so many street artists creating their own fashion labels and their own t-shirts, trucker caps and other fashion accessories, chiefly badges. But the striking thing about this is that it is often fashion made by men for men, decorative, practical and functional at the same time.
I could have mentioned so many other street artists (big shout out to James Bryant of Panic printing t-shirts for all the volunteers the Melbourne Stencil Festival a few years ago). Melbourne street artist Ha-Ha had different approach working both ends of the market he has done silk-screen prints for Mooks Clothing 2004 but was always offering to do a print on t-shirts and other garments for friends who bring him a blank item.
You can understand the synergy – if graffiti is all about getting your name up then why not have your own brand – have it on t-shirts, trucker caps, have it everywhere. Aside from the t-shirt there is also the rise of collector and custom sneakers – I’m not big on this scene I just wear Volleys – but Sekure D discusses it in a regular column in the Bureau magazine (cheers again Matt – I’m getting good value from the free copies that you sent me).
There is so much more – Arty Graffarti recently wrote about “Read It and Weep is an awesome Melbourne based clothing label with heavy ties to the street, graffiti and tattoo culture.” (And their own zine, the subject of Arty’s post.)
T-shirt design is worthy of a major exhibition and the NGV has failed give it the space it deserves.