Denim on Denim at the AQS show

Ian Berry is just a regular “bloke” from a small village just outside Huddersfield in the north of England. He has irregular art that has made him a name in this town.. this week! He is artist who works with denim to create incredible dimensional works of art. Ian has just finished a huge installation which is on display at the Quilt Show in Paducah. iMeet a fellow Brit who is definitely not a quilter!

Welcome to iMeet Ian, and to Paducah Kentucky, Tell us a little about yourself…

I was born and raised in Huddersfield in England. Its a town in the north of England, away from the capital - like Paducah - quite an industrial and multicultural area of the country. My parents were both college teachers and after high school I studied graphic design and advertising at University. They dissuaded me from going to art college.

I traveled to Australia and lived and worked there a while and then lived in Sweden for 7 years. I currently live in London, England with my wife, Asa and my four year son, Elliott.

And you’re a unique artist who works with denim…how did you get started?

Yes, everyone always wants to know how I got started working with denim. After university my parents knew I wasn’t coming back to Huddersfield, and that I was planning to move to London. I went home one Easter and my mum had cleaned out my room. (I like to embellish the story by saying she found naughty magazines and stuff…)

She just piled all my old jeans and denim shirts, and stuff in the middle of my room.

While at university I had been doing a portrait of Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minster, out of newspaper. I used the shades of black, white and printed words to get all the textures and shading into the picture.

So back to the pile of jeans…I saw all the old jeans that I couldn’t fit into any more and they were all different shades and it occurred to me I could use them to get more texture as well as shading.

The Paducah Art Alliance brought you out here. What do you think of the resurgence of the art scene in Paducah?

I’d like to thank the Paducah Art Alliance for bringing me out here. With a "special thank” you to Rosemarie Steele for introducing me to so many amazing and kind people. Its been very interesting to see the role that art has played in the regeneration of the city.

After driving from New York and seeing places such as Richmond, Virginia, Greensboro and Asheville, North Carolina its great to also know that regeneration has really changed these areas.

What have you been up to since you’ve been in Paducah?

I’ve been here for about ten days and and have been able to make many presentations to the students at both McCracken County High School and Paducah Tilghman High school. I’ve also spoken to college students at the Paducah School of Art and Design.

Mostly, I’ve been at the Expo Center putting together the installation…its been a massive job but I think its turned out really well! I’m excited to see how it was received.

Its been an amazing experience where so many people invited me for dinner at their homes, for good southern hospitality, or to Dry Ground, Mellow Mushroom or Paducah Beer Werks.

This is a large installation that looks like a street of shops…have you done this before?

Originally I was just going to bring a collection of my work and display it at the Quilt Show. But, so much had been sold prior to the show I decided to bring these pieces of my art that were scattered around the states and combine them for a large installation. 

The garden was in New York, the Launderette was in a gallery in New Orleans and the record shop is actually sold and was in London with a client (who turned into a good friend). I put together as much as I could. This is probably the largest installation of my work I’ve ever done at one time.

I’ve seen pictures of your studio and the floor is covered with jeans and denim. Where do you get it all from?

First it was my jeans. Then it was my friends jeans and then their friends jeans… then people heard about me and I started to get packages of jeans mailed to me. Then people would just leave bags of old jeans and denim on my door step.

I also got them from thrift shops, vintage stores, and I even bought them new if they had a really nice wash in it.

But now a lot of denim brands send me jeans and denim to use. So, its like having a huge pot of paint to incorporate instead of little tubes.

Are there any particular types of jeans you like to work with?

Heavily washed and laundry washed  - industrial laundry so that they have lots of color variation. I like when larger people give them so i get more material!

How do you choose the scenes you portray in your art? Why a launderette for instance

All my work is about community - that’s the underlying theme. The lack of it in big cities. In the past your support network was all around you, and while you might have a community of friends online one many people feel isolated.

I’ve been surprised what a lovely community Paducah is and its been really nice to spend time with people and not just communicate online. so it shattered all my concept!

We heard you don’t like to drive on the “wrong” side of the road!

Yes, American Cars are really big - but, as I found out, not big enough to fit eight, 2 x 4’s and a ton of plywood in! Paducah is a nightmare to drive around with weird one way systems! I guess it is quilt week.

What has been the best part of your trip to Paducah?

Everyone I’ve met - the whole town is so friendly. Its been amazing to meet the teachers and artists that live in the region especially, John Romang, Mitch Kimball, Shand Stamper, Paul Lorenz, Randy Simmons and Shandon Simmons really impressed me. Its amazing to meet both great artists that are great people.

Some of the kids from the high school came over to the Expo center and helped me build the exhibit - they were amazing. Thanks John, Julian and Sam for all your hard work! Its a huge privilege to be able to go into schools and speak to some of them. The only bad thing is it took me back to school days which feels so long ago now!

What’s your favorite color?

Wait for it….blue! But not because of denim. My hometown soccer club wears blue - and I’m a big supporter. Blue Army! Huddersfield Town, who look like we will survive our first premier league season!

What’s your favorite food

Your husband’s chinese - followed by his Indian! No seriously, no wonder he writes iCook! The beer at Paducah Beer Werks and Dry grounds was good too, although I struggled the day after the Paducah Hot Chicken!

I’ve had lots of people say that they have seen Ian’s work online and cant believe how amazing it is in person. So, take it from iList, you have got to get down to the Quilt show - yes we just told you to go to the quilt show - and see Ian’s work in person.

Ian Berry, thank you for making the list office such a for place for two weeks. We might have overheard you talking to the Quilt Museum about having a show all of your own here in Paducah. We can’t wait!