British artist Denimu, real name Ian Berry (Huddersfield, 1984), conjures remarkably detailed portraits and urban landscapes using nothing more than discarded jeans. The effect is amazingly detailed images, such as the unique portrait of the Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, commemorating the 20th year since his passing. The iconic work of art has been made using jeans from Senna’s family and made an instant worldwide impact. One Saturday Afternoon met with Berry at his remarkeble Amsterdam based studio and talked about his working space, where Ayrton Senna came back to life a bit.
- Pictures by Erik van Bemmel
Ian, you work in this beautiful studio, at Westergasfabriek, a renowned venue for art and culture. Still, it feels as if we enter a secret world, a hidden gem in the city. How do you feel about this space?
“The studio is a great place, isn’t it. The size, the big church like windows with a great light, and the industrial feel to it but it is not only that, facing the canal, next to the Pacific Parc pub and in a great complex on the Westergasfabriek where so much always going on, I hardly ever leave the place or need to. I have not been there long and not had too many people over yet as still been setting it up – but also working hard on a piece so had shut myself a bit for a little while.”
“Those who do come seem to really like the place and it is very inspirational and it is great to be in a city that is very youthful and embracing new ideas, many many creative people, a real great energy and of course it is the denim capital! I’m sure there will be a cool studio warming soon!”
“With a few thousand jeans its important that it is big, and I am working on bigger and bigger pieces so it is great to have so much space. In England there is a phrase that an Englishman’s home is his castle – so the same is implied to the studio and in truth it is an extension of my work and it is really inspirational to work there and importantly more efficiently. It has brought a real good energy.”
All these piles of jeans… where do they come from?
“They come from anywhere and everywhere, all kinds of donations. I originally started with my jeans but then friends donated, then their friends, then I started getting parcels from all around the world. I would scour charity shops and vintage stores and would even buy first hand if I saw something I really liked. I do now get a lot of boxes sent from different places, but Pepe Jeans, who also have a base here in Amsterdam do give me a lot and that is great as they have some really good washes in them and that is what really helps my work – as well as having a lot of the same pairs to work from as matching is a tough task.”
How does it feel being surrounded by all this denim?
“It is great to be surrounded by so much denim, by no means am I a denim expert compared to many denim geeks but I do love a lot of the details and seeing all the indigo together. I especially love the washes and textures in jeans so it is great to have so many to choose from. While having the more choice helps the final piece, it takes longer to find that perfect piece as you keep on looking and looking knowing there could be some better piece in there in the piles, that is why I have a lot on the rails so I can see it better.”
You cut, stitch and glue, using the varying shades of the fabric to create contrast and shadow. The scissor seems to be an essential piece of gear. Still, the ones you work with seem simple as any ordinary scissor people have at home. What’s up with that?
“Well I have a few pairs of scissors, but non are very special. I do have some fabric scissors but these are really only for cutting the big rolls of denim, straight, for the ‘canvas’ backing. The scissors I use are just pretty standard fiskers but I tell you, they are pretty sharp at first and can do some damage to fingers! So I use these for the pieces that I need to keep smooth crisp lines, but on other pieces I need a rougher cut so will often use the older ones, that have become blunt. Often portraits need blunter ones, and scenes need the sharper ones. I kind of like that I don’t use anything to special and fancy, even down to the denim, all everyday kind of things.”
Your work pants seems to have lived a life of its own. Tell me about it!
“Oh yeh, that is quite a few years of build up on them and I love them. I never used to wear them anywhere else but in the studio but now I just go anywhere in them, somehow I get away with it here. They are kinda familiar and what I feel most comfortable in wearing, even though they are not denim!”
What are your favorite working hours of the day?
“It can be lonely work but also it goes up and down. I used to get up early and be able to do a lot, but also in the evening hours I get a lot done. During the day is pretty terrible. I don’t know why this is, lots of distractions I guess. I’m most productive in the evening and maybe that is that sometimes I have set a goal for the day so I am trying to get to the end of that and also I think if I’m working at that time I better make it count.”
Do you play music?
“Sometimes play music and other times I listen to documentaries or British talk shows. I used to watch films but as often you need to watch as well as listen I got very distracted and would realize I just spent ten minutes watching a car chase and not cutting. I have been listening to a lot of Talking Heads lately and Patti Smith. I also really like Young & Sick, he’s a friend from LA, however – you guys should check him out as he’s really Dutch.”
You even have a denim tipi tent. Self made?
“Yeh I work weird hours and sometimes in the afternoon I need a little sleep, I got a bed into there, but with the nice big windows it would be light and rather than put curtains up we made the tipi, A special company made the frame and then we had help to cover it, eventually I think I will work on it and add layers and art to it. But it is cosy for those afternoon naps.”
Check out more of Ian’s great work at denimu.com
All pictures (except the one of Ayrton Senna) are made by Erik van Bemmel, an Amsterdam-based photographer and graphic designer who will contribute more often on One Saturday Afternoon in the future.