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Used to considering the human body in all of its forms, fashion designer Jonathan Anderson highlights disobedient ones as curator of a new exhibition.

The Belfast-born fashion designer Jonathan Anderson—creative director both of his eponymous label J. W. Anderson and of Loewe—is known for his cross-cultural interests. This spring, he’s curated the exhibition Disobedient Bodies at The Hepworth Wakefield, one of the UK’s most important—and youngest—contemporary art centers. The exhibition explores the human form within sculpture, fashion and design, and includes works by Barbara Hepworth, Jean Arp, Louise Bourgeois and Lynn Chadwick, pitched alongside clothing by Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier and Helmut Lang.

Which fashion designers have been particularly pioneering in exploring the human form?

Issey Miyake is one of the most important people in fashion in the last hundred years. He revolutionized fashion with textiles, shape, form, technology and appropriation of art. Comme des Garçons is another fine example of that, as is Helmut Lang. These are all people whose work I think is as powerful as sculpture.

Where does the title of the show, “Disobedient Bodies,” come from?

It’s about disobedience: When things don’t conform, or you don’t do as you’re told, or the body or clothing doesn’t react in the way you want it to.

Which sculptors do you cite as influences on the clothes you make?

Barbara Hepworth was an incredible sculptor. Her approach, for its time, was extraordinarily important, though the significance of her work has only been widely acknowledged in the last 10 years. What she was doing was so sensitive, but she had this brutalist idea of the family, which she represent- ed in a unique way. I also look to the work of Jean Arp, particularly how he was able to reduce a form.

What is their formal influence on your work?

It’s difficult to reinterpret sculpture into an actual fashion garment. A lot of things I draw are about the line or shape. When I think about heels, I think about someone like ceramic artist Hans Coper. I also love Sarah Lucas and her elongated shapes. We created a collection of men’s knitwear with incredibly long sleeves, which was a formal exploration of how the body becomes elongated and disturbed.

What is the overall narrative of the exhibition?

The exhibition sought out naturally occurring parallels in the worlds of fashion and sculpture: How someone like Jean Arp was exploring certain ideas, while Dior happened to be doing something similar at the same moment.

How did these inter-connections happen?

These days, we’re so obsessed with what’s done first, and what’s not done first, and the idea of the show was to level everything out within fashion and sculpture.

How have you personally tried to investigate the human form? One of my objectives has been to explore the unisex wardrobe and what it means in terms of proportion, volume and shape. It stems from a collection I did that was based on ruffles on men, raising the question of how to challenge the shape of the male body. At the time, I was looking at very early Dior and how he played with a skirt length or volume that em- phasized areas of the female body where volume wasn’t ordinarily considered flattering. Over many, many years, it started to become diluted and become normalized. Men have not been challenged in quite the same way.

Disobedient Bodies: J.W. Anderson at The Hepworth Wakefield runs through June 18, 2017.

Barbara Hepworth was one of the leading lights of British modernism, practicing in a wide circle that included fellow sculptor Henry Moore (often referred to as a rival, when in fact they were chums and studied together) and painter Ben Nicholson, whom Hepworth married in 1938. She was born in the northern city of Wakefield in 1903 but took up residence in the southern coastal town of St. Ives during the Second World War. Her rounded, monumental sculptures—sculpted of wood, stone, bronze and clay—delved deeply, but abstractly, into the human form.

Hepworth was a master at reducing form to a bare minimum combination of shapes, curves and planes. The parallels between her work and Jonathan Anderson’s are subtle, but there. What Hepworth did with hard materials, Anderson has done with soft fabric: strange silhouettes and un- predictable structure. Where Hepworth hinted at the human form, however, Anderson often rewrites it entirely.

Photograph courtesy of the Witt Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

  • Words:
    Tom Morris
  • Photography:
    Marsý Hild Þórsdóttir
  • Words:
    Tom Morris
  • Photography:
    Marsý Hild Þórsdóttir

Barbara Hepworth was one of the leading lights of British modernism, practicing in a wide circle that included fellow sculptor Henry Moore (often referred to as a rival, when in fact they were chums and studied together) and painter Ben Nicholson, whom Hepworth married in 1938. She was born in the northern city of Wakefield in 1903 but took up residence in the southern coastal town of St. Ives during the Second World War. Her rounded, monumental sculptures—sculpted of wood, stone, bronze and clay—delved deeply, but abstractly, into the human form.

Hepworth was a master at reducing form to a bare minimum combination of shapes, curves and planes. The parallels between her work and Jonathan Anderson’s are subtle, but there. What Hepworth did with hard materials, Anderson has done with soft fabric: strange silhouettes and un- predictable structure. Where Hepworth hinted at the human form, however, Anderson often rewrites it entirely.

Photograph courtesy of the Witt Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

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