Framed Interview: George Howlett & Mariaan Pugh (Three Coats Exhibition)
A new exhibition at Claremont fashion boutique, Dilettante.
George Howlett and Mariaan Pugh are the creative minds behind Three Coats, a new exhibition at Claremont fashion boutique, Dilettante. The exhibition is a witty and dynamic collaboration, combining the duo’s interests in painting, tufted fabrics and neon lighting. It is the second exhibition at Dilettante featuring up and coming WA artists selected by Dilettante buyer Diana Paolucci.
Following Thursday’s opening we sat down with the artists for a chat about the past, present and future.
Mariaan, how did you get started in fashion?
M: I fell in love with textiles for the first time after visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in London with my mum. I began attending embroidery classes, and the whole way through school I was always hand sewing, or making stuffed toys from my boyfriend’s strange drawings. In my final year of studying Textiles and Fine Art at uni, I discovered labels like Tsumori Chisato and Henrik Vibskov. Researching the way these designers approached fashion design taught me that garments could be used as another medium to present my textile work. I chose to study further at North Metropolitan TAFE, where the graduate collections have always had a great balance between textile development, construction, and design.
And George, when did you fall in love with art?
G: At a very young age. I have a mother who is a painter and father who loved art; our house was always full of great art. My mum’s main inspiration was clouds. She used to take me on trips to where she would paint – always places with a view, of course! She would take me to the beach on stormy days, and I would stand on the pier and fight the wind and play chasey with crashing waves. As I got older I started going to art openings and hanging around people’s studios, everyone was so much fun and always so nice.
We heard that you spray painted as a kid! Tell us about your experience as a graffiti artist.
G: Graffiti artist! Maybe the better term would be destructive teenager. It was bittersweet, I spent most of years 10, 11 and 12 out all night walking up down train tracks and climbing on things I probably shouldn’t have been climbing on. The sweet bit: it was an awesome time of my life. The bitter bit: it was illegal. Over the next few years I was caught a few times – once for using a fire extinguisher full of paint to write my name on a wall (which my painting teacher loved) – and ended up being sentenced to 12 months in a medium security prison. I served 6 months and 1 day. Sorry, Mum. Afterwards, I went back to TAFE with a different approach to art, more serious and disciplined, using what I learnt from graffiti.
Mariaan, what have you been working on since graduating from your fashion diploma?
M: I’ve been interning with Perth label GARBAGEtv, we’re just about to go into sampling for their summer collection. It’s been a really exciting opportunity to work with a label that’s really challenging and making an impact on Australian fashion. I’ve also been teaching textiles at TAFE, and I’m really enjoying introducing the first-years to screen printing.
And of course I’ve been working with George on Three Coats for the past four months!
You’ve both worked with very specific materials for Three Coats. Mariaan, tell us about the technique and process of tufting.
M: Tufting is a type of weaving technique traditionally used to create carpets. First, George helps to stretch my backing fabric on a large wooden frame, and I then draw my design on this. Yarn from a spool is threaded through a specialised tufting gun. The gun has a needle which pushes the yarn through the backing fabric to create a loop, and then cuts the thread, forming a tuft.
And George, how did the idea of combining paint, fabric, and neon lighting come about?
G: The neon lighting started in my second year at TAFE, when I started playing with different materials. My painting lecturer had discussed making paintings without using any paint, and in the class before that my history lecturer had shown us some slides of his old work. It was an installation he had made during art school, creating a church in his lounge room dedicated to a famous pop star. I can’t even remember the star’s name because I was too distracted by the neon installation! I asked him about neon and how it works, and that day when I left TAFE I went straight to the closest neon store I could find. I got there and said, “Hey, mate, I’m a broke art student and I want to try working with neon. Do you have any old bits you want to throw out?” He pointed at an old deli sign and said $40 and some beers will do. I went home that night and made my first neon work, it was a painting titled Father forgive me, I have sinned.
Later when I met Mariaan I became excited to collaborate, because her clothes look like wearable paintings. We pimped each other’s rides, in a way.
M: We met at a friend’s exhibition last September. Then George helped me with my graduate lookbook, setting up an installation with neons in his studio for the backdrop. The colours and shapes worked really well with my textiles, so we began discussing the idea of collaboration.
What do you most admire about each other’s practice?
G: The dedication Mariaan puts into her work is amazing – you can see it when you see the end product. When we worked together on her lookbook she let me wear her collection, and she’s also made me a pair of pants which I use as my studio pants. It’s so much fun working with her. Things run smoothly and she’s got a good sense of humour and I love her clothes.
M: I admire the way George approaches his work with a irreverent attitude; smoking a cigarette, standing on a swivel chair and drilling into the wall singing Peter Bibby. His humour and resourceful attitude comes through loudly in his paintings and that’s what excites me about his work.
Three Coats is on display at Dilettante Claremont throughout June.