The Belgian fashion designer turned artist and A Magazine N°1 curator posits the discipline of self-portraiture to be as open-ended as the man, the myth and the legend himself, in the series Self-Portraits on display at Eenwerk Gallery, Amsterdam.
Fendi Men’s AW21-22
Noel Fielding’s Art Brut Rainbow
as told to Dan Thawley
For generations, alliteration and irony have been keystones of the Fendi lexicon. From 1950s window dressings —that proclaimed ‘DiFendi’ above rain umbrellas on the Via Piave — to the FF logo’s origins as ‘fun fur’, the Roman house is no stranger to humour and more than a touch of insanity. It’s a tendency that Silvia Venturini Fendi, the third generation creative director of menswear and accessories, has expounded of late. Through a series of off-kilter capsule collections and runway collaborations, Venturini Fendi has dabbled in everything from the trompe l’oeil shadow play of California artist Joshua Vides to the collaged stylings of anon Instagram phenomenon @heyreilly, design world darling John Booth‘s naive word art and Lucien Freud muse Sue Tilley‘s paintings of domestic detritus. There’s a sophisticated game of high-low at play here, with a willingness to break the mould of contemporary art star partnerships explored elsewhere in fashion, re-configuring the art/fashion see-saw to include indie protagonists from outside the traditional system.
For the Fendi Men’s AW2021-22 show, Venturini Fendi’s latest collusion with the artistic underground was spurred on by Fendi’s menswear stylist Julian Ganio, who introduced her to the comic stylings of Noel Fielding, the London-based multi-hyphenate actor, musician, TV host and visual artist. Known for his decidedly north London brand of British humour, Fielding is the co-creator and star of The Mighty Boosh, a cult tv show centred around his comedy troupe of the same name whose absurd, Surrealist sensibility held significant sway over the Noughties indie set. Later, his prog-rock, post-punk musical stylings and zany presence as co-host of The Great British Bake Off has seen Fielding’s personal brand of psychedelia find new audiences, just as his art practice has evolved from the makeup and costume designs of The Might Boosh to return to the painting and illustration he favoured as a student at Croydon Art School under the tutelage of British painter Dexter Dalwood. Championed by London gallerist Tania Wade, Fielding’s career has flourished in both alternative and established circles, with exhibitions at the Soho institution Maison Berthaux (a 19th century tea room cum art gallery) and pieces shown at Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea.
In conversation with Dan Thawley, Fielding discusses his Fendi commission: a luxurious departure that has seen his crayon works on paper come to life in rich satin jacquards, intarsia shearling, painted leathers and embroidered knits for Autumn Winter 2021-22.
How do you describe the creatures, characters, and faces that you draw? What about the other more elaborate insect-like depictions too?
I love trying to paint and draw in an abstract way but often find myself creating figures or faces or creatures. Complete abstract art is less satisfying to me (when I do it) it becomes decoration or an exercise in balance and harmony and colour but doesn’t have the weight that the human form or animal form has. Maybe because we know those creatures are living things with ideas and moods and feelings. Eyes are the key to me. I find it really difficult to paint a figure without eyes.
What is your primary medium when drawing and painting?
I use crayons on black paper – hard oil sticks, waxy little bleeders! I like vibrant colours and like the way they pop on black paper. It was something I stumbled on about four years ago and i just keep going with it. I find it works for me in a number of different ways – I can draw people, animals, simple flowing lines or more frenetic abstract stuff. Even text works nicely if i want some humour involved. I have been doing it so long now it has become a sort of central component to my style.
Do you always work in colour on black?
I paint my canvas black before painting it and use oil on top of black ink. I also use my hands instead of brushes, like a chimp.
How did you achieve the various commissioned works you made for FENDI?
I loved working with Fendi, it was really easy! They showed me the colours they were going to use and some sample ideas they had and then told me which artworks of mine they thought would work in the collection. I then came back with hundreds of works that had a similar vibe and we went from there, narrowing things down and honing in on specifics. It was very fast and very free and lots of fun: which is how I like to work.
In your words, how does your fine art practice relate to your career of writing and performing?
I guess I have always used my art in comedy – in the costumes, make up and animations and in creating characters like the Crack Fox or Old Gregg or Fantasy Man. I went to art college and always knew I would return to painting one day. I have been obsessed with painting for about five years now and I can’t stop. It’s like an illness, I’m addicted!
How did you think about treating the word FENDI in your illustrations?
Weirdly when i started doing the artwork with the word Fendi in it I thought about what Fendi meant to me for ages then just sat down and did about 30 pages without stopping! Didn’t think too much just tried to rely on instinct and go to a Fendi place. I liked it in the Fendi world. I felt like Fendi took me through a strange doorway into a beautiful colourful world. I escaped into a pocket of bliss and floated around in that bubble communicating without speaking and creating images by just thinking about them. That sounds ridiculous but it’s true.
The Fendi show referenced concepts of infinite doorways, a rainbow colour palette, ideas of optimism in the dark – can you find parallels with your creations and your input into the collection?
I love how optimistic the collection is! I always try to be optimistic with my art. It’s much harder to be positive and optimistic than it is to be cynical and dark and twisted. Love the Fendi concepts for their collection! Love the idea of the rainbow colours, it’s what the world needs right now…colour blasted into people’s faces. Colour has the power to heal. I try to use a lot of bright colour in my work always. I love colours…maybe more than people.
Words by Dan Thawley
Artworks by Noel Fielding
The Flemish artist and A Magazine N°3 Curated By Haider Ackermann contributor muses on the seminal body of work featured in a new monographic exhibition, currently on show at MO.CO. Montpellier Contemporain.
An exclusive portfolio of behind-the-scenes images from the SS2023 menswear collections in Paris, photographed by Adam Katz Sinding.