Newcastle-based artist James Drinkwater owes his interest in fashion to his mum, who frequently adorned herself in outrageous prints and patterns during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Drinkwater’s paintings are similarly characterised by colour and contrasting layers, but his latest work – a clothing collaboration he initiated with Melbourne fashion label Alpha60 – sees his bold and expressionistic brushwork in Alpha60-style monochrome.
“Fashion was something I really wanted to do in the last few years,” he says. “I thought if I ever met the right person in fashion I would do it.” When a friend suggested Alpha60, Drinkwater put in the proposal and sent off a number of works to designers Georgie and Alex Cleary. “I remember going into their store in my early 20s and being very overwhelmed by how cool it was.”
Things worked out beyond Drinkwater’s expectations, with the collaboration growing from just a headscarf to a six-piece capsule of clothing and accessories.
“We’d known James’ work for a while and really enjoyed it,” Alex says. “But we haven’t really done a collaboration before, and for [Georgie and I], we had to have the right match and working relationship. That came about with James.”
Drinkwater created the prints while working in various islands in French Polynesia – Mo'orea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Papeete – as part of a trip inspired by French artist Henri Matisse, who also spent time in the archipelago. The results are inspired by islands’ people, flora and fauna.
“The link between making art, sculpture, collage with fashion is in the way the particular fabric moves and shifts,” Drinkwater says. “It’s uncertain and unpredictable and paint behaves in the same way. I was really excited to see my iconography and patterns transferred onto linen and cotton and then moving on a real human.”