A conversation between Rob Pruitt and Martin Eisenberg
ME: The art world has always crossed paths with the fashion industry. Recently you did a project with Jimmy Choo. How did that come about? Did you enjoy doing it?
RP: I love being offered projects like the Jimmy Choo collaboration, which may be a different point of view from other artists. I can remember the moment I was asked and told some friends about it, the term “selling out” was being tossed around and I thoroughly didn’t get that. To me it was nothing more than a great opportunity. I try to maintain some dignity for the paintings that I make, but borrowing some of the paintings’ iconography and associating it with a beautiful shoe or bag from the world of fashion doesn’t seem like a compromise to me. It seemed exciting for some of the elements of the paintings to break free from the art world and to hit the streets (pun intended). It was also such a joy because, as you would imagine, all the people who work at Jimmy Choo are so good at their jobs. Any chance you have to work with super talented people can be a great experience, but it can be challenging as well. There’s much to learn and you have to rise to the occasion.
ME: Rebecca and I were thrilled to see your name in the store window while walking down Madison Avenue. We thought the shoes were great. She tried on a pair but they didn’t fit. She was crushed. Many artists bring fashion into their art practice. I love that photo of you painting the Paris Hilton works in a pair of women’s high heel shoes. Where did that idea come from?
RP: I appreciate your liking that image. The first thing that comes to mind for me is the butt cleavage. The photo was taken in 2004 when booty culture hadn’t quite descended upon us yet, so I think I was really ahead of the curve on that one.
I’m aware that at the time many people assumed I had picked Paris as a subject to draw a comparison to Warhol’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe, and that by choosing Paris, a reigning pop/sex symbol who many viewed as being talentless and not having “earned” her fame, I was trying to make a statement about the degradation of pop culture. So maybe I should just go with that story, but in all honesty, I was more interested in her audacity. The way she accepted the paparazzi’s obsession and thrived on it. I was mesmerized by the way she projected a sense of total apathy and total egomania at the same time, and I began to see her as an emblem of youth - the kind of youth that is irresponsible and self absorbed. I had also just turned 40 and was going through the first of many mid-life crises to come. I thought of being in your 20s when you seem to know everything without trying. In your 30s you know things but that youthful confidence is tempered with life experience and wisdom. Then you’re in your 40s and you still think you know things but you’re less attached and you can see that endless river of pop culture from a distance. I was feeling a bit detached from the things I used to be immersed in and Paris inspired me to dive back into that river.
The decision to wear the shoes was not unlike the way a method actor might remain in character before and after a performance. I really thought that I might be in a better place to channel Paris Hilton if I wore shoes like she did. Besides, it’s just really fun if you’ve never worn 5 inch stiletto heels before – it’s a strange and thrilling experience.
ME: My heart is racing from the thought of wearing high heels. I may have to pick up a pair. One of my favorite exhibitions in recent years was the Impressionist fashion show at the Met. The show highlighted the importance that fashion played in the compositions of paintings done by the French Impressionists. The Paris Hilton painting that is in the Riverview show has a spectacular floral dress front and center. Did you come up with the dress design or was it taken directly from a photo?
RP: All of the Paris Hilton paintings from 2004 were made from photos of her on the red carpet that I found through a Google search (“Paris Hilton red carpet”).
ME: Are designers artists? Is a well-designed dress a work of art?
RP: No. This is a tricky question because I hate these kinds of rules, but in all honesty I think that what makes art so special is its uselessness. You can wear a gorgeous dress and it has a practical purpose. A piece of art generally hangs on the wall or sits on a pedestal, and for me, that’s part of what infuses it with a magical presence. It has nothing else to do except engage you aesthetically and intellectually.
ME: Last question: if the fashion world were to call what would your dream project be?
RP: Wow. I have so many dream projects for fashion so I’m just going to list them all:
I’d love to design costumes for a production of modern dance. I think that street clothes are great but it would be fantastic to see colors and patterns jumping and moving through space. Also, doing wardrobe for a movie or a television show (either a period film, or something contemporary and youthful like the HBO show Girls). This might not be considered fashion, but Fiat makes a car called “The Panda” and it would be great to produce a deluxe Rob Pruitt artist edition. I would love to work with a company like J. Crew on a line of menswear that has very ribald linings to conservative pieces like suit jackets and ties, and I could definitely do more footwear. I use so many patterns in my paintings so it would be a thrill to pattern- clash on a pair of Nike basketball shoes, and maybe even make a hardwood basketball court with a matching graphic.
Also, I want to own a nail salon that offers manicures based on the themes in my paintings, like pandas.
ME: May all your dreams come true. Thanks Rob.