Statements out of Cloth
Nora Gres sews pictures. A university-trained designer, Gres describes her elaborate cloth collages as “textile artworks.” With her plastic illustrations, city portraits and runway outfits, Gres who lives and works in Munich, has created a unique artistic discipline.Nora Gres, Paris First Front Row | © Nora Gres The lady is looking somewhat displeased from out of her sumptuous fur collar, although her lipstick perfectly picks up the ochre shade of her nail polish and the knit pattern of her Chanel handbag harmonises with that of her bobble cap. Behind her, elegant, glistening slopes of satin mountains shimmer like hardened snow in the sun, while a nostalgic textile gondola lurches through the scenery. Original, with a richness of detail and pointed, Gres’ cloth composition captures the flair of the ski resort Chamonix – or at least a posh interpretation of it. Another collage shows scenes fresh from the runway. The models’ posture and posing, attitude, look – everything is spot-on in these textile paintings. The outfits are based on original designs by prominent designers – but what does “based on” really mean here? The figures appear to have been meticulously recreated right down to the fibres.
Fashion as micro-cosmosNora Gres, Harriet | © Nora Gres Since 2012, Nora Gres has been showing her amazing works in her new studio in Munich’s Kunsthaus Maximilian, next to colleagues such as Banksy, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein. Nora’s pictures are a tribute to the world of fashion with its catwalks, supermodels, style icons and fashionistas – and furthermore are precisely observed milieu studies. A micro-cosmos of richly contrasting materials and astonishing detail, in which the spectacles of Vogue creative director André Leon Talley are as important as the facial expression of fashion tycoon Anna Wintour. Gres alternates between bold surfaces and plastic three-dimensional sections. Her use of materials and their reframing is equally surprising: a Blackberry keyboard becomes the window front of a skyscraper. And if the desired pattern for the sleeve of a suit is not to be found, Nora knits it – herself, even if it takes all night.
Art for anti-consumeristsNora Gres, No picture | © Nora Gres Textile city portraits and city maps are also part of her repertoire, as well as illustrations and art objects such as a wearable tent titled “IndepenTent” and an exhibition piece called “Use Less.” A shopping bag for anti-consumerists – “impractical” because it has no handles. “In 2002 I did textile illustrations for the first time for a women’s magazine. And then I just kept on,” she says. Until then Gres, who studied communication, illustration and fashion design at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, evolved as an art director for fashion and women’s magazines, worked as a costume assistant and stylist for theatre, advertising film and photo productions in Germany and internationally, including for high-profile advertising agencies. “Even as a child, I was fascinated by materials and colour tones. Sewing gives me the freedom to make what I wanted and to give free rein to my ideas,” says Gres.
Inspirations on the roadNora Gres, Mind the Gap | © Nora Gres Her ideas are a hit. This is evident from her homepage: her works and illustrations ─ each one-of-a-kind – have been published in magazines such as Stern, Allegra, SZ and Die Zeit and shown in exhibitions. In 2007, Nora quit her job to devote herself exclusively to creating textile art. Where does she find inspiration? “Everywhere! I travel a lot, enjoy observing people who dress individually or even weirdly. These momentary impressions arise in passing.” The collages’ charm would quickly fade if their purpose was purely decorative. But her works frequently reference deeper meanings, delineate a context, observe and call into question the situations being depicted.
Pictures in one’s mindFor instance, there is the zipper series Zip Cities, whose motifs can be zipped together as desired, creating continually new complexes of meaning. The stories also arise in the mind of the viewer, not only on the wall, she says. One motif shows a street scene in Brooklyn, the figure of an Orthodox Jewish man and a graffiti slogan “Sorry! The lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock.”
Nora Gres, Urban_Tweed | © Nora Gres The message is that lifestyles exist far removed from fashionable trends. She works for three days on a motif such as this, which can also be purchased, by the way. She starts with templates or sketches that she transfers to cloth. Gres sews, knits, and drapes a work for a day, a week or several weeks, for that matter.
The coverings of the selfNora Gres, Looking at | © Nora Gres For DIS-covered, she thematises one of fashion’s fundamental themes: nakedness. She places a Muslima in a niquab with an eye-slit next to a naked woman with her eyes covered. The contrast reveals the crass cultural difference between Orient and Occident: “In our world people display everything but their eyes, anonymity is preserved with sunglasses or a black strip. In the east, in contrast, the body is covered – only the eyes are free,” Nora explains. A political message? “I’m more story-oriented than political, I’d rather depict than judge,” she replies, “I combine individual impressions that interact and tell a new story.”
Currently, Nora is being asked over and over again for a personal photo. She’s obviously not going to go to a photo studio. Her next work is a self-portrait sewn of cloth.