Meet Judy Bales, an artist who has been creating sculptural “fashion as art” pieces for years. Read on to learn about her process and the fascinating materials she uses!
How did you get into fashion? Tell me a little about your background.
I refer to myself as a hybrid. I am a studio artist and have worked in fiber art for over 25 years including installation, fiber sculpture, and public art. I have periodically adapted my sculptural works to be worn or juxtaposed with the human figure and since 2010 this has been the primary focus of my work. Often I think of the result not so much as a model wearing a garment, but rather a model expressing a phenomenon, or moving within phenomena such as rain or mist.
Describe your brand and the point of view you wish to convey. What category does your brand fall under?
My work is best described as avant garde or fashion as art. The work is similar to a site specific installation, with the body being the site. The works are different each time they are displayed on a model. The materials drive the ideas for each piece, and the qualities of the materials take front stage. I emphasize the qualities unique to each material, such as reflectivity, ability to drape or cascade, or a visual texture such as spikiness.
What are your personal goals or goals for your brand?
I would like to collaborate with dancers, musicians, and other performers to incorporate my work into their performances. I am also interested in my work being incorporated into creative photography, with the images going beyond simple fashion photography into true artistic expressions. I am interested in the pieces and the models expressing qualities that go deeper than the outward appearance, qualities such as compassion, intelligence, and an inner beauty.
Describe your favorite project or projects that you have worked on.
I must repeat the words of another designer to say that the current project is always my favorite! My desire is to always move forward, building on completed projects but not clinging to those ideas. Continually moving forward means one must accept the potential to fail, and that through that experience, even better work will result.
Where do you look for inspiration?
My inspiration is the unlikely marriage of nature (or natural phenomena) with industrial materials such as plastic and metal meshes and wires. I am intrigued by how much commercial or industrial materials appear like natural forms when they are manipulated in ways they were not designed for, such as twisting and folding meshes that were intended to be flat.
Describe some of the specific inspiration for your new collection.
Qualities of coolness, including iciness, frostiness, and refreshment. This relates to the theme of my last collection which was about the many forms of water. Clearly there is an overlap - water, of course, being an element, while “cool” implies a quality of a material or atmosphere.
What kind of materials do you use and why?
Industrial and agricultural. They are readily available in my rural environment and they simply attract me. Metal and plastic meshes often have beautiful reflective qualities and can be used either sculpturally or in much the same way that fabric is used. Wire becomes a thread and also alludes to drawing. Again, I find that when these materials are discarded after use they are surprisingly natural in appearance.
What kind of special processes do you use and what effect does it have on your work?
I use improvisational fiber techniques with variations of stitching, looping, knotting, and any joining technique that works for a particular piece. My love of African and African American art forms has influenced me greatly. Improvisation is an important part of much of the art and music that has grown out of those cultures. Because of this improvisation, my work is not linear, meaning that I do not work systematically on a piece and then move to the next. When creating a body of work I generally am working on almost everything at once, and then resolving the whole group toward the end of the process. This makes for a somewhat stressful process as I am on edge about completing the pieces successfully. However, years of working this way has given me acceptance of my working methods and a confidence that I will pull each project together.
Is this a new approach of you or is it consistent throughout your work?
I have always worked in this fashion, circling the project from all angles, then pulling it together at the end.