Fashion is such an integral part of my life that I find my outfit selections reflect whatever is happening to me. A few weeks ago, I went to an art gallery. Since I was somewhere “artsy”, I decided to dress that way. My pick was this cotton sheath dress in a conversational print, with a matching chiffon peplum.
Conversational prints are simply fabrics with designs that can start a conversation. While the idea is as old as designing fabrics, there was a surge in popularity during the 1950s. The fabric used for this dress also mirrors the trend in art for Abstract Expressionism, which appears after WWII. Abstract Expressionism is non-representational (ie: it doesn’t look like anything) and emphasizes a subconscious, spontaneous application of paint. Abstract Expressionist work is quite varied, but generally the focus is on color. (For more on the issue of color, you might want to read my previous posts, Synesthesia in Art and Fashion and Color Semiotics.)
My outfit did spark a conversation, and the gallery owner told me all about an artist named Leonard Nelson. He showed me this painting, Les Competiteurs by Nelson, which uses colors very similar to my dress.
Leonard Nelson (1912-1993) was exhibiting work with famous American Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. He has been obscured from art history because of his choice to work in Philadelphia, and not New York. Les Competiteurs is one of Nelson’s earlier works, and a bit derivative of Picasso. After a bit of research, I’m admittedly a fanatic of his later works – fields of color.
I found it a bit funny that Nelson is classified as an Abstract Expressionist. To me, his work seems so realistic. The fields of color look like framed views of nature. Colorfield (N9A) looks a lot like dandelions in a meadow.
Nelson was inspired by nature and its beauty. His ability to capture the natural landscape in an abstract form was poetic. Even when he spoke about the act of creating, it sounds transcendental:
My paintings must be exciting, and they must be beautiful. I am very, very definitely involved in the creation of beauty. I like to think I work in isolation, but I don’t. I don’t take my easel and go out and paint the scene . . . the scene gets inside of me.
So by painting landscapes, the landscapes become part of the soul. I feel that way when I look at his paintings, anyway. Alma Night certainly looks like water during sunset:
The most interesting thing happened to me after I learned about Leonard Nelson. While I was walking my dog, I looked down into the stream. The pebbles in the water looked a lot like one of his paintings. Isn’t it interesting that looking at art can change the way you perceive the world?
But the real hedonist in me became apparent after I saw this painting. I immediately saw it and thought:
This would make the perfect dress!
Who could blame me? What I wear reflects what interests me at the time. And often, it starts a conversation.