After first experimenting with denim at the end of university, he carried on while working as an art director in London, and then left to work in Australia. Berry started to work full-time on his artwork when he moved to Sweden from Australia.
Berry works with textile, denim, stating in a Selvedge Magazine interview how ‘you can’t mix denim like you can paint’
The idea for his denim artwork came from a simple observation while at his family home in Huddersfield. His mother knew he was never moving home so had cleared and sorted some of his room. There was a pile of denim where he noticed the different shades of indigo. Berry started to think of his relationship with denim and remembered a time when he was 14 and had to wear chords at a family party, and when he got there everyone was wearing jeans and even now, he says it is the only material he feels comfortable wearing and so it became the only medium he felt comfortable using.
Detail of cut and layered denim on a Berry artwork
His process involves cutting, stitching, and gluing various shades of denim to provide contrast and shadow. Even at touching distance, many viewers don’t realise that they are looking at many layers, and shades, of denim jeans. Many people compare it to Photorealism, but just with denim, not paint.‘your first impression is that of an indigo coloured oil painting, or a photograph in blue.’
In reality, Berry’s pieces are very layered and three dimensional, something that gets lost once viewed online or in print. Many people can’t believe they are made of denim.
Fellow artist Colin Fraser has said that Berry “uses denim as a painter uses paint, but with a difference: he makes what I call ‘denImages’. The entire surface of these works is made from denim. The scissors are Ian’s paint brush and he handles them with virtuosity.”
In each work, the artist carefully selects denim samples that he cuts, trims, tears and then glues to create works of depth and space. This depth pushes the boundaries of conventional central perspective by building up layers that reach out from the picture plane and draw us in to look again.
The ViceCreators Project wrote he ‘develops his work by selecting individual pieces of denim and certifying each is a unique wash. Afterward, all the many denim parts are layered to produce a three-dimensional collage effect. All together, the pieces collate into an established image from afar, bringing together light, color, and many of the elements of classic painting style.’
Berry has a studio in Poplar, East London where he has thousands of pairs of jeans organised in a palette from light to dark, he gets many donations from brands, denim mills, as well as looking in charity shops, vintage store yet start with his own jeans, then his friends, then their friends. Now he gets packages from around the world
It is often said that denim is the most democratic of fabrics, and he really feel like that he can tap into this, and he can communicate with people as there is something about the denim that draws them in, even if they find the work unusual, it is still something familiar. You don’t need to be a connoisseur to enjoy denim, anyone can wear it he says. While it started as a very rural material, ‘I feel now it is a very urban one, and the layers of urban life is what interests me and what I portray, so what better material is there to depict our contemporary life, than with the material of our time.’
As he portrays the changes in our cities, often depicting places that are closing down or at risk of with using denim he is adding a comment on the fading fabric of the urban environment”.
While many reports talk about it being made of only denim, Berry said “It is not about it being about denim. It’s just my medium. Yes, it helps, but it’s not about the material foremost. I see it as very much an urban material now. I love urban society and all the layers and depth within it and for me, what better way to portray contemporary life and issues than with the material of our time.”
Berry’s pieces are so detailed many talk of his work in terms of photorealism.Levis unzipped said ‘from a distance, indigo’s high contrast and gradient fades create a stunning illusion of depth, light, and ultimately, photorealism.’ Berry does base his work of photography, photographs that he took and set up the scene.
Berry said “Admittedly at the beginning I often used parts like the pockets and seams to kind of say, ‘Hey look, it’s denim,’ but now I use all those parts in a way to not show it’s denim. Sometimes, this has been too successful though. [It’s] maybe a compliment when people mistake it for a photo-realistic painting, but often people don’t get to the ‘aha!’ factor when the penny drops—it’s denim!”
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