Clare Whittingham

Text JF. Pierets    Photos Clare Whittingham

 

Some describe her work as being “darkly comic, satirical and empowering” but since she commissioned a piece for Lady Gaga, her work has become metalwork must-haves. In between art and fashion, she transforms scrap metal into wearable sculptures influenced by anything dark, weird and controversial.

 

How would you describe what you do?  
A part of me wants to say I have no idea what I’m doing. Keeping busy, testing, proving and bettering myself comes to mind when I really think about it. I want to create lasting pieces of art that capture peoples’ attention, something to be remembered for after I’m gone, especially by family & friends. In terms of work I think one word comes to mind on how I want to vision my creations and that’s “bad-ass”. I don’t want things to look cute. That’s why my sculptures, art and fashion pieces reflect what I feel.

When did you start doing this?
I didn’t plan or train to be an artist of any medium. I was working as a welder. Welders minds wander while they’re stuck in a helmet of darkness, staring at a little green glow for 8 hours a day, creating nuts and bolts. Robots are a little novelty among that trade and in general the many welders I’ve known are very creative people. My boredom led me to the scrap bin and I started collecting and making sculptures out of multiple bits of scrap off cuts in my break times. First I made things like flowers and butterflies; I was somewhat conformed by the idea that you had to go with what’ s socially accepted. In 2009 I went to an exhibition in London called Mutate Britain – Behind The Shutters – where I discovered the Mastoid Waste Company. Metal madness. Everything and more of what was lurking in my own imagination came to life. Suddenly I didn’t feel so odd anymore and from that point on I decided to create whatever the hell I wanted, however mad it sounded or looked. When he grew up, my brother read 2000AD Magazine as though it were the bible and I was fascinated by it too. It always frustrated me that I couldn’t illustrate like that. Those costumes, settings and the utter mayhem that comes to life in your imagination is amazing, so I thought I’d try fashioning my own costumes. I’m talking about 3 years ago now and it’s been an exciting time of learning, meeting people who share the vision of just creating, and not conforming.

How do people react to your collections?
Ha! Well, it’s mixed, which I think is good. The amount of times I’ve been told I’m mad or there is something wrong with me is so frightening that sometimes I  start to wonder myself. Being asked for an interview like this makes me think I must be doing something right in the creative process of making a collection of industrial wearable garments.

Can we call it wearable art?  
I’d like to believe so. When the pieces aren’t being worn they’re sculptures, erected at the studio. The metal shoes for example have either been worn on shoots or were exhibited at galleries.

 

 

I wish we still lived in an age where masked balls were regular celebrations so an over-the-top metal mask wouldn’t be looked at as a mere fetish indulgence.’

Do you have the ambition to be part of the fashion industry?
The last 2 years I’ve worked so hard on the fashion pieces that I can’t say it is not my ambition to be a part of it, or that I am not already. One of my last commissions was for Vidal Sassoon and I’ve collaborated with designer Rachel Freire for her ss/12 at the London Fashion Week in the past year. I don’t have the ambition to become a designer who makes collections and is sold in fashion houses or to be a massive brand. I did start to make smaller items that can be purchased online but I’ve shied away from making seasonal collections. I have an ever expanding collection called Girls Metal Shop tips 101- How to wear scrap metal. I’m sticking to collaborating with other designers and their collections.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Renaissance, mythology, World War 2, 1930’s, ‘40s; comic books like 200AD, post apocalyptic worlds. Films like Mad Max, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Star Wars, Flash Gordon (however cheesy that film is, the costumes are brilliant!). Danilo Donati inspired me a lot through that film. In general I’m more inspired by costume designers than fashion designers, that’s for sure.

Do you feel like you’re part of a movement?
No, but there should be a movement called “kicking ass while taking names”! I’m sure that if you rounded up all the people who are classing themselves as “individual”, there would be a huge movement.

You live in Kent, how does that small town influence your work? 
It is quiet and not a place where you’d go shopping. It has a lot of history and there are still WWII bunkers off the docks which inspired me to explore them thoroughly while growing up. It has a ship wreck, the SS Richard Montgomery, about 2.5 km from town. It still holds 3,173 tons of munitions, containing approximately 1,400 tons of TNT high explosives. The doom and gloom of living on an island that could potentially blow up, is a clear influence on my apocalyptic manic nature. My new favourite place right now is London. Hackney Wicks is a creative hub and I spend a lot of time there. Nevertheless it’s always nice to come home and get away from the scene. I could imagine living in London but with today’s economical climate it’s not justifiable to move there. Let’s not forget that I’ve got a nice little set up here in Kent.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 
I’m not sure. I wanted to become a welder and became one at 16, then I wanted to be an artist and a designer. Now, at 27, I would like to get involved in film. Working in films has always been a big ambition of mine.  I’d love to be a part of the art department. Working on props, costumes, set design and effects.But my first aim is to quit my job in the factory and solely do my own thing. That would be great.

 

www.clarewhitt.tumblr.com

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