Must Love Dogs
Acne Studios' fall collection features a collaboration with the British painter Lydia Blakeley, famous for her depictions of show dogs.
For their fall ad campaign, Acne Studios has photographed members of their team with their canine companions. Courtesy Acne Studios
We don’t deserve dogs. Well, that’s the popular saying on social media, and in this one instance, they happen to be right. Acne Studios’ creative director Jonny Johansson would probably agree; he recently became a dog owner and now officially calls himself a “dog person.” This lifestyle change explains the painted pooches that appeared in Acne’s fall collection, the result of a collaboration with the British painter Lydia Blakeley, famous for her paintings of Very British Things like the Royal Ascot, and Crufts, billed as “The World’s Greatest Dog Show.” Her fancy doggies are now emblazoned on t-shirts and sweatshirts, but also blouses, button-down shirts and skirts. It’s all very chic, really.
Now that the collection is finally available online, GARAGE spoke to Blakeley about her unconventional path to art, dogs, and memes.
How did this collaboration with Acne Studios come about?
I was found through Instagram. I’d been posting quite a range of work that I’d been developing, including those in the animal world, from horse racing to dog shows. Luckily my work was seen by Jonny and the Acne Studios family and it all stemmed from there. I was initially contacted regarding the collaboration through Instagram, and went to Paris the very next day to meet with the team. It was a whirlwind, and such an exciting project to be part of.
What was it like the first time you saw the finished garments from the collaboration?
It was unlike anything I expected, even better than I imagined. I’ve started to see the collection online and I love to see it on the models, they’re giving life to the paintings!
Did seeing your work on an item of clothing like a shirt or a skirt rather than on a canvas sort of change your relationship to the work in any way?
It changes the way you see your work and also has really helped me with the development of new ideas. I think as a painter it’s interesting to be able to think of ways to take your 2D objects out of the white cube/gallery space and to make the work more accessible. It’s another way for people to be able to enjoy my paintings. It’s also really eye-opening to see how my work can change; now when I’m making new paintings I’m thinking about where else this could go? How could it change? What else could it become?
In the process of this collaboration, did you discover anything new about yourself/your process/your work?
From the project I made one of the first commission’s that I’ve ever done, which was an interesting way of working. I’ve never really worked collaboratively either, being a painter is quite a solitary existence, and engaging in a dialogue with Acne Studios in regards to the format of the painting was really new to me. It was really helpful to have these parameters, so that my work would be able to translate into the collection. I tend to overthink and worry about things, and the biggest concern of mine was if they would like the work because they’re relying on me, but the response was so positive and encouraging, it just bolstered my confidence.
When did you first become interested in art?
I have always been artistic. It was always my favorite subject at school, like all through school, from being at primary school all the way to sixth. It was the only subject I was really good at/enjoyed, but for me it wasn’t ever a viable subject for me to continue studying, so following school I had to get a ‘proper’ job to make ends meet and went to work in pubs and then onto retail for over a decade. But I always seemed to find creative things to do, like evening short courses at local colleges or random art classes like life drawing or leaded glass. I managed to build a portfolio, and in 2012, due to a number of things going on in my life at the time, I decided to pack it all in and go to uni. Fortunately, I got offered a place at the local art school, Leeds College of Art, and was able to build the foundations of this new career, I’m late to the game, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
How did dogs become one of your signature subjects?
It is so random that I’ve become so well known for the dogs. When I get stuck, or have a creative block, I find it’s useful just to do something and not to worry about what it is I’m doing. At the time of one of these blocks, I’d seen something in the news about an animal rights protester storming Crufts against the problems associated with selective breeding. What caught my attention about this type of dog show is the performance and pageantry, the carpet acts like a green screen and the dogs are the lead roles, the humans with them the supporting characters. There is something captivating about the dog’s expressions, they are endearing, and I like to think of these paintings as little scenes from one big performance.
Pedigree dogs—and specific breeds really—act like a status symbol in some respects, but they are also part of the family, like a child, and the relationship between the dog and human is an important one, and one that’s been intimately tied together for centuries. My Instagram feed is full of snapshots of people and their canine family members, but at the same time I was making these paintings I was also looking at dogs throughout the canon of art historical paintings, and they have an overwhelmingly important part to play. They symbolize status, loyalty and protection. There is meaningful association with human care, and people who view the paintings understand that, I think all of the artists I admire the most have depicted dogs in some way or another. They are enjoyable to paint.
You are known for painting popular scenes that are very specifically British, what is it about the environment and the people that populate it that attracted you to it?
It’s what I know best really, because of my background. Until recently, I’ve always lived in suburban England, there is something quintessentially British about scenes from horse racing or sporting events. On the outside, the start is really polished and smart, but these events descend into chaos. These leisurely events represent a veneer of tradition and respectability, but the truth is revealed when the spectators have got drunk and the heels come off! I think that the inebriation of these characters act as a distraction from the unpleasant truth of what's really happening. I think it’s almost a form of pictorial satire. It’s not until the next day in the UK tabloids that the ‘reality’ is revealed. Painting is a perfect medium to capture and reflect society.
You’ve also painted some great internet memes.
The first meme I painted was “The Persian Cat Room Guardian,” a meme taken from photos of an artwork by Anya Boz. It was last year, and I was in my second and final year of my MFA, it was coming to an end and I was having some kind of an existential crisis. The images just came to mind while I was at home over Easter and summed up how I was feeling. The creature from the meme is posed to convey an incredulous reaction to something and typically has a caption. After finding the image online I decided that as soon as I got in the studio I’d paint it, just for fun.
I posted on Instagram and the reaction was great. The beauty of taking the meme and then recreating it for it to re-circulate in a new incarnation is that is gains new layers of meaning, it was kind of ridiculous. I spend an exorbitant amount of time online, something that I am trying to cut down on, however, from this time, I am constantly saving images to my camera roll for future inspiration, and loads of them are memes. I never really expected it to be anything more than a reaction to a moment in time, but the painted meme proved really popular and I got requests to do some more, so I did. Since the Room Guardian, I’ve painted well known memes, such as the “Ikea Monkey,” to some more obscure memes, some of them come from out of the blue and just catch my attention. By painting them I feel like I’m making something concrete out of something very rapid and ephemeral. But I won’t be doing them for much longer, I need to move on with my life.
What’s your current favorite meme?
There are so many choice meme’s that I really enjoy, but it’s probably “Moomin Holding a Knife” that’s an all-time favorite. I’m quite a reactionary person, definitely a passive aggressive, and it pretty much sums up how I engage with social media. I won’t ever appropriate this one because Tove Jansson is iconic and a hero of mine.