Arkansas Fall Arts Guide
You wouldn’t know it by the highs still in the 90s, but it’s officially fall in Arkansas. I had the pleasure of putting together a Fall Arts Guide for Arkansas Life’s September issue, which includes exhibit openings, must-see concerts, arts fests and events, theater productions, and anything culturally fulfilling going on in the Natural State this autumn. Below is a Q&A I had with artist Jim Arendt, whose Cut, Pieced, and Stitched: Denim Drawings is installed at Arkansas Arts Center through October 3. You can read the rest of the arts guide here.
A conversation with artist Jim Arendt
We most often think of drawings as being made with pencil or ink. What led you to call these pieces made with denim “drawings”?
I guess I ask people to think broadly about what types of marks we gather: If a drawing can be made on paper, can it also be made on sand? Is the waver of the hand any less compelling than the pattern of wear? I think the linear threads in denim’s twill are no less of a drawing than a cross-hatch pattern made with ink.
When and why did you start creating with denim?
When I was young and my family was living through the farm crisis of the early 1980s [outside Flint, Michigan], I remember my father sitting at the sewing machine patching his Wranglers in the evening after work. He was making do: a concept of thrift and pragmatism that dictates you work with the materials at hand. By my early twenties, that memory mixed with the stories of other working people and led me to denim as a possible material that was much closer to the truth of their lives than oil paint.
How does one of these pieces take form? What tools do you use?
I work with a small set of tools, most of which fit in my tool belt and live around my waist. I take memory and ideas, mix them with sketches hastily drawn on the drywall in my garage, and buttress them with reference photos and models. As an art material, denim has a lot of advantages, but it was never intended to make faces with. First of all, it wants to be pants. It’s hard to cut and only comes in about seven shades of blue. I really wish acid wash would come back into fashion so I wouldn’t have to hunt for light-colored denim every time I needed a highlight.
So, we have to ask: Where do you get all that denim?
I ask people to look in their closets and dig out jeans that have come to the end of their useful life. Many people have been extremely generous in helping me, even shipping jeans to me from halfway across the country, and they become co-collaborators in getting the job done. I couldn’t do it without them, and promise to turn their show of love and support into something beautiful and dangerous. Do you have any jeans you are ready to retire?