Fashion inspiration? In this blogger's hands, it's an artform

Ariel Adkins makes outfits inspired by masterpieces. She'll be live painting at Toronto's Artist Project.

Ariel Adkins makes outfits inspired by masterpieces. She'll be live painting at Toronto's Artist Project

Inspo for your spring trip to the AGO. This is just one of Ariel Adkins's tributes to Yayoi Kusama. (Artfully Awear)

Ariel Adkins has some of the world's greatest masterpieces stuffed in her closet, but they don't wind up there until she's shared them with the rest of the world.

Adkins, 31, is the founder of Artfully Awear, and her Instagram bio — "I make clothing inspired by art" — pretty much explains it all.

Over the last few years, the NYC-based artist has done exactly that.

Adkins paints second-hand clothes — she's got "bags and bags" of thrifted white everything stashed in her apartment.

Then, she wears them to the gallery, usually blending into the original like she's Mystique visiting the MoMA — or the Getty Museum or the Louvre.

She's done dresses inspired by Kandinsky and Pollock and Monet, a trench coat that pays homage to Matisse — even a General Idea jumpsuit, a superfab instance of CanCon.

This weekend, she's making her first trip to Toronto for The Artist Project art fair, where she'll be live-painting four new garments inspired by local artist Mike Smalley over Saturday and Sunday. (The event is organized by Art Collectif, an online art dealer that represents the Toronto painter's work.)

The finished outfits will be on display through Feb. 25, and everything will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Red Door Shelter.

The ultimate thing for me is to inspire other people.- Ariel Adkins,

Live events like the one happening this weekend in Toronto are a new-ish direction for her project, says Adkins, who's been expanding Artfully Awear beyond the blog — teaching classes, running demonstrations and even collaborating with artists on small capsule collections.

It all fits into her M.O., she says. The project might be pure eye candy, but she's doing it for more than likes.

Says Adkins: "The ultimate thing for me is to inspire other people and have them engage with art and experiment with art in a more active way than just looking at it."

For her, inspiration struck nearly 10 years ago, shortly after the death of her mother. At the time, Artfully Awear was an emotional outlet — a hobby to help her move through her grief — and she wasn't painting her own gear, instead styling together second-hand get-ups that reminded her of her favourite artwork. Polka dots for Yayoi Kusama, That sort of thing.

"I really only started actually painting on the clothes and making the pieces myself about two years ago," she says. Turns out it's easier — and more creatively satisfying.

"That's when I felt like people started to really connect with my work, when I was talking about the process and using it to help people understand different painting techniques and things like that."

(Here's a blog post about "action painting" like Jackson Pollock, for example.)

This is how it's done. Ariel Adkins live paints a dress inspired by artist Miljan Suknovic. (Photo: Peter Sealy Art & Photography and Dezfitmedia/Artfully Awear)

Adkins actually studied studio art at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and every DIY she takes on doubles as a research project. If she's paying tribute to a living artist, she'll try to involve them in the project, too, occasionally collaborating alongside them in the studio. Her favourite findings are usually written up on her blog.

One of the first was a stencilled dress she wore to a 2014 Christopher Wool retrospective at the Guggenheim. At last count, she's made 75 hand-painted pieces.

Discovering new artists and learning new painting techniques is part of what keeps her going, but really, she says it comes down to inspiring her audience. If she can get someone to react to art — with more than a double-tap — she's done her job.

VIDEO: Make yourself a masterpiece with this Van Gogh makeup tutorial

Paint yourself a new outfit — or not. Just get out there and make something. 

"People have emailed me and said, 'your work inspired me to paint my room a different colour.' It can be things like that. It's just about seeing things in a different way!"

Check out some of her looks.

The Artist Project: Contemporary Art Fair. To Feb. 25 at the Better Living Centre, Toronto.


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