Arts·BEST OF 2015

Five times the art world invaded pop culture this year

Whether it’s an homage or an official collaboration, pop culture and high culture are often intermingling, and corny or not, 2015 was no exception. From "Hotline Bling" and James Turrell to Christi Belcourt and Valentino (and J.Lo), here are just a few examples.

Drake in 2013: “The whole rap/art world thing is getting kind of corny.” Drake in 2015: Hotline Bling

Look familiar? And not just because you've watched this video 416 times in the last two months? (Screen capture)

"I think the whole rap/art world thing is getting kind of corny." It was 2013 when Drake said that to Rolling Stone, but just two years later he released "Hotline Bling," a music video so influenced by contemporary art, Director X could've just filmed it in a James Turrell installation. More on that in a blurb further down the page, but this list is all about the moments in 2015 when we went, "huh, that looks familiar." Whether it's an homage or an official collaboration, pop culture and high culture are often intermingling, and corny or not, 2015 was no exception. Here are just a few examples. 

Christi Belcourt meets Valentino meets J. Lo

Neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the 'Hotline  Bling ' video.- James Turrell , visual artist

This one's a twofer, and a CanCon one at that, and it starts with Christi Belcourt, the Metis artist from Ontario. Belcourt's painting Water Song, the same one you can find at the National Gallery of Canada, became part of a fashion story this year. The fashion house Valentino fell in love with the artwork, so the luxury brand contacted Belcourt about a collaboration, which ultimately resulted in several intricately beaded garments in their 2016 Resort Collection, the vibrant floral designs inspired by the same traditional details Belcourt interprets through paint.

Water Song, Christi Belcourt's acrylic on canvas, has been used as inspiration for a new fashion line by Italian designer Valentino. (Christi Belcourt)

But the clothes have appeared beyond the runway, notably in a Jennifer Lopez music video. Photos of JLo wearing some Belcourt-inspired Valentino appeared in late August, with CBC News sharing the images. The Valentino was one of her costumes  for "El Mismo Sol," a duet with Spanish  pop star Alvaro Soler. And more recently, actress Melaw Nakehk'o, who's originally from Fort Simpson, N.W.T., wore another Belcourt-inspired Valentino to walk the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of her new film, The Revenant.

Justin Bieber meets Banksy?

For a day in October, Justin Bieber tweeted and instagrammed photos of graffiti murals from around the world, each one dedicated to himself.

It was all just a marketing stunt to help shill his new record, with each photo teasing the title of track off his new album, Purpose. Murals had been painted by 18 different artists in 18 different cities around the world, creating an international social-media scavenger hunt, just a little reminiscent of something Banksy pulled two years before.

People crowd around a woman posing for a photo with a new installation of British graffiti artist Banksy's art, in New York, Oct. 20, 2013. (Reuters)

In 2013, the infamous street artist held a New York City "residency," Better Out Than In. Each day in October 2013, he revealed new work in locations throughout the city, alerting the public through his website and Instagram. For fans, it created a month-long obsession, one that was documented in the HBO film, Banksy Does New York.

For those offended by the Bieber ad campaign — residents of San Francisco, for instance, who were particularly vocal about their Bieber Haight — the pop star thankfully limited his scavenger hunt to one day only.

Rihanna meets Roy Nachum

It was a good homage gone bad. In 2011, Rihanna settled a lawsuit with David LaChapelle over her "S&M" music video, a clip alleged to rip off his colourful photos, specifically a series previously published in Italian Vogue. "Musicians commonly pay to sample music or use someone's beats and there should be no difference when sampling an artist's visuals," LaChapelle told the Guardian at the time.

Singer Rihanna (L) and artist Roy Nachum at the album artwork reveal for ANTI, Oct. 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Lesson learned, perhaps. To reveal the cover art for her eighth album Anti — a record that's produced three massive singles since January, despite still not having a release date or tracklisting — the pop star went beyond giving credit where credit's due, instead turning a read-the-press-release-and-forget-about-it kind of announcement into an event. Anti's cover, a piece called If They Let Us, Part 1, was created by Israeli artist Roy Nachum, and it was revealed at a Los Angeles gallery with the painter, apparently a favourite of Jay-Z's, in attendance. Incorporating the poetry of Chloe Mitchell, which rises off of the canvas in braille, the image depicts Rihanna as a small child with a crown covering her eyes, strongly resembling work from Nachum's 2011 series, Blind.

Kanye West meets Nick Knight

Another record cover for you, this one involving the executive producer of that previously mentioned Rihanna album, Kanye West. How could we attempt a list like this one without including something by Yeezy, one of the guys who most likely inspired that "corny" Drake quote we mentioned off the top. 

We're singling out this image, the cover artwork for a few tracks he debuted via Soundcloud in October: "When I See It" (his take on The Weeknd's "Tell Your Friends") and a remix of 808s and Heartbreak song "Say You Will (Ft. Caroline Shaw)." The still-life, a photograph by Nick Knight that's been manipulated during development so that the petals bleed and drip like paint, was also part of a series of concert posters designed by West's creative content company DONDA for his 808s and Hearbreak shows in LA this fall. Previously, the photo was part of a 2012 exhibition, Flora

Drake meets James Turrell

When he's not pre-occupied with obsessing over exes, The 6, and his various and sundry woes, Drake might be thinking about art. His "Hotline Bling" video provided some of the most defining pop-culture images of 2015, and in the time it took to transform the clip into more memes than Drake has sweaters, critics were calling out Drizzy for ripping off James Turrell.

The 72-year-old artist is known for creating immersive installations that play with light, perception, colour and space. Installations that look exactly like the "Hotline Bling" video.  

Here's a shot from "Hotline Bling."

Here's Amrta, by Turrell.

James Turrell. Amrta, 2011. (

But Drake's pretty open about how much he loves the artist's work. As far back as 2013, when Rolling Stone followed the rapper into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see a Turrell retrospective, Drake laid it out. "I f*ck with Turell," he said. "He was a big influence on the visuals in my last tour."

The artist, for his part, has no beef with it. As he wrote in a statement, published by his lawyer this fall: "While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f*cks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the 'Hotline Bling' video."


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