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Uncommon Threads: In Los Angeles’s Boundary-Blurring Art Scene, Artists and Musicians Experiment with Fashion

Clockwise, from top left: Jasmine Nyande; Brendan Fowler and Cali Thornhill DeWitt; Chloe Maratta and Flannery Silva; and Sonya Sombreuil.

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Unburdened by the historical baggage that defines many other international art hubs, Los Angeles has become known for its lack of creative boundaries. In recent years, the city has been fertile ground for a loose community of artists and designers whose work alternates between, and often freely blends, music, fashion, and fine art.

Below, a look at a few of the scene’s leading lights.

Brendan Fowler and Cali Thornhill DeWitt.

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SOME WARE

The first time artists Brendan Fowler and Cali Thornhill DeWitt collaborated, in 2014, the result was one very durable sticker design. “We were talking about how novel it would be to have a sticker that said, ‘Please place carefully, because this is not removable,’ ” said Fowler, whose work had been in the Museum of Modern Art’s “New Photography” show the year before. He wasn’t kidding. “I know where there’s some running from 2014, and I check on them, and they are hard to remove because they are still there,”  Thornhill DeWitt said.

The duo started Some Ware a few years later with music: a record release from the L.A.-based band Purity. “I don’t think either one of us ever wanted to have a record label again,” said Thornhill DeWitt, who formerly ran the label Teenage Teardrops. “But we were going to start this new thing by putting out a record.” Since then, Some Ware has released a variety of objects, with clothing a centerpiece.

Although they maintain robust art practices, Fowler and Thornhill DeWitt find in fashion a refreshing populism. “The clothes stuff is neat, I think, categorically, because it’s so accessible,” said Fowler, whose own solo politically minded clothing brand Election Reform! currently has a pop-up store at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. They talk about the varying degrees of difficulty in garment making in the language of DIY music production. “Pants are more like a record, a shirt is more like a tape,” Thornhill DeWitt explained. Translation: making pants is hard.

Chloe Maratta and Flannery Silva.

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ODWALLA1221

“We both love clothes, are obsessed with clothes, but also do not care about them,” Chloe Maratta, one half of the artist-led band Odwalla1221 with Flannery Silva, told ARTnews. “But we studied printmaking in school and that’s kind of how the T-shirts came to be.” As a band, Odwalla1221—which the two women formed while attending the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore—trades in a singular style of minimal electronic punk, and although their merchandise could stand alone as high-end streetwear, they sell it at concerts and on the band’s webstore. “We’ve participated in events that are more brand-oriented, but without the context of the band it doesn’t translate as well,” Silva said.

Next year, Maratta is set to launch a line of jewelry under the name Chloe Accessories, and Silva recently completed her first acting role since moving to L.A. “I wouldn’t want to just be in the music, underground stuff, or just be in the fine arts stuff,” Maratta said. “It’s cool to have a mix.”

The band rarely wears their own clothing, but Silva claimed one 4-XL shirt left over from tour. “I wore it until it was soiled as hell,” she said. “And then I met Lucinda Williams and got her to sign it. And now I don’t know where it is.”  “Oh my god, and that’s why I’m the band archivist,” Maratta said.

Jasmine Nyande.

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JASMINE NYENDE

Jasmine Nyende was already working across genres—new media, performance art, poetry—when an artist residency in Michigan earlier this year inspired her to create a series of shirts for Fuck U Pay Us, the punk band she fronts.

Nyende wore the knitted garments, which have a sculptural presence that’s both crafty and punk, for a performance by her band at the Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn this past July. Her materials tend to come from people she knows. “I try to buy as few materials as possible, people donate the products to me,” she said, of the fibers she uses in both her sculptures and the band’s shirts. “I definitely do this in terms of more a community-oriented process.”

That very L.A. community has helped foster Nyende’s approach to creativity. She has modeled for local brands including 69 and No Sesso, and it was at a No Sesso show that she met Uhuru Moore, one of her Fuck U Pay Us bandmates, who was also modeling. “We were doing karaoke and they were like, ‘We should start a punk band,’ ” Nyende said, adding that “these weird crossovers definitely encourage ways that we can expand our practice.”

Sonya Sombreuil.

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SONYA SOMBREUIL

“It was a reaction to my defeatist attitude in the area of fine art,” said artist Sonya Sombreuil, of the handmade clothing she creates under the moniker Come Tees. For Sombreuil, who has shown her figurative paintings at venues like Bridget Donahue gallery in New York, clothing was a vehicle to “blatantly state the context that I was living in, which was way more influenced by music and subculture than by the history of painting.”

For nearly a decade, Come Tees has been releasing garments in small runs, attracting the attention of celebrities like Rihanna as well as members of the punk and art communities from which the brand germinated. She counts among her influences everything from album art to narrative painting and folk art.

Running through all Sombreuil’s projects is a desire for connection. “At this point in my adulthood, I feel really clear about my integrity as an artist, and my scope,” she said. “And now that that feels so concrete and firm to me, I’m more interested in expanding my audience.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of ARTnews on page 38 under the title “Uncommon Threads.”

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