Hormazd Narielwalla talks about his quirky and candid creations

Hormazd Narielwalla
Photo: Rick Morris

Hormazd Narielwalla is the artist who gives beautiful, stylised life to dead men’s patterns. I’m not an art expert or particularly an art lover but every once in a while an artists’ work completely captures me. Hormazd is one of these artists.

I got the chance to interview him when he warmly welcomed Arts London News to his personal studio at London College of Fashion. He’s truly an individual and unique character. From the few wisps of hair that defy the direction of the rest of his beard to his distinctive walk, Narielwalla is an artist to be appreciated.

Read on to find out more about his work including how he put together his vagina collection having ‘never seen a vagina’ and his penis collection as a response to the economic climate.

Helen Success: What do you have planned for your exhibition at the Long White Cloud Café this Christmas?

Hormazd Narielwalla: They invited me to exhibit work at their Christmas show and they’d like to incorporate the theme of the season, I’m not a very ‘Christmassy’ person, so no tinsel and glitter balls for me. I thought to myself, ‘what is Christmas really about from an outsider’s perspective?’ because I’m not Christian. For me, it’s not about giving gifts to people but a celebration of birth and life which is what Jesus Christ is all about, he was born on December 25. So I decided to do vagina impressions because I think that life begins with female anatomy.

Helen Success: You also have a book coming out at the end of the year?

Hormazd Narielwalla: It’s basically a series of work I made that was first exhibited with Paul Smith, in his gallery. The work is called A study on Anansi and it was basically inspired by western folklore tales – so it’s got black silhouettes with coloured patterns and I turned that into an artist book which I plan to release but it’s not this year, it’s actually next year.

Hormazd Narielwalla Art
Copyright: Hormazd Narielwalla

Helen Success: Tell me about your book Dead Man’s Patterns?

Hormazd Narielwalla: It arose from a conversation with a managing director at Dege and Skinner. I was researching into military tailoring for my master’s project and there were a set of patterns on the floor and he referred to them as being dead – as if there was life in these paper objects. I didn’t realise every customer has his own set of patterns and merely that customer whom they belonged to had recently passed away so they had removed it from the archive. Typically they would be shredded –  so I convinced him to give them to me. It was pointless to make clothes because they belonged to a body shape that no longer exists and I’m not a dressmaker or interested in making clothes even though I was on fashion design course. So I started photographing them and playing with them digitally. I didn’t realise I was making art at the time but then when the book was produced and seen by people in the industry, I realised that actually there’s something rather special about it. So it’s really a book that looks at patterns as abstracted shapes of humans through which one can derive design sensibilities and it’s basically a complete image-based artist book.

Helen Success: Dead Man’s Patterns gained a lot of recognition – from whom?

Hormazd Narielwalla: The British Library bought a copy for their Modern British collection and so it’s sitting right next to famous British artists. The National Art Library bought a copy. It got the attention of the head of publishing at The Victorian & Albert Museum and they sold it from their shop. It went to Beams in Japan; Paul Smith bought a few copies and then offered me to do a show in his gallery, which was completely sponsored by him. Everything began with that book and it also led to the commission of the second book which is called The Savile Row Cutter. I had the experience of making a book so the firm thought I was quite capable of actually writing the Master Tailor’s [Michael Skinner] biography and I used patterns, again, to tell his story. It also got me my international scholarship. So, it all began with Dead Man’s Patterns.

Hormazd Narielwalla Art (Oscar 8.Oscar2)
Copyright: Hormazd Narielwalla

Helen Success: How did you land the only International Rector’s Scholarship from the University of the Arts London?

Hormazd Narielwalla: The year before I got it, I did apply to the HRC funding body and I missed it by a couple of points – so I was in fourth place. Like a beauty contest really, if anything happened to the three winners, I was eligible. I was like a runner-up in some sense. The following year, they contacted and said ‘we think you should apply again. There is a category for an international scholar.’ So I did and I think I had more knowledge about my craft and my practice. I had also finished the second book so I guess it just landed a bit of weight for my application. I had also shown in Scope, New York by then. I guess my experience and the fact that I think I have something rather special in what I do – it’s quite different, it’s not been done before in a greater sense. Maybe a combination of everything landed me the scholarship.

Hormazd Narielwalla Art Canvas – Love Garden
Copyright: Hormazd Narielwalla

Helen Success: What does your research at LCF involve?

Hormazd Narielwalla: My hypothesis for my thesis suggests that patterns are beautiful documents and drawings in their own right. So as documents they can aid dress history by looking at them and garments. I formulated case studies where I drew, documented and analysed 59 uniforms from the British Raj and I basically put the patterns along with the uniform drawings to narrate their tailoring history. This was done with the help of tailoring experts because I am not a tailoring expert but this is only a suggestion of what drawings can do. My research shows that they don’t actually look at patterns and patterns are incredibly mistreated within the fashion world, which is why it makes my art quite unique because nobody really sees the patterns. Then I divorced all this history and saw them as simple objects through which I made art and I made imaginary love gardens because as a 12-year-old I remembered watching the film The Far Pavilions. It’s about forbidden love between an English officer and an Indian princess and I have this adolescent memory that perhaps that could happen with me ­– I also knew then, that I questioned my sexuality. So really it’s a little bit of fetishism and homoeroticism, very sub context but it’s really about making the pattern explicit as a shape. Basically everything has been analysed through self-reflective case studies and that’s really what the research is about.

Helen Success: How do you think studying at three different institutions has shaped your work?

Hormazd Narielwalla: Everything is a journey, my fashion background most definitely comes through in my work – not just because I’m using an important craft to the pattern but also some of my illustrations are incredibly stylised, and they are referencing different parts of the fashion sector. Like Jean Paul Gaultier using couture patterns or hat patterns and really you double up as an individual. Also, I did my degree in Wales and I don’t really make that very explicit because people say ‘how did you come to Wales to do a degree?’ But actually it shaped what I wanted to do and I decided to do menswear, which I never really thought I would. Then I came to Westminster and really under Shelley Fox and Zowie Broach (from Boudicca), huge names in British fashion, I started looking at things differently and I suddenly transitioned from being a designer into an artist. A lot of people have had that transition like Caroline Broadhead and Andy Warhol, who was a fashion illustrator before he became an artist. So really it’s about the experience and being open to curiosity and change – that allowed me to then become an artist and UAL has been an excellent opportunity for me. I’m having good conversation not only with fashion people but also designers and communicators and artists from six different colleges. It’s broad and diverse conversation which one wouldn’t have in another university, I think, because they don’t have those opportunities.

Helen Success: With cuts to the Arts Council Budget where do you see the future of the creative industries, do you think it will get difficult?

Hormazd Narielwalla: Yes but I’m also applying for studios and there are massive waiting lists which tells me that artists are still practicing and working and there is a place for everyone. I think you’ve got to be more aware of where you stand within creative practice and what does your creative practice have to offer?  Gone are the days when you’re like Van Gogh, just painting and didn’t sell a single painting in his life, in fact he only sold one. Of course I’m not saying that life without Van Gogh would be simple, thank God for him but his brother funded him and we don’t have that luxury in the society we live in. We’ve got to depend upon scholarships and grants in order for our practice to survive. I think there is funding out there and cutbacks, yes, but there are also opportunities and I think it’s a survival of the fittest. What does your practice have to offer, what are you answering, where do you fit in to the greater picture? And there’s always prostitution because art is prostitution in some sense.

Hormazd Narielwalla – Vagina Series
Copyright: Hormazd Narielwalla
Hormazd Narielwalla – John Thomas
Copyright: Hormazd Narielwalla

Helen Success: Explain the inspiration behind your vagina and penis works.

Hormazd Narielwalla: The penis works are just simple response to the society we live in. So the idea is the financial mess that we’re left in was basically men who wear expensive suits and think they have big d**ks and have kind of put us in a crisis. It’s not meant to offend people or make references to Robert Mapplethorpe; it’s just something that I got up thinking about one day. I tore strap lines from the Financial Times like: ‘the double life of Derek,’ or ‘growing in greener pastures.’ It’s playful and mischievous and that’s what life is about.  The vaginas are really made from women’s lingerie patterns that I was donated from Aura, based in London. I thought it was quite apt to make female anatomy using something that’s so close to female sexuality in a way. They’re called ‘lady gardens’ and I’d never seen a vagina. I started interviewing women on how they would describe their vaginas in an abstract form and they said orchids and flowers and shells and fruit and objects. I then found Georgia O’ Keeffe, who painted huge orchids but they were actually vaginas and Robert Mapplethorpe who photographed orchids, again they had that same sort of resonance. So I did my version using patterns.

Helen Success: Aside from your residency on Savile Row where else have you exhibited your work?

Hormazd Narielwalla: I’ve exhibited in Sweden and Greece, Australia at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Scope in New York in the Lincoln Centre. With Paul Smith, with London College of Fashion and the Sheridan design agencies sponsored a show this year. At the Shop at Bluebird [in Chelsea], I exhibited some work at Beams in Japan and now I have a show coming up at the Long White Cloud.

Helen Success: Are any of your works your favourite?

Hormazd Narielwalla: The skull because it was the first move into three dimension for me, which made sense because patterns are made a flat draft that move into third dimension. It’s just a response that I made when I acquired a lot of dead men’s patterns earlier this year and I think they’re very effective. It was quite thrilling when the CEO of saatchi.com bought one.

Hormazd Narielwalla – Skull
Photo: Denis Laner (2012)

Click here to visit Hormazd Narielwalla’s website and view more of his work.

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