Wearing art on your sleeve 

SOTA features functional fashions with local flare

click to enlarge Hat trick Playground Builders collected artist designs for their charity hats at State of the Art this year. 					         Photo by Alyssa noel
  • Hat trick Playground Builders collected artist designs for their charity hats at State of the Art this year.
    Photo by Alyssa noel

Partygoers crammed into a maze of paintings, sculptures and drawings Friday night for the opening reception of State of the Art, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival's visual arts component.

Many have said that 2013's selection from 50 artists is among the festival's strongest-ever, with unique pieces that hit the mark for the event's urban/surf/snow theme. But sprinkled among the more conventional canvases this year is a variety of art that comes to life when you put it on. Wearable art in the form of shirts, hats, shoes and sunglasses has become both a popular fundraiser and an original way for artists to showcase their work.

Along with mind-bending drawings that morph strings of words into images of everything from Charles Darwin to birds that form the shape of a skull, Whistler artist Sarah King included newly designed shirts and tank tops featuring her work in her SOTA exhibit this year. "I played around with a bunch of illustrations I thought might work and I picked the ones that looked best," she says.

King has been interested in putting ink to cotton since she was in university studying graphic design (she quickly discovered her passion was rooted in more traditional illustrating, which led to her design-drawing hybrid style) and she and a group of friends created screen prints of dinosaur shirts. "We always wanted to do more and make more," she adds.

About a month ago, she tracked down a screen printer outside of Vancouver to make her own pieces to sell on her website (www.sarahaking.com) and at the upcoming SOTA show. "It's different than framing it and putting it on a wall," she says. "I think it's pretty personal to have someone wear it."

King was also one of three artists — along with Jeff Denomme and Shanna Duncan — to donate designs to another wearable art exhibit at the event. As a fundraiser for Playground Builders, a local charity that helps build places for kids in war-torn countries to play, festival organizers partnered with Volcom to create a booth where one of 20 original designs can be selected and heat transferred onto hats, which sell for $20. The hope: that they will help raise $12,000 to fund the building of a playground at an all-girls school in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.

"There's a design for everyone," says Kelly Hand, executive director of the organization. "These artists have done a really amazing job. Kevani Macdonald (State of the Art curator) has done an amazing job putting this together for us. We're so incredibly gratefully."

As of Monday, hat sales had already raised $1,300 and helped create awareness of their mission. "You can't get the hat without figuring out what the charity is about (because) with every hat we sell there's an opportunity to tell our story," Hand says.

TOMS shoes also recruited artists — including local talent Vanessa Stark, Taka Sudo and Ben Frey — to paint their canvas kicks, sunglasses and a traditional painting to put up for auction. Some are still available, says Karen Hendry, marketing coordinator for TOMS. The proceeds will be shared with Whistler Animals Galore, Playground Builders and Zero Ceiling. "They all came back with something totally different," Hendry says. "Some deconstructed the shoes and sunglasses. It made the wall look more interesting."

Check out the show, running daily from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m. (except on Sunday when it's open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) at the Whistler Conference Centre until the festival ends April 21.

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