David Grocott and Bridget Dwyer are the kind of people who think that time and age add beauty to things.
Since 2006, when they formed their Clarke & Reilly studio in England, they have worked on various projects that transform old furniture into new looks, injected spaces with creativity and searched for ways to connect the past to the present.
Their latest project has been years in the making. On Thursday, their solo installation, called “Blue Collar,” debuted at the Sized Studio art gallery in Los Angeles with an exhibition that started with a 300-year-old piece of fabric amassed by the duo over the past six years. This 80-foot-long textile piece was dyed with indigo, weathered outside in the elements and then cut and sewn into 64 T-shirts that are hanging in the art gallery for the next two weeks. These garments will not be for sale, but go on to have another life or appear in another art exhibition.
“This is humble textiles that span 300 years that have been stitched together,” said Dwyer, who, prior to forming Clarke & Reilly, worked as a fashion consultant at Liberty London, where she met her partner. The textile lengths were sourced from the Black Country of England, a Midlands region filled with ironworking foundries and forges whose emissions turned the air black; the French countryside; and the Northeast of the United States. The textiles were salvaged from early utilitarian material, including sections of bed sheets, old sacks, and peasant and farming fabric cuts. Most of the pieces are made of handloomed cotton and linen.
Previously, this fabric was in a different kind of mixed-media installation in 2021 at the former Howard Hughes headquarters on Romaine Street in Los Angeles.
For this project, Grocott and Dwyer cut the fabric into three sections and placed them in different northern California outdoor locations for three months to see how the elements would affect the swatches’ look and feel. “One was tied in some woodlands to see what would happen in a damp environment. One was fully exposed to the sun, and then one was tied around a series of columns to see how that would age while being wrapped,” Grocott explained.
While they were waiting for the fabric to age, the pair stayed in downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District, which is still home to a few textile factories, foundries and other industrial spaces that have been part of the neighborhood for decades. Grocott, who was still a little jet-lagged after arriving in Los Angeles, was getting up at 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. and taking early morning walks.
He would see blue-collar laborers showing up for work in some of the area’s industrial locations and was deeply affected by these hard workers. “It was clear that we wanted to do something as a reaction to the working class,” Dwyer said. “Most people don’t think that when we buy something, there was someone who made that. They want to think it kind of appeared there. …This installation and that textile became a representation of the blue-collar worker.”
Once the textile pieces were weathered, Grocott outlined images of “T-shirts” on the fabric and then cut and sewed the tops with help from an assistant. Each piece is different. “There is a lot of detail in the actual pieces,” he explained.
To enhance the art installation, Grocott worked with British music composer Magnus Fiennes, whose brothers are actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, to create a 45-minute piece that will be played while viewers take in the exhibition, which will be hanging in the art gallery’s atrium. “It’s like a working-class opera. It uses spoken word, machine sounds and speaks to the brass bands that we used to have in the U.K. for the worker,” Grocott said.
Fiennes, in an emailed note, said the rhythmic building blocks of the piece are the sounds of industrial sewing machines and manufacturing tools, ratcheting in lively polyrhythms. “Sometimes the energy is uplifting, elegiac and sometimes it gives way to darker, heavier tonal sculptures where the voices of hope and resilience disappear into the furnace of despair,” he wrote.
Alexander May, the owner of Sized Studio, said that from the beginning, his curatorial studio has been about collaboration and being a location for designers, artists and brands to connect and exhibit in Los Angeles. “In that spirit, my support of the exhibition came quite naturally because I think the work from Clarke & Reilly is fantastic,” he said.
The exhibition runs through Nov. 4 at the Sized Studio at 526 North Western Avenue.