A collage artist and fashion icon are masters of transformation — by collecting the unexpected, they conjure something new.
Meet James, Twyla Artist
James Gortner makes rich, colorful and layered works that begin from discarded art. James collects cast-off paintings from friends, thrift stores and studio spaces. These are added to his personal archive of raw material; James resurrects these paintings into new works of art by deconstructing them and then painting and collaging on top of the original. James says, “In the end, you have an object that is made out of other objects. I transform abandoned energy into new energy.”
Meet Iris, Fashion Icon
Iris Apfel is a 95-year-old fashion icon, businesswoman and self-described geriatric starlet. Her early career was spent in the textile business with her husband, and it was through their world travels that Iris became a voracious collector of fashion, fabrics, jewelry, antiques and even dog paintings. “If you’re a real collector, you don’t stop at one thing. You have the urge. I seem to collect anything that doesn’t collect me first,” says Iris. She has parlayed her undeniable spirit, passion for fashion and singular style into her own clothing line, many high-profile partnerships and even a professorship at the University of Texas.
“I’ve always been surrounded by art and connected to it. It’s colored my life. It is my life. I love it. I think if it weren’t for art, it would be a dreadful, dreadful world.”
Art Connects Us
They are two different collectors from two different generations. It was a bit like a blind date setting up Iris and James, but they got along swimmingly and linked arms within a few minutes of meeting. The duo has much in common and as Iris notes: “We operate from the same base. It’s the same basic philosophy.”
They are both part magpie with a sprinkle of magician thrown in; they transform the overlooked—a forgotten painting or a quirky piece of costume jewelry—into something exponentially better than before. Both Iris and James describe a similar gut reaction to the objects they are drawn to. “It’s about emotional response. It speaks to me,” says James. Similarly, says Iris, “I don’t buy or collect intellectually. I do it by the way I feel about it.”
Q&A with Iris
Up close and personal with Iris Apfel
You studied art history and art in your younger years.How did you first become engaged with art?
I started going to art school when I was about five years old. I was one of the youngest students they ever had at the Art Students League in New York. My grandmother used to take me every Saturday. They threw me into the life drawing class and there were nude models; I think that’s the day I got sophisticated. I was overwhelmed, but it was fun. I’ve always been surrounded by art and connected to it. It’s colored my life. It is my life. I love it. I think if it weren’t for art, it would be a dreadful, dreadful world.
What are your go-to spots in New York?
I don’t know any go-to spots anymore. Everything that’s good has been picked over 29 times. The pickings are very, very meager. Now if you want something offbeat, you have to find it at a specialized shop.
What did you enjoy about meeting James?
We operate from the same base. I think he’s a talented young man.
“At the end of the semester, there are lots of paintings, painting surfaces and art supplies that people are about to take from the vacated student studios to the landfill. I talk to the building super and arrange to pick them up.”
“Tell them that you will take any paint they are storing in the basement so they will not have to pay a hefty fee for legally disposing of all those gallons they mixed, and nobody ever picked up. Collect free, surprise colored paint and do the environment a favor.”
“Community Thrift in West Covina is a good spot. Don’t go there.”