Known for colourful prints, artist collabs and playful cuts, it’s probably a bit of an understatement to say that Gorman has built a cult following in Australia.
Their latest collaboration with Sydney-based illustrator Luke John Matthew Arnold shows the brand at its beloved best – Luke’s strong feelings about equality, mental health and the climate crisis singing across the collection with bold graphics and cute prints. We caught up with Luke to learn a little more about how the collection came about.
You were one of three winners of the 2020 Collab with Gorman Competition. What did it feel like to be chosen as a winner?
Before the winners were announced I had little hope of winning amongst all those awesome artists, so I was shocked to the point of disbelief when I saw I was one of the winners. I’m pretty sure I asked my boyfriend “Am I awake right now? This is real, yeah?” So, it was a cocktail of disbelief, shock and dizzying happiness.
Why did you enter the competition?
I have loved Gorman’s designs, their artist collaborations and their community work for ages – way before I started illustrating. Gorman’s clothes are such a lush, full-bodied, candy-coloured trip for your eyeballs and seeing art come to life on peoples’ bodies, the whole thing is just divine and I always dreamed of someday being a part of it. So yeah, the competition popped up and I would have been a bloody fool not to enter it.
I was really nervous and expecting full on Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin Big Business vibes with briefcases, short sentences and quick decisions, but I quickly learned I need to stop visualising the world through 1980s films.
How was it joining forces to work with a clothing brand like Gorman?
I was really nervous and expecting full on Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin Big Business vibes with briefcases, short sentences and quick decisions, but I quickly learned I need to stop visualising the world through 1980s films. The reality was a dreamy, collaborative, supportive and fun journey where I was super-engaged with the whole process and always had a voice as we rolled along. It was a real joy and inspiring to see how other creatives work.
What did you love the most about seeing your work translated onto clothing?
Seeing my artwork in a wearable context literally changes the identity of the art. It becomes a whole new thing and I’m still getting my head around it. I love that my own art can look brand new to me by taking it from the page and putting it onto a person. Magic!
I think a personal art practice allows ‘you’ to exist in any shape, way or form, free from judgement and scrutiny.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the artwork for this Gorman collection…
A lot of the work in this collection is inspired by growing up around the bush and beach in the Sutherland Shire on Dharawal Country and growing up with a strong level of care and consciousness for the natural world and the need to protect it. I love to not only depict things, but celebrate them and make them into pop, camp, queer celebrations… Kind of like turning everything I draw into a big handful of confetti and just chucking it at your face so you can’t miss it.
What do you think makes art and, by extension, collaborations like this one such a powerful way to challenge stereotypes?
I think a personal art practice allows ‘you’ to exist in any shape, way or form, free from judgement and scrutiny – which instantly starts breaking down your own learned stigmas and stereotypes. I grew up in a xenophobic community, where anything ‘other’ wasn’t appreciated or respected. So, art became my way to explore my identity, gender and sexuality and it helped me build a deeper understanding of who I am. It also allowed me to grow more confident as a person to then present my art to society and address the stereotypes and start to challenge and question them. Art can be made and just left there, you don’t have to stand with it and cop the responses. I think that’s powerful. Pop something on a wall and let it do its thing.
Then, having these concepts and artworks collaboratively shown in the form of clothing is huge. The big bold Love print in the collection is so joyful, inviting and inclusive – I feel it creates a safe and engaging message to people that see it or wear it. Also, as I worked with Gorman, gender wasn’t a ‘thing’. I didn’t feel like I was creating a women’s line of clothing, it was just about clothes for bodies for people who want to be themselves. I hope that’s echoed in the release as I feel the collection itself is a little “Fuck you” to gender stereotypes and ‘norms’.
What are you most passionate about right now? What is your work reflecting and why?
At the moment I’m stuck on ‘happiness’. Not a bad place to be stuck, but I think it came about through COVID and feeling, much like most people, pretty shitty. I feel my thinking and priorities have changed and my ultimate commodity in life is to ‘gain happiness’. It’s weirdly been reflected in my constant drawing of flowers at the moment. There’s something about just expressively throwing out lush curved lines and playing with big, beautiful colours… Why? ‘Coz they make me happy. Is that enough? I think so.
Your work has always been unashamedly outspoken, bold, joyful and confrontational (in the best way). How do you explain your style, its purpose and what inspires it?
I’d say my style is ‘pop’ more than anything. Pop-mouthy-bogan art? The purpose of my work is connection. I don’t expect people to see eye-to-eye with me on anything I create, but I love the conversations, questions and challenges that come about. My work isn’t there to inform or to tell anyone what’s what. It’s more saying, “I think this, but who am I and WTF do I know?” I get a LOT of messages from all different folks knowing a lot more than me, broadening my own views and practice. What inspires it? Usually just how I am feeling in a moment or event.
I’d say my style is ‘pop’ more than anything. Pop-mouthy-bogan art?
What are the themes that you keep coming back to?
Setting boundaries, self-love, being kind to yourself, others and animals. I am also big on expressing ‘fucking up’ and that we all do it, we will all do it again and sometimes it’s the best catalyst for amazing outcomes.
Do you think your style has evolved over time?
I think, visually, it evolves very slowly. You can see patterns in my work where I get stuck on one kind of template. I get comfy there and then just focus on the words, rather than the design. Then there will be a tweak. I might introduce flowers or circular borders. It’s all cyclical and all the styles represent a time or feeling for me. So yeah, they are always evolving at a sloth-like pace, but I am more than happy to grab onto one of my older styles like a blanket on a rainy day for comfort.
Tell us a bit about your creative process and how long a piece will take you?
I have a huge note in my Notes app with rhymes, words, stories, poems and ideas that I’ve been adding to for maybe four or five years. I’m constantly adding to it, at least every two hours or so. It’s a little chaotic and obsessive. The words always come first. Then I just draw whatever I feel like in the moment, I’m never too fussed if the illustrations match the words on a clear level. All up an artwork takes around maybe three or four hours to draw? If I’m painting it… That’s a whole other story. Too bloody long!
What’s your favourite piece (or pieces) from the collection with Gorman?
Oh, that’s really hard! I love the bomber jacket and am going to rock that hard around town and also the cute little Day Flower shorts. Also, the Night Flower long flowy pants. I see my mum in them, feeling beautiful at some fancy country pub, sipping a savvy B about to meet the farmer of her dreams.
I see my mum in them, feeling beautiful at some fancy country pub, sipping a savvy B about to meet the farmer of her dreams.
What’s next for Luke John Matthew Arnold?
I’ve got a couple of super cute (but annoyingly secret) projects coming up in the new year which I’m really excited for and I’m working on running some workshops and (hopefully) having an exhibition in the new year!