From body painting, to photography, to painting on designer goods; Boyarde is an artist like no other. The British-based, self-professed Queen of Hermès made a splash on social media after painting one of her trademark pop art designs on a friend’s Birkin bag. Since then, she has fallen into the fashion world, receiving requests from people all around the globe for a hand-painted touch of originality on their own designer goods. Her latest collaboration is exclusive to T Galleria by DFS, Sydney, which celebrated its grand opening with a luxurious gala celebration earlier this month. Backyard Opera visited the newly renovated T Galleria by DFS Sydney for a private tour, followed by an exclusive leather-painting workshop with Boyarde. We also had a chance to sit down with the bubbly artist herself for a chat about fine arts, fashion, and feminism.
BYO: Firstly, how did you reach this stage in your art career of painting on “unusual canvasses” like designer goods?
BOYARDE: It wasn’t intended, it was an organic process! Before this, I was quite happy bobbing along in the art world. I was called the bum lady because that was my canvas! I'd paint on women's bodies, in London or when I lived in Belize, and it'd be photographed and sold as a limited edition around the world. And then, Charlotte Olympia Dellal asked me to hand paint 100 pairs of her signature Dolly shoes, for Neiman Marcus for the Art Basel [art show] in 2012. And people just went nuts for them. Literally, there were people calling from Singapore, ordering them on the phone, it was insane! I know fashion moves in cycles, and is regenerated and reborn, and I think I was at the beginning of a new cycle when I did the shoes.
It got to 2013, and I thought well, that was an amazing project that I did with Charlotte but I don't want to tread on her toes – pardon the pun – so I'm going to learn to paint on leather accessories. The key moment was when a friend asked me to paint on her Birkin. I said, “Are you effing mad?!”. She told me, “No, darling. If you want to get noticed, you have to go big”.
So, I went full-on pop-art mode. I created this fabulous Hollywood-age diva, saying “Goodbye my darling”, then you turn it over, and there's this big explosion on the back! I put this on Instagram – and I only had about 60 followers – and there was a lady in Singapore who was following me because of the shoes, and she re-grammed the Birkin saying, “OMG I die”. And I am not joking, but my inbox was just flooded with women saying, “I need that bag, how can I get it?”. I was like, “What is going on here?!”. That was the transition. I became the self-proclaimed queen of Hermès, basically.
BYO: What do you see as the appeal of wearable art like yours?
BOYARDE: After working with Charlotte, I realised that this fashion audience had discovered me. But they didn't know who I was yet because I was completely unknown in the fashion world! Through the world of social media, I was able to introduce my new wearable art to this elite audience who are fortunate enough to wear such fabulous [designer] items but still want to be individual. And that's what fashion is about. You express your individualism through what you're wearing. I came in at the right time and it was the beginning of a trend which won't go away.
BYO: Have you always been drawn to pop art? Or is it a style that you’ve gradually moved towards as an artist?
BOYARDE: I love so many different types of art, I just love everything! In 2013, I went to see the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at Tate Modern. Lichtenstein’s passion was Picasso. He tried to do his own Picasso-style pieces and nobody paid attention to them, so then he started taking everyday pieces that existed – the advert in the magazine, the lady washing the dishes – and he blew them up big and put them in a gallery. It was the most simple, formulaic way of re-contextualising something from every day that already existed, and making people look at it differently. Then everybody just clicked and fell in love with Lichtenstein. When he got to a certain age when he could relax and do what he wanted, he went back to his love for Picasso. He did his own version of Picasso's [Les Femmes d’Alger], and he copied it in his way. But Picasso, his painting was a copy of Delacroix's [Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement]! Everything is regurgitation. I just came out of [the retrospective] going Cha-Ching! This is me, this is what I am, I'm the queen of regurgitation in the most fabulous way.
BYO: So, what does pop art mean to you?
BOYARDE: At university my teachers told me that I was too diverse, so I'd never stand out from the crowd. I sort of held onto that with this really determined grudge, that I was going to reverse and embrace how versatile I was. So pop art particularly appealed to me. Some people think it just means Pop! Bang! Wow! But it is literally everything that we know. You bring it all together, and the key is that you re-contextualize it and you give it a new narrative. After the Lichtenstein exhibition, I thought back to uni and I was like, “I'm going to embrace my diversity, so up yours!”.
BYO: What’s the inspiration behind the pieces in your inaugural Sydney exhibition?
BOYARDE: I'm known for being a bit mischievous. I love wit and playing with words, it's one of my favourite things. So I thought right – how do I start bringing in traditional Aussie slang, and things that Australia and Sydney are known for, with existing iconic things? The idea is just to make people smile; to play on words, make people stop and have a look. So, it's light-hearted, it's fun, but it taps into the power of the stories that already exist with the words that I put in there – such as the bag that says, “Keep your friends close and your Vegemite closer”! I mean, I literally don't want that to sell because I want to keep it, it's just fun.
BYO: What made you want to do this exclusive collection with T Galleria by DFS, Sydney in particular?
BOYARDE: I've worked with DFS before and I just love everything about T Galleria. This company has got such heart and soul, and they have such a great relationship with their customers. I was just so delighted when they asked me to come and do something in Sydney. I was just like, yes please! I love all the brands that DFS partners with as well. DFS has such a great, diverse mix and it just seemed like the perfect fit. Plus, I got to come to Sydney, which makes me so happy.
BYO: Do you have a favourite piece from this collection?
BOYARDE: I should've thought about this, that's a really obvious question! I clearly love the vegemite one because it's just so awesome. I also love the Marilyn on the Balenciaga, saying “G'day cobber”. You think of Marilyn, and she's the most objectified woman in the world. She's so sensual, she's so gorgeous – and then out comes this really funny Aussie slang! That's a winner for me, I like the message that I've created. I'd also like to wear the Pierre Hardy trainers as well, but I think Marilyn is a winner.
BYO: A lot of your work focuses on scopophilia – can you explain this concept for us, and what it means to you and your art?
BOYARDE: Scopophilia is the most fabulous word in the world. That came from uni when I was all about wanting to find a way to make myself feel fabulous; coming from my own insecurities as a woman, and as a teenager before that. I started looking into how to empower women and I stumbled across Lucian Freud's scopophilia. His is actually quite derogatory – the original meaning means the pleasure of gazing at the female form. Laura Mulvey, who was a 70s film critic, took it and she said, when you looked back at all those beautiful old Hollywood films, rarely would you get a full shot of the woman, because the female is the object to be gazed at. They always dissected women so that the man sitting in the cinema didn't feel emasculated; he still felt in control. Once I read that I was like, oh my god, this is fascinating!
My idea is reclaiming scopophilia. I know it sounds a bit odd, with everything that's going on in the world today – but the idea is to control the gaze and not let it control you. To embrace everything that your feminist elders have done for you, but still want to hold onto your sexuality and embrace that. Even if sometimes the message seems less poignant on a bag than it would if I was doing the body art; the idea is for every woman wearing my art, to bring out their inner goddess. And it all stems from me. Basically, I want to bring out my inner goddess the whole time – the Wonder Woman who's trapped in there.
BYO: Instagram and other social media are often a point of contention in the art community. You have 23.2k Instagram followers, how do you feel about this platform in relation to your art?
BOYARDE: I completely embrace it. I’ve always embraced the commercial side of my art, whether I was trying or not. I remember one of my first photography exhibitions, there was some other artist snooping around. He was like “where did you study, what did you do?”. I said, “well, I used to do album covers and film still photography”, and he said, “oh, it's so obvious. Your work's so commercial, such a sell-out”. I asked what he did, and he said, “I photograph the space … between the space”. He was such a ponce! I just found it hilarious, but I’ve always embraced the commercial side.
There are layers and layers of messages, and you can go deep into my work if you want to, but it's a visual feast. So social media is just an incredible platform, if you don't let it take over, and if you learn how to work with it. Without social media, I wouldn't have access to that international market. And 98% of my clients are international – the Brits just haven't quite caught on to me. I'm not going to diss the Brits, but I think they think I'm just a bit too flashy!
BYO: You’ve already done some exciting collaborations, including this one with T Galleria by DFS, Sydney. Are there any other people or brands you’d love to work with on another creative project?
BOYARDE: Oh, there's so many. I feel like I'm only at the beginning of the journey, really. I would love to work with Anya Hindmarch, because she's just so innovative, and she's just so ahead of everything, and so sassy. I'd love that. But also, I'd love to work with Chloé – the elegance, that subtle female power that they exude. I think I could bring a bit of extra bright colour to them – that would be great.
BYO: So, what’s next for Boyarde?
BOYARDE: I feel so lucky that I'm working and painting for all my wonderful clients around the world, in the fashion industry. Now, I’m going to start exploring a bit more. It's to help my wonderful audience see that I'm an artist, and I'm not a customizer – they're two very different things. I think I'm planning to do some really wacky stuff. Maybe with a department store, or a brand – some crazy art installation or something. This is just the beginning! I want to really just go a bit bonkers. Basically, I want to show my fashion audience what I can do.
Boyarde’s exhibition runs for one month at the new renovated T Galleria by DFS, Sydney so get down to the Rocks to explore the artist’s fabulous work (and maybe spoil yourself by buying one!).
T Galleria by DFS, Sydney
155 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney NSW 2000
For more about Boyarde, visit her website: www.boyarde.com