The designer working under the pseudonym, loner, applies Arte Povera practices to couture fashion. He utilizes tee shirts both bought in bulk, as well as more specific items found at huge box stores such as Wal-Mart as well as gas stations and truck stops. He evokes irony and nihilistic humor on Americana tees in order to discuss politics, and show support for protest groups such as Black Lives Matter and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
He's only 18 and is working and going to school at the very small program at AIC College of Design while maintaining a handmade clothing brand.
loner always had a quirky fashion aesthetic—and when he got into some trouble doing graffiti in the last city that him and his family were living; he decided that he didn’t want to be tried as an adult and so he needed to figure out a way to get his work out, so he figured making clothing was a good way to execute that.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
loner: A little over a year.
FD: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
loner: Very organically. Originally all of the walls were covered in this silver insulation, and there were holes and some other damage. So I just had some friends come down and hang what they liked: some posters, some stuff from an antique store, old canvases. I wanted to clean it up and make it look a little nicer but keep it weird. I mean, this area is weirdly functional. I’m able to take photos over there, print over here, and I can even use that little area under the stairs to burn screens.
FD: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
loner: Definitely. I've found my audience thanks to being closer to the city. Before, I was keeping my designs pretty straight forward and I wasn’t getting into too much experimentation. But I’ve had a lot of support in Cincinnati and I’ve been able to start some projects that are weirder and more of a challenge.
FD: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio?
loner: Well, I work and go to school, so I’m typically here late night. I’m usually getting in here around 10:30 or 11 and I usually work until3 or 4 in the morning. I typically have a lot of projects going at once: there's usually a new design being put together, a bundle of shirts burning in the sink, I’ve got the heat press going, loud music playing. It’s very unorganized because that’s kind of how I am, but I try to get a lot done at once.
FD: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
loner: It’s political, for sure. I’m 18, this past election was my first time voting. It’s been an interesting period of time. I’ve always been pretty left leaning with my views, but this presidency has pushed me to become more political— like most people. I have worked to become an ally within the Cincinnati branch of Black Lives Matter, I’ve made some shirt editions to sell, as well as some to give out in support of BLM. I also have a tendency to tie in my nihilistic dark humor into my designs, particularly within my text and branding.
loner: I think that if I didn’t have the groups that I have partnerships with, I’d feel a lot more terrified by our current political climate— and on a personal note, having Trump in office has given me better ideas because of the unlimited feelings of anger he provides.
FD: What mediums do you work with?
loner: Pretty much everything except sculpture. I do a lot with vinyl applique, screen printing, dyes, illustration. I’ll try anything.
FD: Do you have narratives in mind for each piece?
loner: I approach each design hoping that it will communicate something different. But it really depends on the design. I have developed a few characters. I did a collaboration with HTC (Here They Come) and we developed this sort of sad bandit character and persona that he utilized for an album— the tees that I have around here now are just his concert merch. So it really just depends. I have another collaboration here that I did with Buddha and Bamboo that is just my lone wolf image that I use a lot. I try to re-use my own imagery that I’ve played with for a while. That way I can stay true to myself and brand while getting to experiment with something recognizable to me and my audience.
FD: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your art?
loner: Oh absolutely. I wouldn’t even be doing this if I didn’t have a terrible high school experience. If I didn’t get bullied, if I had fit in, I wouldn’t be making this stuff. I started getting into graffiti and making work with my friends as a way to make myself feel better. It’s just expanded since then.
FD: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
loner: Punk and Hip Hop, for sure. Hip Hop [minimalism] is really having it’s time in fashion right now, and skate culture, obviously. I’d probably say it’s a mix of old school punk aesthetic with the whole. . . trashed and safty-pinned look and new-age Hip Hop. Sort of a mix of old and new. I think both of those cultures have beens so influential because they both evolved out of making something from nothing.
FD: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
loner: I couldn’t make my stuff by hand if I didn’t have a place to do it. I’d have to make all of the designs and then send them out. I couldn’t experiment and play around and get weird with anything that I’m working on. It’s absolutely expanded what I can work on and get accomplished.
FD: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
loner: I’m going to be working a lot of festivals selling gear this summer. I’m in the process of expanding into working by contract, and getting to design for other individuals or brands rather than making exclusively my designs. But I’m most excited about my vintage collection. I’ve been stock piling that for a while now. I’ve been trying to collect these, I guess, Americana tees that you can find at truck stops for five dollars. I’ve enjoyed playing with the irony of taking these shirts that read like “live free or die” and adding my progressive politics and protests on top of them. Plus, I just like tacky stuff. I just like this terrible biker art stuff. It’s awful. But I love it.
FD: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
loner: The punk perspective is obviously there, I’d like to say that my designs are like low brow couture— if that makes any sense. I’d like to take ideas that are prevalent in top fashion lines and make them affordable for most consumers. I’ve also noticed that there is a certain level of melancholy that seems to be everywhere right now; particularly in my age group. There seems to be lower levels of feelings of contentedness. It just seems like no one is as happy as they once were. And I don’t want to put forth that everything is ok, because it isn’t.
FD: Which other designers are you looking at?
loner: Vivienne Westwood is a big one for me. Kanye West. Shepard Fairey’s Obey line is actually what made me think to move into fashion. AntiSocialSocialClub is a big influence. But I try to just do my own thing when it comes to my designs. Jean-Michel Basquiat is a great influence.
FD: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
loner: It’s cliche but, just be yourself. Normal is boring. I feel like no one fits into the advertised image of normalcy that we are sold, and I don’t think it’s necessary to live that way. Just be yourself and things will work out.
FD: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
loner: Well, I tell them that I’m a full time student but if I want to show off a bit I’ll add that I have my own brand. I tell people I make stuff.
FD: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
loner: I had no idea that anyone would like this bleached up, destroyed stuff. It’s stuff that I liked. I had friends that dressed this way, but I had no clue that other people would like it, let alone buy it. So, I guess it’s a risk in that I make it for me and then hope that other people like it. I feel like my first line was pretty safe, tees with the ‘loner’ type and a few other designs. But this summer line I have some stuff that might offend a few people. I have a tee over there that reads “paradise” paired with an image of a noose hanging from a palm tree. There’s another top with a wolf jaw paired with ‘fuck everything’. We’ll see how summer goes, I guess.
FD: Words of wisdom?... a motto, favorite quote?
loner: Same thing as my motto. Be yourself, normal is boring.
FD: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I’m working with Rhigno Men’s Boutique, Goods on Main, and Preneur; locally. It’s a funny story actually: before I started making these tees, I walked into Goods on Main and, just wanting some feedback, asked them about a design that I had in mind. There ended up being a misunderstanding and they just said, “Yea, you can bring that in here”. And so I ended up having to go to Michael’s to get an $100 screen printing kit and then teaching myself how to do it, and then printing a bunch of shirts that night. . .and that’s kind of when it got started.