Gary Bigeni Collaborates With Artist Matthew Johnson On New Collection

Matthew Johnson and Gary BigeniFor his latest collection, Alignment, designer Gary Bigeni enlisted the help of a Melbourne painter whose optical pieces spoke to his appreciation of form and movement.

As flamboyant Sydney fashion designer Gary Bigeni chats to serious Melbourne abstractionist Matthew Johnson within the Blockprojects gallery context of Johnson’s current show, you can’t help but consider 
the pair an odd coupling. Bigeni, an exotic contradiction of colour 
and graceful demeanour, is the rare macaw to Johnson’s laughing kookaburra, all blokey cool and crack-up humour. But when you see 
how the fashion designer — famous for hiding his technical deftness 
in simple silhouettes — has draped swathes of silk digi-printed with 
the artist’s colour-field dots, you have to declare the love child of 
these unlikely bedfellows a beautiful thing.linebreak

Bigeni x Johnson

“I could see this strong sense of formalism in his drapery and my intuition told me that it would be a good thing to do,” says Johnson, recalling Bigeni’s overture to collaborate on the back of the artist’s exhibition at Tim Olsen Gallery (now Olsen Irwin Gallery) in Sydney 
last year. “I deal with a lot of ‘opticality’ in my paintings and there’s 
a lot of movement already going on in the work, even though it gets 
hung on the wall. I became fascinated by the idea of what could 
happen if one of my paintings was reproduced as a piece of clothing. 
Would its movement create a new language for me? Would I end up 
cross-referencing Gary’s clothing in a new kinetic mosaic of colour?”

Bigeni x Johnson

“Besides,” he continues, recalling a favourite photo by Irving Penn that highlights a modelled garment’s “magnificent” movement against the backdrop of Morocco, “this is as close as I will ever get to figuration — clothes draped on a model moving in front of one of my paintings. Why wouldn’t I want to see that?”

Meeting with Bigeni in his Sydney studio on at least five occasions, Johnson aided in the selection of six artworks (both old and new) to be digitally printed onto silk for stitching into a spring/summer collection.


linebreakBigeni attributes his strong colour and line literacy to auditory impairment — “I grew up wearing hearing aids and made all my connections visually” — and says that when he first saw Johnson’s 
work, he knew exactly what it was all about. “I read shape and line, 
and Matthew’s hazy circles across a single canvas related directly to what 
I do — creating movement and colour out of a one-piece pattern rather than multiple seams. His paintings were an infusion of a different layer. 
I wanted to push that.” Calling the resulting collection Alignment for 
its “magic picture” potential to make three-dimensional delight out of 
a focus-shift on coloured shapes, Bigeni begs comparison to the likes 
of master draper Alber Elbaz of Lanvin. It’s a big call, we know, but his committed client base spans all life cycles, style camps and social strata.

“Who knows what the end result is going to be,” muses Johnson of the prospect his art might soon float down the street. “But I do know that 
a little more colour and life is about to lighten our existence.”

Words: Annemarie Kiely
Photography: Lisa Cohen

This story was first published in Vogue Living July/August 2013, on news stands and Zinio now.

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