Over the years, it would appear that the term 'art school' has lost its edge. Ascribed to a creative mentality that offers 'outside-the-box thinking', now it seems that instead of choosing to foster environments that naturally support a student's creative thinking, institutions are teaching 'how' to have that mentality and own it as a brand: a rather artificial approach to the premise of the organic and natural creative process. Within the first five minutes of meeting at the designer's first art exhibition at NOW Gallery, Matty Bovan and I - who both graduated from the prestigious London fashion school Central Saint Martins only a couple of years apart - quickly realise we have a mutual disliking for buzzwords, the term 'art school' included. Those lazy, clichéd and even - dare I say - stale buzzwords have often been used to describe Bovan's work since his namesake brand set London fashion week alight back in 2015. I'm also sure there are better ways to describe Bovan as a designer other than 'authentic' but it's worth saying his new installation Ribbons proves he is just that, not to mention one of the few left who is equipped with a genuinely old school art school mentality.
Tucked away next to North Greenwich station near London's 02 Arena, when we meet Bovan is working hard (as usual), hurrying to finish his first-ever installation commissioned by NOW Gallery earlier this year. 'There was an N-Dubz concert the other day', Bovan humorously reveals. 'I mean, who'd have thought they're still going in 2022? It's so fun to people-watch here; I could do it for days.' When it comes to people-watching, Bovan's right; there is no better space than NOW Gallery, perched on the Greenwich peninsula with its humungous, curving windows.
The resulting commission is called Ribbons and will be open to the public for three months. The ocassion is a long-overdue opportunity to experience the work of Matty Bovan up close and personal, considering the designer's creations have mere minutes of limelight when shown in runway shows at fashion week. But Ribbons isn't a Matty Bovan collection of clothes - although a supersized leg of mutton sleeve does feature. Instead, we're talking sculpture - a knitted one that resembles a larger-than-life jumper made entirely out of ribbon. Bovan realised the power of knitting as soon as he was taught to knit by his grandma at the ripe age of 11, eventually going on to formally train as a knitwear designer in London and so it's this very craft that has become not only integral to Bovan's practice as a 'crafts-first designer' but also to Ribbons. In my opinion, the installation doubles up as a multicoloured tent-like structure fit for childlike exploration. In Bovan's? It's nothing short of a 'poetically violent labour of love'.
Existing as some sort of circular spaceship next to the location's infamous Icon Outlet shopping centre, each of the gallery's walls that make up its facade aren't really walls at all; they're gargantuan windows, meaning that Ribbons will catch the gaze of passersby. Not the only thing that's gargantuan, the designer's sculpture is also massive in size, mimicking the length of the floor-to-ceiling windows it's enclosed within. Putting creativity at the forefront of his new work (this is Matty Bovan, after all), Bovan's art school edge is beaming louder than ever, as are the team of helpers splattered about the studio working tirelessly and endlessly to help him, thanks to their shared passion for craft. Bovan was told that he only had five days to make the tent-like structure come to life. We were lucky enough to visit the team on the third day of setting up; everything looked near complete, meaning the work had been completed in a mere two days; something almost as wildly impressive as the sculpture itself.
Unlike other exhibitions - which often only involve looking rather than active interaction - Ribbons has more than one singular interactive element, inviting you to immerse yourself in the structure while also adding to it. 'We're getting more ribbons delivered', Bovan informs me. 'I had this idea of it changing over time, and I love the exchange idea between public and sculpture, and so we're going to invite people to tie them on wherever they want, meaning it will constantly be evolving and changing'.
Not just an abundance of ribbons on display, Ribbons showcases mediums that exist beyond the use of just one scantily-light material. Inside one of the hanging structures, visitors are invited to watch three of the designer's brilliant, on-going explorations into fashion film. Lining one wall of the space is a series of paintings - all of which combine text with image, or rather, use text as image. It springs to mind that The Royal Academy are currently showing the work of South African artist William Kentridge who has dedicated his career to scribbling down funny phrases and creating art in response. His most popular slogan, 'find the less good idea,' has echoes in one of Bovan's paintings which has the phrase 'Worst Idea Ever' scribbled over it. Kentridge is an artist Bovan admits he loves, although unsurprisingly he hasn't had the time to make it to the show yet.
It's the arrangement of different mediums combined together that appeals to Bovan the most. 'I love that people come into this and realise it's not just a space you stand inside of. You can come in and watch stuff and take away something else - especially with it being a 45-minute film which is mental', he admits before clarifying, 'I wouldn't have it any other way. I know most, if any, won't stay to watch the full film, but that's ok. Because of its wild length, it means that most people who drop in will be seeing different footage or parts of the film, meaning everyone will watch something different - I like that idea'. Bovan also likes the idea that the film - which he directed, filmed and edited himself - won't be shown after the exhibition. 'It's not going online because I feel these films should only be enjoyed in the exhibition. I like that you have to come and see it.' It's an effort to travel down to North Greenwich for most; however, the effort is certainly worthwhile.