How artist Carter Mull hacked a denim icon from the inside

Photo: Eye Eye Productions X GUESS Jacket Collection, Edition 3 + 2 AP.

Photo: Eye Eye Productions X GUESS Jacket Collection, Edition 3 + 2 AP.

Los Angeles-based artist Carter Mull creates multi-media images by re-photographing and altering existing pictures. His works are in numerous museum collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art, LACMA and Hammer Museums in Los Angeles. Recently, Mull was approached by GUESS through his project Eye Eye Productions, which functions as both a photography bureau and a brand collaborator. Here the artist shares how this new collaboration is related to his previous art practices, and his reflections on the interrelationships between urban culture and fashion.

You’ve recently made an effort to systematize your work as an artist through three companies: Eye Eye Productions, Nations Bank, and Metropolitan & Co. Can you explain what each of these units does, and which aspects of your work as an artist will be split off into which companies?

Using an image is almost like playing a card from a deck, or passing a bill into a group of people and allowing it to circulate beyond one’s control. Although an individual image may be relevant, the parameters and constraints around it, or around the deck from which it is dealt, are just as important, if not more so. Many of the images I’ve made since 2012 come directly out of or are informed by the geography around my studio, be it the Hot 100 that is constantly blasting on the block, the Garment District and related production in the area, the underground parties on 12th Street, or the wholesale flower markets blocks away. The neighborhood is a living archive of the present. It is a formation of thousands of images, always shifting, like starlings flying through a summer sky. To give definition to my use of these images I walk through, I decided to create a system of images for my own work.

You’ve been working on a collaboration with GUESS via Eye Eye Productions. Can you describe the form this collaboration is taking, and how it ties into what you’ve been working on since 2006?

Eye Eye Productions, a section of the system I work with, has collaborated with many models and a few smaller fashion brands. GUESS is really the first big undertaking for this company. Even though this scale of collaboration is new to me, my work over the years making a community newspaper from 2009 to 2013, and before that on works in two parts—one object for embodied space and one internet-based animation—roots this way of operating.

The work for GUESS is a direct outgrowth of all of the collaborative work done in the “Theoretical Children” project. Part of my initial impetus for the project was a longstanding love of and interest in club culture. I’ve always been fascinated by New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s, from that period’s social base to its highest cultural expressions. In many ways, there is a history to cultural practice in urban context. But is it a history of fragile bodies adorned at night moving amidst industrial architecture? Or is it a history of the line between fame and infamy, where models disappear into the dark with bad boyfriends? Or is it a tale of the evolution of advanced culture placed under an ever-changing series of pressures produced as capitalism evolves?

The neighborhood is an endless series of images and also a breeding ground for narrative. These poetics fold into something that fashion does extremely well, which is create an emotional bond between ideas and bodies. Fashion runs on an economy of affectivity. Garments can connect disparate subjects into a unified social form and produce connection even amidst the most alienated.