Michele Rafferty, stylist and creative director, on an outsider art painting
GB Tell me why you chose this.
MR Its the magic of finding a little something, I bought it at Spitalfields market on a Thursday morning, it was as though it was glowing in a corner, something sophisticated amongst all the chaos of the market. it was very cheap, I think £50. There’s no provenance there, it’s just a painting that I thought was interesting but the more you look at it, the more you see. I’ve tried to find out who the painter is and he’s not anyone of note, an outsider artist. You put your own value on it.
GB That’s a great gift and shows a real confidence in your own taste. How have other people reacted to it?
MR Not so many people have seen it but the people who have, love it. My dad used to search through skips in the 1980s and find brilliant things so he must have given me that confidence that there are things out there that you can put your eye to, dust them off and see there’s something really good underneath. It’s trusting what you think rather than waiting for someone else to tell you that it’s worthwhile.
GB Do you think the painting is traditionally beautiful in terms of other paintings?
MR Well whether it’s a painting, a film, a photograph or a piece of music, I’ve realised that it’s genuinely good if it stays with me. I went to see the films Beguiled and Dunkirk recently and they were gone from my consciousness the moment I left the cinema. This painting stays with me. I also have two tests that the artist did beforehand so you see the build up of what’s there and why. The thing with outsider art is, someone did it for reasons outside of themselves. Maybe he had a job but just needed to paint, not for money or fame but for personal reasons.
GB Do you find yourself reading into the mental state of the artist when you look at the expressions on those faces?
MR Yes. There’s a lot of horror in it. There are a lot of smiling faces in it but also some quite hideous things. I would say I’m drawn to things with something difficult about them or that have a layer or a depth that isn’t just pretty or lovely or nice. If something is it a bit wrong or imperfect it makes the beautiful more interesting?
GB Is that because it represents reality more to you that way?
MR I imagine so. It’s easy to say that things are beautiful, but do they resonate?
GB So this is more beautiful than say, a rainbow?
MR A rainbow is unequivocally beautiful but it doesn’t have that other side. Everyone is looking up and saying wow, but it doesn’t have that side to it where you see it in a different way because of your own mood. A painting looks a certain way when you’re in a good mood and a different way when you’re in a bad mood. You can’t look at things without putting yourself in them.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are,” as Anaïs Nin said.
GB Do you never want to look at a rainbow just to lose the darkness for a while?
MR I think that’s why everybody does. It’s like a child’s response. You do let go of all the other things. Everyone sees a rainbow in pretty much the same way.
GB Is beauty something you look for in your fashion work?
MR It’s an ever-changing thing, a constant question and something you’re always aware of. You’re also aware of the people you’re working with and what their concept of beauty might be. Of course I work with a lot of people I think are incredible, so you can be confident of a group goal. Beauty is important with work but it has to be other things too. It has to be clever or original or go somewhere else, otherwise it’s just not relevant in the world.
GB You live in a world of ‘cool’ which is another of those words like beauty that can mean so many things. Do you personally see an overlap between cool and beautiful?
MR Cool is a difficult one. There needs to be that ‘hard to get’ element: the more distance there is, the cooler something is. I don’t believe in cool but it is something you have to consider.
GB I feel like when you use the word beauty in the art world, people cringe – and when you use the word cool in the fashion world, it has the same effect.
MR Yes, what’s interesting about cool is, if you break it down to what it’s all about, if you try to can you make something cool? I think you probably could. You could make sure it has all those qualities.
GB Did you think about choosing a fashion item as your object of beauty?
MR It didn’t enter my mind. This was the first thing I thought of and I tried to put other things in its way but this was the one. It’s about more than the beautiful object, it’s also about that part of me that loves to find things, just like my dad.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
MR It has to be quite a pretentious answer. It’s something that moves you that you can’t explain in words. It’s changed something in you, whether it’s your brain or your heart or your spirit, but it adjusts how you think. It happens a lot.