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Art Watch : Antonio Lopez

Antonio Lopez is our Art Watch Artist for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth – watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch. 

Why Antonio Lopez

Like many immigrants who moved to big cities to find work with dreams in their eyes for a new world, a new way of life, and better opportunities for their families, the young Antonio Lopez too moved to New York City, to Spanish Harlem. Lopez was born in 1943 in Utuado, Puerto Rico, and the move to the big city for the young boy, full of creativity and an intrinsic sense of individual style – life was going to change forever.

Lopez’s mother was a seamstress and hi father was a mannequin maker, they both started work shortly after they moved to New York. He would always sketch designs for his mother, the artist in him had already expressed himself. But it was when he joined New York’s Traphagen School of Fashion, followed by the High School of Art and Design, and eventually the Fashion Institute of Technology, that he was able to join the world of fashion in a formalised way.

It was during these years that an immense personal development took place in Lopez’s life. At the Fashion Institute he met Juan Ramos, also a Puerto Rican. The two bonded immediately and remained romantic and creative partners. There worlds and their work was deeply intertwined. It was rumoured that Antonio’s simple sign off “Antonio” was a code for their encryption for their collective effort.  The two creative minds came together to collaborate on innumerable projects, always supporting and pushing each other to work harder and better. 

Lopez started picking up freelance assignments for Women’s Wear Daily, in 1962, while he was still a student at the Institute of Fashion. It was time when the sketches were used to depict trends and sketch artists were in high demand. Hardly a year into the job, Lopez took up Carrie Donovan’s offer at The New York Times. It was a freelance position but it was totally worth it – because he knew more was to follow. Anotonio Lopez had already made a name for himself and carved a niche for his work.

The Artist & his Style

Lopez work was characterised by his mind set. He placed his creative pursuits over and above the issues of gender, race and sexual preferences, in an ambience of the racial undercurrents that ran through the America that he grew up in, he felt strongly about honouring varied culture and individuality.

This was to reflect in his work.  “When I came into fashion illustration, it was a dead art, real boring, catalogy, very WASPy, I gave it a transfusion.” Lopez said in his interview to People in 1982. Soon he was pumping out motorcycling blondes for British Vogue and lazy, lingerie-clad ingenues for McCall’s

Lopez continued to work towards the inclusion of models of colour in their work. It was a documented fact that when he tried to seed models of colour in his earlier works, he was met with a push back to counter that he would wait for the last minute to submit his work to prevent edits and cuts. Eventually he moved along with his partner to Paris in1969 for a more open work climate and an open audience. 

During his time, Antonio discovered and supported several models, each unique and a definitive departure from the conventional fashion and beauty trends, his multi racial- coalition of models came to be known as ‘Antonio’s girls’. They were bold, and were edgy, open to new fashion trends and carried a ‘joi di vivre’. Forever walking away from set notions and standards, he strove to create something new and celebrate the different, giving his work a fresh approach. He founded many successful careers Grace Jones, Tina Chow, Jessica Lange to name a few. For an assignment in 1963, for the times, he drew thicker figures that paid homage to the Cubist painter Fernand Léger, clearly making a case to push the form in new directions.

Antonio Lopez had another unique quality, he was able to work with rival designers and factions in fashion like Karl Lagerfeld’s and Yves Saint Laurent.

In the 60’s-70’s the cloud of AIDS loomed large and it was a disease that was spreading and rapidly. Lopez died of complications from AIDS in 1987, leaving behind a formidable body of work, as Vogue said about him, ‘Before influencers, there was Antonio’.

For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – do not miss the ART WATCH

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