When was the last time you thought about an artist and their exercise regime? Never, right? Same here, until I spoke with Los Angeles photographer and fine artist Amanda Charchian, who’s just been tapped by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele for a meme-inspired project based around the brand’s latest collection of watches. “I’m hopping around a little bit. I did kickboxing today and I think I sprained my ankle,” Charchian says when we meet. So what’s an artist like Charchian doing in a dangerous space like kickboxing? “I know no-one who does it,” she says.
Gucci has been active in cyberspace. At #GucciGram and #24HourAce, artists give their idiosyncratic, personal perspectives on Gucci design motifs. At #TFWGucci, initiators of memes use Gucci imagery or propose ideas that Gucci can use. All of this is an attempt to connect the maker of luxuries with a wider variety of people than the tribe that usually populates the fashion ecosystem. Among the contributors are Olaf Breuning of New York and Zurich, and South Korean photographer Less.
I wonder how Gucci and Michele found their way to Charchian’s door. “I think, maybe, Alessandro looked at Instagram or something, or he finds people that he likes,” she says. “I’m not totally sure about how they found me. I really have no idea.” Charchian is not new to working with brand owners. Last year she formed alliances with And Other Stories, owned by H&M of Sweden, and with Vivienne Westwood.
How is Gucci to work with? “They gave me a set of guidelines about casting, clothes, the subject matter,” Charchian says. “It was not that specific or lengthy. There was a lot of room. I approached it in a very painterly way, where it was really formal with colours, shapes, textures, and tried to make some humour in there because it’s a meme. It’s very different to how I approach everything else.” Charchian is a child of the digital age. “I’ve grown up on the Internet,” she says. “If you Google me, there’s tons of shit I’ve taken on my iPhone which I can’t get rid of, and people think it’s art. I feel like I’ve been cursed by shitty Google Search.”
Charchian combines fine art and commerce, but is more artist than merchant. For two years she worked on a project which resulted in a book, Pheromone Hotbox. The book is a study of women in the nude. Charchian was in Costa Rica with two artist friends in 2012, when she became obsessed with photographing them. “I was trying to figure out why. I used the camera as an investigative tool. Obviously, so much of my interest is about intimacy and about why and how attraction occurs, and why it doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual at all; or, you know, under the guise of all the other reasons, why you feel attracted to people. It was very specifically, maybe, an intangible attraction.” The book was published last year. “I don’t really want to take those pictures anymore,” Charchian says. “I did it, and loved it 100 per cent, but now I’m more interested in how to convey one specific idea, as opposed to too many different fields.”
The day we spoke, Charchian was working on a series of prints of slides taken on space flights. “It’s interesting because they are like Technicolor landscapes from the 1950s and 1960s, and are really beautiful,” she says. “But at this point in time, I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say with them.” Charchian lives close to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL) at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “There’s a rocket engineer who worked at JPL called Jack Parsons who was also associated with different occult organisations that I studied,” she says. “Having the opportunity to find these slides and reconnect with them made me feel connected to a part of California history.”
Our conversation ranges far and wide. In the space of two minutes, Charchian talks about a “witch who does really cool art”; about one of her favourite Ethiopian musicians, Mulatu Astatke; about “a beautiful nun, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, a really, really beautiful lady who plays gorgeous classical piano”; about how she would like to own a Tracey Emin neon “because I hate to love her, and it’s embarrassing that I like her work so much, but I relate to her emotionally”; and about how she is reading “a funny book about sexual perversion and one by Martin Booth called The Secret History of the World.”
The span of Charchian’s interests suggests much more work is likely to come her way. Perhaps a collaboration between JPL, Rome and Ethiopian musicians?