workworkworkworkwork consists of hundreds of objects, including shirts, pottery, paintings, necklaces and magazines that recreate displays of objects for sale that homeless people frequently put on New York sidewalks. (Bing, 2003) The piece is not classified by object, however it is more of a confusion of pieces, each “grouping is ordered in its own special way, as if different senses of order were involved, individual orders—different levels of marketing and presentability.” (Saltz, 1992)
Charles LeDray treats clothes as surrogates for human identity, particularly male identity, and for the many types of work that go into constructing it. As such—and unlike the fashion industry, which is founded on an unblinking faith in the potential of clothes to communicate power, beauty, and self-worth—his work is intensely alive to the pathos clothes can communicate, and to the many senses in which they just don’t . . . quite. . . fit.
LeDray, who was born in Seattle in 1960 and lives and works in New York, gives this “not quite fitting’’ a literal twist. The majority of the clothes he makes and transforms into sculptures are small. Too small to wear, but not so small that they seem precious or cute.
And yes, LeDray makes them. All of them. By hand. Himself.
Today, when the actual making of art objects is frequently displaced from the hands of the nominal creator to various anonymous assistants, there’s an atavistic appeal in LeDray’s displays of virtuosic skill and dedication. But it’s not just a sentimental appeal.
The time LeDray dedicates to the making of his pieces — in some cases as long as three or four years — is as much a conceptual tool as the medium itself. Painstakingly cut, carved, stitched, sewn, and thrown, his sculptures crystallize, through ironic devotion, a sense of pathos. They sharpen our awareness of the expendability of things…
Thinking of the artist working away, with scissors, pins, needle, and thread, I thought of W.S. Merwin’s great poem, “Separation’’:
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.