Feeling Fresh: Brett Westfall Explores Earthy Depth and Human Connections in Art and Fashion
WORDS by M-C CURTIS
PHOTOGRAPHY by SH SADLER
Artist, fashion designer and proud art papa Brett Westfall shares how strawberries are a stylish portal to enlightenment, COMME des GARÇONS gigs and watching his child cop her own iPad.
In his world, strawberries prove the mirror indeed has two faces. This Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary creative is driven by visual metaphors and the unusual notion that a bright red fruit can help him explain how society works.
Observing Westfall’s large-scale strawberries can reveal his view of humanity—and reference the human hands that cultivate soil, a nod to the politics of food and a certain California vibe. Another view considers another artist, Yayoi Kusama, who takes her own inspiration from the pumpkin and how Westfall’s wacky prints reflect the power of generational inspiration and the role of talismans in art. Or, perhaps the lure of strawberries is as simple as just enjoying their scent. Whichever way you slice it, Westfall puts big belief in strawberry-fueled potential to unite you, me and everyone we (don’t) know. As Westfall preps Westfall, his new label assisted by the Comme des Garçons fashion incubator Dover Street Market in Paris, several events soundtrack his life. Mostly though, it is represented by the mighty strawberry, which for him symbolizes the “pure innocence of being happy.”
He’s compelled to tell stories of collaboration, joy and human connections in his work. In Westfall, his trademark strawberry is paired with a giant logo that says “FRESH”—itself an expression with a very human backstory for him.
In 2007 a friend and I were going to San Francisco for a trunk show at American Rag Cie. Our car broke down in Patterson, a small farming town. We ended up getting stuck for eight or nine days because things moved slowly there. I remember walking around seeing dilapidated fruit signs reading “fresh” and noticing something about seeing signs broken down…hand-painted, you could feel the human behind them. We got to spend time with the people there. It made me wake up. With California being a big agricultural hub, it made me consider
who’s growing the food and how they’re being treated. That still is the basis of Fresh.
Like the strawberry, the Fresh motif also reflects Westfall’s distinct graffiti-meets-skateboard aesthetic and the way those art forms borrow from and contribute to landscape. Abstract images on patches express how our minds are preoccupied with so much at once. Spiders and trees are the fever dream in Westfall’s sociology stories. You could say this is what happens when things get a little silly. “A lot of my work deals with the psychological aspects of human beings, our relationships to each other, the earth and then, fantasy mental escapes…like making a unicorn.”
Brett Westfall also has a mentor: design god (and founder of Comme des Garçons) Rei Kawakubo. His own thinking for concepts like a “fashion album”—a reverence for material with nods to skate culture and human connections—are inspired by the Japanese fashion hero. “She will never call herself an artist. I always call her an artist.” Repurposed objects (which are one of Westfall’s signatures) are reminiscent of her redefinitions of skulls and roses, white weddings and The Rolling Stones. The intentional way she uses symbols has inspired his own creative approaches. “She’s one of my favorite creators. It was one of my dreams to collaborate with her.” And so he did by using that big fanboy heart of his.
I just took a chance. My wife and a couple of friends encouraged me to send her a letter and I put together a nice package with a handmade book as a gift. The letter just explained who I was and how she influenced, inspired and changed the way I view creativity. Two weeks later I got a phone call from a man who asked to speak to Brett. It was [Kawakubo’s husband and business partner] Adrian Joffe asking if I’d sent a package to Rei Kawakubo. After saying, YES I DID!, he said ‘I want you to know she received the package. She absolutely loves your work and wants to represent you at our store in Tokyo.’
Taking that chance helped Westfall open the first Comme des Garçons guerilla store in 2008, designing prints for their latest Shirt collection and also led to their Nike Air Carnivores collaboration. Rei really likes his strawberries and their work together is a lesson on where taking a chance can take you. “At the time I was working with [LA clothing designer shop] Mameg, who have supported my work from the beginning. I sent the [initial] package with a return address from Mameg thinking, ‘at least she’ll know she changed somebody’s life.’” In January 2023, Brett Westfall will show Westfall in Paris, supported by Rei and Adrian’s company.
Whilst the future of Westfall’s work lies in his new collaborations his roots are firmly based in LA where he’s lived for 21 years. The creative community Westfall generates starts at home. In 2020, he opened Signs of Life, an art installation of shared works with his then 9-year-old daughter Moon. He discussed their partnership with a recent painting of Moon’s hanging above his head. It looks like a genderless Jack Skellington if Skellington were an e-girl.
At one point, maybe at age six or seven, she started coming up with these ideas that were pretty gnarly. Like, a 7-year-old doesn’t usually bust out these kinds of ideas. When I had a couple shows at [creative studio] Small Green Door in LA, I had her make her own things for the merch table. Those sales and responses helped inspire her to do more. Moon was super stoked because she was asking for a new iPad Pro. Within two weeks, she had an iPad Pro dude! Now she’s showing me how to do stuff on the computer.
Moon Westfall’s “Snoppy”—a child’s abstracted emotional response to the joy of Charles M. Schulz’s Snoopy—made its way into the Westfall collection. Originally only part of the exhibit, Snoppy is now a print. On shirts, bags and accessories. In fact, the poem Moon scribbled on the walls of the installation is now printed onto sneakers. This family truly believes in the pleasure principles of art and fashion. “I’ve always had her drawing and painting, just to get creativity out…mostly to get her creativity to knock down barriers before they start. That way, she does what she feels and is unafraid. It’s great being her father but also a fan of her work. Watching her creative brain grow is awesome.”
It’s not just family that drives his work though, Westfall and Westfall happen with help from their friends, like Stephen and Jodi Zeigler of THESE DAYS gallery in Downtown Los Angeles. They proposed the residency that would become Signs of Life. The experimental electronic producer Baseck created the soundscape for the installation. “He’s one of my best friends. His work is super breakbeat jungle. This was atmospheric ambient though. He remixed Moon playing the keyboard. The beginning is her reading the poem printed across the first two rooms.” Baseck also features in Westfall via airbrushed images of his mixtape cover art. It’s an Atari 8-bit flashing 90s lowrider culture, or maybe even Gwen Stefani’s “Luxurious” video imagery. Somewhat like Moon or those strawberries again, it all goes back to whichever time capsule got buried inside your emotions. “Clothing is weird dude. It’s almost not what you wear, it’s how it makes you feel. That’s a weird thing to think about. Of course it’s nice when people compliment what you’re wearing. But it really only matters how it makes you feel.”
Note to self, this is what can happen when you take a chance. @brettwestfall