“How are Rob Pruitt’s jeans not covered in paint?” we asked ourselves after having the great pleasure of meeting him in his studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn last month. There was, as one might expect of an artist’s work space, paint everywhere – in tubes, and tubs, and cups, and palettes; on the floor, the walls, the assistants, and Rob’s face, even. But his Levi’s jeans were pristine, save for two sizable slits in the knees. How? We still don’t know. But if we get a second with him next Tuesday night at Barneys, where he’ll be doing a jean-painting event in collaboration with J Brand, we’ll most definitely ask.
But it wasn’t really about Rob’s jeans that day in his studio; it was about the ones he’s just created with J Brand – skinnies and jackets coated in a dégradé of magnificent colors, much like the eight “Suicide Paintings” in his current, critically acclaimed show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (“Multiple Personalities,” through October 25).The technique is one that Rob has evolved over time. “I was making this group of paintings a couple of years ago where I was trying to express the range of emotion by just using color theory and simple linear elements to make these big faces – everything from ecstasy to the deepest depression,” he explained.
The custom pair Rob painted for us on his studio assistant Aliyana Gewirtzman (J Brand’s Maria high-rise) reminded him of the tropics. “A tequila sunrise cocktail,” he called the combination of pink, yellow, and tangerine after he finished circling with the spray gun. Of course, what a woman has that a canvas does not are curves. “When the model stands in these tight jeans all of these wrinkles and creases and folds occur,” Rob explained pointing to the places around Aliyana’s hips and knees that revealed themselves to be bright white when she shifted her weight after the first application of paint. Rob likened these striations to chips in a marble sculpture – fresh, without weathering – and preferred not to paint over them. ” It just makes it even sexier in terms of defining the form,” he said.
The buy-now J Brand x Rob Pruitt jeans are free of these custom imperfections. So are the jackets. But both, like all jeans, beg the question: What will wearing them for six months, a year, or longer, do? Will they crack and break down, or remain spotless like Rob’s, which we did get some intel on, actually. Being jeans, it’ll probably depend on the lucky person who puts them on.
Do you always wear jeans when you work?
I wear jeans a lot, and if I’m not wearing jeans I’m probably wearing Carhartt worker’s pants, but I really love white jeans. Something prohibits me from wearing them all the time, but inside I really want to be the kind of guy that wears white jeans everyday. They get dirty, but who cares.
How does denim help you do the work that you do?
Anything that increases my comfort level helps me get the work done. Conversely, anything that helps me feel uncomfortable also helps me get the work done. For instance, ten years ago I made these paintings of Paris Hilton while wearing 8” heels, which were extremely uncomfortable, but the pain definitely made the paintings better. One of the things that I like best about jeans is when they’re brand new and rather stiff, which is a kind of discomfort that feels really sexy. I guess it’s all a kind of drag, and jeans are perfect because you can slip into them and take on the persona of that pair.
How long have you had the Levi’s that you’re wearing?
I’ve probably had this pair since the early 90’s. I tend to get rid of everything in my wardrobe except for the jeans, even if they’re an outdated cut. This pair is a little bit like those jeans that Obama got made fun of for wearing (a teeny bit high-waisted and full in the thigh) but they feel really good.
Is there a moment during which you were wearing them that stands out in your memory?
Well, I must’ve been on my knees a lot in these jeans because the knees are completely blown out. God only knows what I was doing. Praying, I guess.
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Do you consider your J Brand jeans works of art? And to that point, should women wear them, or not?
I want people to do whatever they like with them. They were designed to be worn, but if women want to add to the patina by wearing them for a while, for a couple of months or a year, and then put them in a frame, that seems to me like a perfect scenario.