By Amanda DelaCruz
Fresh from visiting OCAD University's 100th graduation exhibition, it's clear that there is no shortage of amazing emerging artists in Toronto. As Canada's largest institution of art and design, OCADU has produced many fresh faces that the public should be keeping an eye on, but there aren't as many who are as intriguing, as hard working, and as introspective as fellow alumni Jon Riosa is.
Jon is an award winning artist who graduated from OCADU in 2010. He studied bespoke tailoring from the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London, England, as well as pattern drafting, fashion illustration, menswear and apparel construction at George Brown College in Toronto.
But at OCADU is where his sculptural and conceptual pieces really started to take root. While he majored in textiles in the Material Art and Design program, he spent a lot of time in the metal studio - weaving, welding, and twisting steel into wearable forms.
His aim has always been to emotionally connect with his viewers. Everything he makes goes through a laborious thought process where he hones his ideas to become the most evocative and honest representation of his feelings on a subject matter. Concept is first, and aesthetics are second. Through this process he explored the idea of physical restraints for his 2010 body of work Restricted Access.
[above: photo courtesy of Haley Parker]
It's five years later and Jon made his first appearance at Fashion Art Toronto (FAT) this year with a ten piece collection that has clearly evolved from his work at OCADU. Like his previous work, it's a little dark and a lot of interesting.
[above: photo courtesy of Nord Magazine]
FAT is self described as a "platform for inventive and contemporary expression." It seemed the perfect place to launch his wearable art forms. In art school, the term wearable was a loose concept to the professors and to Jon, he felt that
Jon created his entire collection with this scaffolding piece as the catalyst - illustrating a point in time where he felt that he was under construction, a time where he was reworking and improving himself.
He always starts with more elaborate forms - his drawings tend to be more voluminous, more extreme, more unwearable, but in the end his aim is to simplify the concept - to make it relateable, tangible, and as minimal as possible.
Jon is one of those designers who likes to be involved in the entire process. He does not have a team of seamstresses creating his garments for him as he barks orders from the front of a room. He tries to do everything himself - the concepts, the illustrations, the drafting, the shopping, the sewing, the fittings. The list goes on and on.
Because this was FAT Jon felt he would challenge himself by showing as many variations that worked with his concept as possible - in his sewing techniques as well as his use of restrictive materials such as steel, PVC and nylon strips that affected how the models could move on stage. Upon seeing the collection my first comment to Jon was that some of the models seemed to have noticeably much better walks then others, and he informed me that those dresses were designed in such a way that it hindered their natural movement. One girl looked as if she could only take baby steps while another two could barely move their arms.
[All FAT photos in the article are copyright by NORD Magazine]
From a fine arts perspective Jon feels he receives a much better response to his work. At FAT some people couldn't believe he would just wrap a model in wire or fencing, they couldn't make sense of it.
But in a gallery setting, his concept was more clear, and the reasoning behind his decisions brought about appreciation for the technique and the labor he put forth. It was basically the same type of work, but to his surprise, in art he was considered innovative while in fashion he was considered outrageous.
"In art you don't need to worry about trends and practicality, but in fashion it appeared that it needed to be more utilitarian and trendy. There is definitely a fine line between fashion and art," and Jon seems to be right in the middle of it.
Jon is a true artist to me, because I know he is not concerned with fame - only in catharsis and his integrity as a maker. He genuinely enjoys what he does and he does it because it feels right to him, that when he is making he is his best, most true self. He didn't even want to walk the runway after his show, a common practice for the designer -
As he moved away from the gallery setting and more into the fashion world Jon realized that he couldn't control all the variables as he was used to. More and more he had to compromise and improvise.
When a model who was especially fitted for a garment didn't show up, there wasn't much Jon could do except find a replacement quickly. He was wrong when he thought that the hard work was over once he finished sewing his garments because there were so many other factors: his car broke down the day of the show, the tight scheduling, the music, the lighting, the makeup, the hairstylists, as well as how the models walked and posed. All these things affected how his work was received by the public.
Jon's first and greatest inspiration was Alexander McQueen. When he first saw one of his shows when he was 15 it changed the way he wanted to live his life. McQueen was full of angst and didn't care what people thought about his work or how offended they felt when they viewed it. This struck a chord with Jon and was the catalyst that made him stop worrying about what people thought and allowed him to start focusing on what he loved to do.
So what are Jon's plans for the future? He told me that "the idea of showing on my own is extremely appealing. I just want to rent out a warehouse space where I can have a private show for my newest collection." He plans on gravitating more and more towards wearable fashion while trying to stay true to his concepts. I can't wait to see where he takes his work next.