Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stephen Sprouse: Rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated

In New York City this week, Stephen Sprouse is the guy. He's everywhere. With two fabulous gallery openings, a glorious coffee table book, and a grand collaboration of Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton leaning heavily on Sprouse's genius to propel their 2009 line to stratospheric levels, it's impossible to walk a block without seeing his name, hearing his praises, or catching the Sprouse vibe. Don't waste your time observing that he died five years ago. Everyone, at least everyone who matters, knows that Sprouse never died and never will. Sprouse exploded on the New York scene with an electricity that captured world attention and his creative contribution in so many realms remains emphatically unmatched.

The Deitch Project (18 Wooster Street) opening was called "Rock on Mars," a retrospective that zapped the audience into consciousness of the merger of rock and fashion a la Sprouse, all with a driving rock beat to pound the theme home. There was a mix of Sprouse's art and fashion, with the operative term being color--wildly delicious color. Mannequins came to life in explosions of colors and patterns, combinations of which might have seemed counter intuitive, but tapped by Sprouse's magic wand, they work--everything works! Sketch after fluorescent sketch showed the boldness that was Sprouse's hallmark. There were the trunks and travel cases that Louis Vuitton will re-release this year, that make as sensational an "I've arrived" statement as they did when they first debuted. Then there was the famed Mies van der Rohe chair in white, with Sprouse's signature graffiti all over it in big bold black strokes. Now there's a conversation piece that brings its own conversation. A video looped through scenes of Sprouse interacting with a creative world that loved him, and that he loved back, no holds barred, no reservations. His joy at being who he was and doing what he did jumped right from the video into the crowd. Sprouse was reminding us that we've got one life, and damn it, we oughtta live it on our own terms.

The second opening on Saturday, January 10, was the John McWhinnie Gallery at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller (50 1/2 East 64th) called "Stephen Sprouse:Drawings 1970s-1980s". It was another home run, presenting a decidely more intimate side of Sprouse. One hundred fashion drawings showed the evolution that became a revolution, from his more careful lines just stepping into the world of fashion as Halston's assistant, to him "fashioning" his own path to enlightenment. His hand scrawled notes were revealing and poignant, here giving directions, there explaining design philosophy, and then, getting real and personal about life in New York and how to navigate it. On one to-do list, an entry commands: "Figure out how to afford living in New York City." There was a lot of Sprouse memorabilia too, all giving an intimate look into his psyche. The two openings were amazingly synergistic, both phenomenally important, and both passionately revealing of the genius that infused every cell of Sprouse's being.

And then there's the book. The book about Sprouse's oeuvre by Mauricio and Roger Padilha, published by Rizzoli, came out on January 8, and Louis Vuitton is selling a special edition that is a must-have for anyone who loves to explore fashion from a historical perspective, or who would just like to see some glorious photos documenting the rise and rise of an American fashion icon.

Sprouse is regularly hailed as a genius. But let's face it, there are a lot of geniuses out there and they don't magnetize us like Sprouse continues to. The thing about Sprouse is that he wasn't one of those geniuses for whom every aspect of life is overwrought and overthought...quite the contrary. He was a genius who had fun with life and with whatever he was doing. That fun literally bounds from the fashions or the art and goes directly into the heads of the audience members, making them an inextricable part of the process. His work is dynamic--it moves and it moves us--there is no pull date for anything Sprouse touched. It is as new, as fresh and provocative as it was before the ink had even dried on the drawing board.

Stephen Sprouse is very much alive and well, and 2009 is the year when the world have the pleasure of getting to know him all over again.