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Wearable Art

Husband-wife duo create magic with unique clothing line

James and Deborah Greene have won many awards

LA GRANGE, Ky. (November 2017) – For more than 30 years, husband and wife team James and Deborah Green have been creating one-of-a-kind wearable art pieces. Their clothes are literally a celebration of life to the fullest.

Oldham Art at CityPlace

• 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11;
11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at CityPlace, 112 S. First St., La Grange, Ky.
• (502) 222-3822

The pair began Life Celebrations Art-Design Studio to craft their distinctive art, which James said can be a long process to create, as “each color is applied one at a time directly onto the surface of the fabric. We use primarily natural fabrics and acrylic colors. The colors have to be heat set so they can be washed.”
He is responsible for hand-coloring the fabric, while Deborah designs the clothing they sell. The idea came to the pair after James began creating framed fabric paintings in which “Deborah liked the way I used color so she asked me to paint one piece for her to make a dress for her to wear. I refused for five years but she was persistent in asking,” said James, who grew up in Jefferson County.
His noncommittal response was, “I am an artist. I do not paint dresses.” But when they were invited to show their work at the gala grand opening of the Radisson Hotel in Lexington, Ky., Deborah knew this would be a great opportunity to show off a new dress in the great ballroom, and her husband agreed.
The dress drew so much attention that “the hotel owner offered to buy the dress right off of Deborah’s back. She sold the dress, but this was just the beginning,” said James.

Photo by Don Ward

Deborah Greene displays her hats and clothing at the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art in Madison, Ind.

The owner of the hotel wore the very same dress on the beach in Hawaii where a boutique owner from Louisville saw her and asked where she had gotten it. She told her she had purchased it from a couple in Louisville and gave her the Greene’s number. As a result, “she ordered dresses for all of her stores, we made them and they sold out in a few weeks and she reordered. Other store owners took note and they began to order.”
This led to the couple making dresses for local stores. Soon they expanded to most of the major cities such as New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Atlanta.
As to the natural evolution of starting a business together, Deborah said, “James and I were artists that worked together early in our lives. In fact, in grade school; so it was easy to enjoy working together. This part of our relationship spun off into a business pretty unexpected,” and definitely profitable.
The pair will have their wearable art for sale at the sixth annual Oldham Art at CityPlace Fall Arts Show. The show will take place from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12. This juried art show will be held at the CityPlace Expo Center in La Grange, located at 112 S. First Ave.
This indoor show is presented by the Arts Association of Oldham County. More than 70 regional and national artists will have hand-made artwork for sale which includes paintings, pottery, jewelry, photography, sculpture, wood, glass, soaps and lotions, and mixed media.
James is basically self-taught, although his father was a painter, which meant he was around paint and color most of his life. Most of his early experience in art was in screen printing working in screen printing studios.
From that experience, “I began to do my own prints mostly of African tribal masks, etc. It was an accident during this time that led me to experiment in painting. I dropped some of the ink from one of the prints onto the surface of the fabric and tried to rub it out and discovered the blend of colors was wonderful.”
He then began to study African fabric craft techniques and Chinese painting. The outcome was a mix of combining the artistic traditions of two cultures to produce African fabric craft, which traditionally has very bold color made by hand, but using Chinese painting techniques which involves color field painting or appling large bands of color directly onto the surface of the fabric. “This new combination would prove to be not only unique but very exciting to the art public,” he said.
When looking for design inspiration, Deborah said, “Most of the time I am inspired by the designs of old movies and stars like Betty Davis and Judy Garland.”
She took sewing classes “even though my mother and grandmothers inspired me, but they never took it to the level I did,” she said. “I enjoy working with different fabrics that are comfortable to wear and are of great quality.”
James views his artwork as “definitely abstract. I view myself as a color field painter that is looking to evoke an emotional response from the viewer. I have learned there is a connection between color and emotion.”
He has also experimented in metal and fabric sculpture. Awards the couple has won include   Kentucky Art & Craft Foundation Merit Award, Tampa Museum Merit Award, Coconut Grove Art Festival Merit Award, J. B. Speed Art Museum Award of Merit and the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art Merit Award.
Of the latter show he said, “Madison was a good show. We have collectors that come each year to purchase new work. They do a good job promoting that show. The community steps up to make it excellent.”
In producing their wearable art, their goal was to have people, whether they “purchased our work or not, to think about life being a celebration each day. And we wanted our work to communicate that to whoever viewed the person wearing it. We wanted to spread this message through our art.”

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