The store where I work is getting these new shirts in stock for the spring (I promise this isn’t a plug).
I’m deeply excited about them, partly because I haven’t seen them in person and I want the swift rush of dopamine that comes with showcasing a product that really stands on its own. And partly, because I’m afflicted with a feverish interest in anything that brings to mind the work of Giotto and Hieronymous Bosch — not to say that Medieval, Early and post-Renaissance depictions of European Catholic mysticism are even close to the entirety of what’s at play. Dubbed by Max Grobe at Highsnobiety as makers of “the occult alternative to your favorite Hawaiian shirt,” Endless Joy is the brainchild of designer Stevie Anderson, whose creations are “instilled with cryptic symbology and the subversive artworks play host to a motley crew of deities, shamans & spirits engaged in a dialectic of complementary opposites.”
On its website, the brand normally goes out of its way to explain the source of inspiration for the artwork. From my perspective, Anderson has managed to create a visual language of global mysticism without coming from a Westernizing, colonizing, exoticizing or otherwise problematic positionality. Anderson does not directly take from different cultures, but rather envisions ways in which belief systems might intersect without valuing one over the other, and also goes out of his way to explain the histories from which his inspiration comes.
Iterations of his philosophy like the Paradise Lost shirt eschews the assumption of a classical rendering of the primordial fall from grace that the John Milton-indebted name might entail. A classic camp collar shirt, fashioned out of ecologically sourced Indonesian silk and mother-of-pearl buttons, affords an atmospheric canvas filled with skies of deep lapis, palm trees that at once look tall and thin and muted and wilting and beaming with energy, sugilite-hued fruits that adorn them and a ground filled with what looks like translucent hair.The ground comes up around and brushes against the feet of two opposing figures, each occupying one side of the shirt’s two front-facing panels. The identity of the figures, vastly different in their appearance, is quite open to interpretation.
However, the shirt in question just isn’t, really. The two aforementioned figures appear to come from late-medieval and early-Italian-Renaissance depictions of both deities and anthropomorphic figures of the afterlife envisioned by artists like Giotto di Bondone through Catholic and aristocratic patronage. To the left is a humanoid rabbit woman, wearing a goddess-like, one shoulder coral dress out of organza or tulle, donning perked up ears, wide eyes and a modest grin as she exalts a blue python snake that’s wrapped around her arms. To the right of this scene is a woman completely cloaked in a white, form-fitting, jersey-like material with exaggerated goddess sleeves and a high slit starting at the right hip. She holds a tall, lit candle and maintains a friendly posture that welcomes you into this new environment. That same woman is mirrored on the back of the shirt, with the same friendly posture and slight smile that’s visible even through her cloak. To her right is a humanoid man with the head of a goat. He wears a loincloth out of that same white jersey fabric, his hands and fingers are splayed and slightly stretched out to his sides and his renaissance-like contrapposto is directed elsewhere. He seems curious, but not with any respect to the viewer that’s now being welcomed in from both sides of this wearable canvas. The symbols in this work are extensive. A cloaked woman, a candle, and the sexualization of what appears to be religious attire and its fusion with references to Roman statues and idealized nudes. The nods to Greek mythology, biblical texts, and to the kinds of creatures that are often exaggerated and made to be unsettling depictions of what might exist in canonized versions of hell. The luxuriously deep blue, suggesting both night and a kind of otherworldly environment, and the ties to nature that are altered just enough to toe the line between reality and fantasy. These all present more questions than they do answers. The sum of the shirt’s parts don’t necessarily add up to anything, and they certainly don’t have to be read into this deeply, but they do draw on familiar visual narratives in order to present something new.
In a short description, the brand states that “beneath the electric-spirit of the acid-lit palm, swinging in the blue night & surrounded by stars… emerge the archetypes.” Followed by the quote from famed psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, “Man has developed consciousness slowly and laboriously, in a process that took untold ages to reach the civilised state. And this evolution is far from complete, for large areas of the human mind are still shrouded in darkness.” What are these archetypes? Is this scene a depiction of Heaven? Hell? If not, then where might we be? If this environment isn’t based entirely in an ideology that’s been laid out for us, then how can we go about understanding it? In what could be argued as one of the brand’s more visually straightforward garments, Anderson calls on the consumer and viewer alike to challenge their notions of the supernatural, the afterlife and how they might apply to the frameworks through which we view culture in a broad sense as well as in our everyday lives.