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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Necktie Art

Hand-painted ties are often individualized to the wearer's personality, interests,               
or profession. These would seem to belong to an American traveling gourmet.               
Painters who have inspired necktie designers.
This morning as I was dressing for church and deftly plowing through my age-old collection of neckties, it occurred to me that I'd never written about the art of necktie design. Then it occurred to me, who cares? Apart from the textile design elements (usually diagonal) and the occurrence of bold, representational prints, there is a more important element of art associated with such decorative apparel--the hand-painted tie. In being an artist over the years I've been given as gifts ties inspired by Salvador Dali, van Gogh, and Monet (left). None, alas, are hand painted. I do, however, have one hand-painted tie unlike any I've seen on line or in a store. It features my signature running vertically up the tie opposite a mirror image to a form somewhat floral design (below) that's quite intriguing yet not immediately recognizable for what it is. Apart from those three or four, my hundred or so ties are not in any way unusual except for their considerable range in widths. I've seen a lot birthdays, Fathers' Days, and Christmases. People tell me I'm hard to buy for. I'm not, it's just that all my "toys" cost more than they're willing to spend.

When turned vertically as normally worn (right), the design origin is not so obvious.
This Jane Ireland design
would be at home in even
the fanciest restaurants
Speaking of costs, hand-painted ties purchased or commissioned over the Internet often go for at little as $40., which looks quite thrifty as compared to the cringe-worthy prices I often see in mens' stores. They can often range upward to twice that. Perhaps that's one reason ties seem to be declining in favor at the moment as more and more informality creeps into the business world. Of course, this wouldn't be the first time ties have lost their sartorial appeal. It happened in the flowery era of the 1970s, and again in the 1990s. They are, of course, the most useless piece of men's apparel ever conceived, serving only to visually brighten the otherwise the drab gray, navy, brown, and black of men's dress suits. In fact, today, they are often worn to match the other colors, rather than to contrast with them. For me, they are not totally useless. Ties tend to serve the purpose of a bib, which is why, in fancy restaurants, I always try to order something from the menu that matches my tie. Jane Ireland's tromp l'oeil tie (left) seems designed with that in mind.

Renoir's Dance at Bougival (right), 1883, inspired the hand-painted
version (left) similar to the printed versions I used to wear.
In today's world, motion pictures
rather than paintings are often the
inspiration for hand-painted ties.
Ties have a colorful history, one in which their purpose was more practical than decorative. Some contend they date back to the days of the Roman army around the first century or before as part of their uniform, vital in holding heavy armor in place and as a scarf for warmth. However the military use of the broad strip of cloth, other than as a scarf, dates back to The Thirty Years Wars in the early 17th-century. When we visited Croatia a year ago, they were quick to remind us that the necktie was officially "invented" there. I reminded them that I wouldn't hold that against them. Actually, I rather like neckties and wore them daily during the years I was teaching, despite the fact I once accidentally chopped off the bottom of one while using a paper cutter (it was an ugly tie anyway). I often wore my artist-inspired ties as a sort of portable art history lesson designed to spark comments from students.

Like all else, there are books on
how to paint neckties.
Painting neckties is really not all that different from painting on canvas so long as one uses the right paints and mediums, and is willing to adjust their procedures a little. First of all, there are special fabric-friendly acrylic paints designed for use on un-primed cloth surfaces; or one can use ordinary acrylic artist colors with a special textile medium. Forget heavy impasto brushwork. Neckties require patience, small brushes, and a steady hand. Paint is usually applied in multiple layers, allowed to dry between applications, and coordinated with the base fabric, sometimes in a transparent manner for half-tones. Most tie painters prefer some subtle color, texture, and modulation in their unpainted ties. If the tie is not of a solid color the painting process can be notably unforgiving of errors. Blank, solid-color ties, can usually be purchased for around fifteen dollars, especially if bought in quantity. Black, white, and red seem to be the most popular colors. Green is the least liked.

The butterfly bow tie--though men wear them, women are often the ones who buy them.

Flower Power
As to what to paint, the best advice is to consistently think masculine, paint nostalgia, or popular culture. Subsets involving wildlife, pets, products, professions, avocations, and even portraits are also popular but often entail considerable time and skill thus driving the price beyond what people are willing to pay even for gifts for the man "impossible to buy for." I found ties with the iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Lee, John Wayne, surfers, pinup models, even butterflies and flowers. Men are traditionally bold and brave, but it's surprising what some men are bold and brave enough to wear in public.

For the man aiming to flaunt his (supposed wealth),
or one with a taste for classic, as well as raunchy beauty.
Abstract, non-representational
designs are seldom seen in
hand painted neckwer.
And, in choosing an artist, the same rules apply as in canvas painting. There are accomplished masters, pedantic professionals, talented amateurs, and godawful daubers. Prices run mostly according to the technical skills of the artist and his or her marketing ambition, far more than in association with creativity. Necktie art does not hang on a wall, but from the neck and very often behind the buttons of a suit or sports coat. Also keep in mind, the wearer may tire of a tie with a representational image sooner than some safe, amalgamation of colorful stripes.

Will the necktie still be around when he's old enough to wear a real one?


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