Seeing Things: Ronaldus Shamask in Philadelphia
Through March 2013 the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Ronaldus Shamask: Form, Fashion, Reflection, an exhibition exploring the evolution of Shamask’s unique multidisciplinary approach to fashion honed over his thirty-five-year career.
Shamask’s designs—marked by clean lines and a focus on cut, construction, and color—are a reflection of his background in art, theater and architecture. Hakama Evening Overall (1979; version 2012) reinterprets the formal garments traditionally worn by samurai warriors with jolts of color inspired by the paintings of Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664) and Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872–1944). When unfolded, the dramatic Four-Point Ensemble (1982) takes the form of a traditional Japanese theater banner.
Shamask’s architectural inspiration can be seen in Spiral Jacket (1981), cut from one piece of fabric incorporating a continuously curving seam that mimics a lemon peel. Instead of making freehand sketches as many designers do, Shamask worked out his early designs as architectural renderings on graph paper, scaling them to the size of the finished piece. This method is evident in Drawing for Pleated Dress (1979), a garment constructed of precisely folded pleats anchored by top stitching, topped by his Handbag Jacket (1979) with integral pockets.
In addition to considering how his designs interact with the body, Shamask enters into provocative dialogue with artists who share his vision and multidisciplinary approach in their respective fields. In Suspension Dress (1979; version 1991, 2012), Shamask used a cast silver necklace by Michele Oka Doner as a counterweight to a draped square of linen, which falls into a handkerchief hem in the back. Evening Dress (1998; version 2012) and Two-Piece Halter Dress (1998; version 2012) represent the influence of Jennifer Bartlett’s post-minimalist work with color and grids.
Shamask designs have also drawn influence from music and dance. He explored the art both solo (Cello Jacket, 1981) and in conjunction with others, including collaborations with choreographers Lucinda Childs and Mikhail Baryshnikov.