Sunday, June 19, 2016

Antonio Lopez at El Museo del Barrio

Antonio Lopez, probably the most extraordinary fashion illustrator of the 1970s and 80s, is being celebrated at El Museo del Barrio in their current exhibition, Future Funk Fashion.  Last week we attended the exhibition's press preview and opening night. We are both fans of the illustrator/artist whose drawings were ubiquitous in our youth. Antonio was the subject of Mauricio and Roger Padilha's book, Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco, which is chock full of his colorful, sweeping illustration of clothing, models and men.

One of the many victims of the AIDS crisis, Lopez died at the age of 44 in 1987.  That so many of his contemporaries were lost at the same time may have contributed to his not receiving the recognition he so clearly deserved.  This exhibition, with literally hundreds of drawings, dazzles the eye and demonstrates why he was so in demand at many of the major fashion magazines of the day.   The show also highlights his collaboration with his creative partner and lover Juan E. Ramos who died at 53 in 1995.

The gorgeous illustration above of Angelo Colon is one of the highlights of the exhibition.  Over three feet tall, the sketch was part of a live demonstration given for students in 1983.  Lopez himself said that fashion illustration of the period had become very boring and "WASPy".  With his use of color, line, and particularly his choice of models, Lopez infused his illustrations with life, and vibrant sexuality.

In contrast to people in the fashion world today, many of whom dress in "normcore", Lopez (below) lived and loved the look he promoted, full of color, balance, attention to detail, and a little - or a lot - of outrageousness.

Here he is sketching one of his models, with Karl Largerfeld looking on.

Much as we would like to, we can't show you the exhibition's amazing start-to-finish video of Lopez sketching Angelo Colon, but you can click here to see him doing another live demonstration.  He has a very strong and confident hand, and a masterful use of line.  (Watch how he uses his entire arm, not just his hand, to get the desired effect.)

In this half finished color illustration, you can get some idea of his process.  Lopez's models tend to have a louche, come-hither look about them.  They often view the viewer.  The artist lures you into loving the clothes by luring you into loving the model.  His use of shading adds to the interest of the illustrations.  In the clothes, shading gives the illusion of the texture and luxury of the material.  In the model, Lopez takes the extra time to emphasize facial contours by adding dabs of white to the eyes, cheek, nose, lips and chin.

Here's an illustration of a dress with a black velvet yoke and matching skirt, held together by a large golden jeweled violin, and a smaller green violin at the hip.

Below is the dress the illustration was drawn from, the only actual garment in the exhibition.

There were quite a few drawings of impossible, but nevertheless marvelous, shoes...

And in one display case were plexiglass versions of several of the obviously unwearable but fabulously glamorous shoes.

The exhibition points out that Lopez discovered such well known faces as Jerry Hall, Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland and Tina Chow.  The portrait below is Sayoko Yamaguchi, who was often photographed in highly colorful make up.

On the walls were quite a few sketches that appeared to be preliminary drafts, but the lines are so lovingly and expertly drawn that it is easy to imagine what the actual product looked like.  In the drawing below, Lopez catches the feminine, romantic mood of the dress with the the soft, voluminous folds, and the model's delicate features.  (Sorry about the reflections in the glass.)

Here, the model's sportier, jauntier clothing is matched by the forward thrust of her hips and leg.  In both of these photos, the clothed woman is accompanied by a nearly nude man.  Each figure was probably drawn independently, but it's interesting that the artist makes the effort to bring the figures together with an understated hand gesture.

There is a vibrancy and urgency to his drawings.    Even when there are no facial expressions, the body language is telling.  The women below are straight-backed, in control, proud, and dancing effortlessly in their stilettos.

A different side of Lopez, as if he were drawing for comic books:

Imagine what Jean would have looked like had Antonio sketched her!

Since it was opening night, we have to show you some of the marvelous people we ran into.  Amelia Malayamba-Ansotegui (left), who co-curated the show, posed with artist Julia Santos-Solomon in a gorgeous reversible Italian coat.

Artists and designers Ruben and Isabel Toledo bookended one of the guests in a photo. Ruben drew the fabulous pattern on Isabel's dress with a black marker.

Patrick McDonald sported a tropical look.

Paul Van Ravenstein and Pat Cleveland made the scene. Pat was one of Antonio's favorite subjects, and appears in many of the illustrations in the show.

Roger Padilha and Josh McLaughlin posed in front of one of several of Antonio's iconic shoe drawings.

We posed in front of the dramatic graffiti mural which was one of the main props in Antonio and Juan's studio and may have been painted by the Rock Steady Crew.

A few weeks back, we took a Diseno Shoe Design Workshop co-sponsored by Cooper Hewitt and El Museo del Barrio, and conducted by Edmund Castillo, chief designer at Aquatalia.  Let's just say that we drew outside the lines and didn't exactly follow directions, but Edmund (left) was a good sport. He posed with photographer Rose Hartman and his boss from Aquatalia.

Jean couldn't help but notice how Valerie's hat and earrings mirrored those in the image in this poster that Antonio designed for Versace c. 1981-82.

The press preview was followed by a VIP reception that included a party in the lobby and on the plaza in front of the museum.  Jean ran into designer Narciso Rodriguez, who had also designed costumes for Stephen Petronio Dance Company.

Doris Casap, who is on the board of El Museo, was sweet enough to pose for a photo.

We loved running into Steve Caputo from Lower East Studios at the VIP party.

Author and illustrator Bil Donovan always looks incredibly dapper. We loved his Dior tie.  The cameo-like flower is hand painted.

Jean just about freaked when she got to meet Michelle Lamy in the flesh.  She wore her clothes back in the day and has been a fan for many years. Woo hoo!

Out on the plaza, Valerie ran into Alejandro Figueredo who was also enjoying the balmy weather.

We had noticed each of the members of this group individually during the show, but when they ended up all sitting together outside, we had to take a photo. Actress Parker Posey (now blond) is in the center and the lady on the right, Leana Zuniga, owns Electric Feathers, an avant garde women's wear store in Brooklyn.

This British couple was enjoying the evening. We loved her shirt.

Jasmin Hernandez and her friend Marquita posed for a photo before we headed outside.

Go see the exhibition!


  1. Look at you, hob nobbing again. Spectacular. I can't wait to see the show.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post - magnificent drawings, I love them - and the shoes!!! As a former ballet dancer, I wonder... and as I live in Australia and won't get to the show, I really appreciate you sharing your adventure. Fabulous!

  3. I'm breathless!! What a fabulous time I've just had as I accompany you through this post. A total pleasure. xoxoxo

  4. Wonderful-wonderful! Inspirational in life and unfortunate early death. Thanks for sharing.