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Interview with artist Elizabeth Ilsley

Thursday 05 January 2017

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Words Spindle

Artist Elizabeth Ilsley has become well known for the iconic leather jackets she paints with frank, personal and subversiveslogans. As well as her relatable jackets, she creates prints with similarly bold words, layered over old pornography images, which she crops down to the most interesting part. Drawing from her own experiences and everyday life problems, the words she combines with both these images and jackets are often witty and tongue-and-cheek – sometimes brazen and raw – and always with a punk and feminist spirit, starting conversations about female experience and representation, and smashing outdated taboos and stigma. Elizabeth has produced a line of her painted jackets exclusively for Liberty London, and recently held her first solo exhibition ‘All My Mistakes In One Room.’ We talk to Elizabeth about her powerful combination of clever, responsive wording over transgressive imagery and jackets, and how she captures the empowering and rebellious feel that has made her designs so popular among the young female audience.

How would you describe your artwork? What’s it about and what do you want to say with it?

My artwork is about breaking taboos, having a sense of humour when talking about relationships, the issues 20-something women have, and expressing myself through prints and paintings.


What compels you to create? How did you get started?

I started the leather jackets by accident, I bought a leather biker jacket from a charity shop, but it was too big for me so I decided to paint ‘I shave my legs for you’ onto it and used it as a wall decoration. I put it on Instagram and watched hundreds of people like it. I was amazed and started my own line. For the prints I make, I’ve always had an interest in printmaking so it was a natural medium for me to use when I went through a pretty dark time in my life and needed to illustrate my anger and sadness in a sensible way.

Tell us about your series ‘Zero Fucks Given.’ What inspired it?

Zero Fucks Given’ is a collection of all the prints I have made this year and last. I take old pornography images and re-appropriate them with my text and editing to give a whole new message. Each print is a ‘true story’ and has a story behind each one.


Your work is funny, witty and clever, but also subversive, addressing marginalised topics and raising many issues. Tell us about this.

I think its important to make work that my peers can relate to, work that makes us think and reminisce almost. I get messages from girls I’ve never met thanking me for certain prints because I’m saying what they haven’t got the words or balls to say to the person that’s hurt them. It’s okay to be vulnerable.

Where did the idea come from for your painted jackets? What inspires their messages?

The initial inspiration for the jackets comes from my love of punk. I read Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ and got really excited and inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe and a certain photograph he took of the back of a hustler’s leather biker jacket painted with band names. I wanted to paint feminist powerful messages on the jackets and keep them really sexy and stylish.


Why did you choose to combine art and fashion?

I never really intended to combine both, but I guess it makes sense. I’m primarily an artist, with a degree in Fine Art and exhibitions and ideas under my belt, it just so happens I have a fashion brand too. But the two go together perfectly because it is what I’m all about.

Tell us about your recent exhibition ‘All My Mistakes in One Room.’

All My Mistakes In One Room was an absolute dream. I’m a tremendously lucky person to have a solo show at 22-years-old. It featured a lot of prints from the ‘Zero Fucks Given’ collection and two years worth of analogue photographs I have taken, and a leather jacket. It was just the best experience!


Do you have a favourite piece of your own work?

My favourite print at the moment is ‘fuck perfection’ – it just turned out really well!

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a small collaboration with Dr. Martens, I’m also working on my next collection that will be sold with Liberty London, and looking to expand to leather trousers and new t-shirts too.


What’s your dream brief or project?

My dream project would be to have a solo show in a major London gallery, or collaborate with Saint Laurent, or to make a photography book.

View more of Elizabeth’s work at: www.elizabethilsley.com