theGrio’s 100: Nick Cave, Chicago artist blends fashion and politics

Artist Nick Cave

Nick Cave attends Art In Embassies 50th Anniversary Celebration at Smithsonian National Museum Of American History on November 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)

Who is Nick Cave?

Nick Cave, 53, is a Chicago-based visual artist whose “Soundsuits” are bringing the fine art world a new appreciation of performance and movement. Crafted of found materials ranging from synthetic hair to twigs, these mammoth garments create a symphony of color, texture and sound around the wearer. Always sewn by hand, Cave’s Soundsuits are often donned by dancers – very often Cave himself, who is Alvin Ailey-trained – who transform within the masked costumes into otherworldly creatures.

The net result is an aesthetic epitomizing the modern pastiche of the “re-mix” through the use of found objects while paying homage to African tribal costumes. Cave’s work has been praised by The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other outlets for his unique creative vision that melds fashion, art, performance and social meaning.

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

Cave has made a tremendous impact in the rarified world of fine art, in which African-American artists are still struggling to receive equal recognition. His Soundsuits have created a sonic boom in this arena, drawing attention for their beautiful colors, startling array of designs — and the thrill of hearing the suits rustle musically when they are donned by dancers.

In addition to the sensory impressions of his Soundsuits, Cave’s work has made an impact through the intellectual statements of his creations. He made his very first Soundsuit in 1992 out of twigs in reaction to the Rodney King beating. Through the suit, Cave took something many find insignificant – twigs – and transformed this refuse into metaphorical armor. Cave’s twig Soundsuit drew a parallel between its materials and how many see the lives of black men like King – and Cave himself. It, like the hundreds of Soundsuits that followed, became a form of protection against a world that would deem one insignificant.

Cave’s suits now sell for $45,000 each through fine art galleries and are shown in museums internationally.

What’s next for Cave?

Cave will continue to produce his hand-sewn expressions of rhythym and beauty from discarded objects working with his team of assistants to stitch together flea market finds and unlikely materials. You can find his work through his main outlet, the Jack Shainman Gallery. Upcoming exhibitions in 2013 include solo shows at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and the Denver Art Museum in Colorado.

Follow the work of Nick Cave on Twitter at @SoundSuitShop