Local artists move beyond canvas to find medium to publicly display designs 

As street art seeps into galleries, alternative methods of marketing art to the public are increasingly popular. Now, skateboard decks, shoes and clothes are legitimate canvases.

Located at 1705 N.W. 16th in the Plaza Arts District, dna.galleries incorporates the new art forms by introducing limited-edition T-shirt runs designed by artists showing at the gallery.


Josh Heilaman will be the first artist to design a shirt printed under the gallery's Black Jelly clothing label. The shirts are $20 and will complement more traditional paintings and illustrations he plans to exhibit. Heilaman will debut a series of traditional and T-shirt art pieces 7 p.m. Friday at a gallery opening with DJ Garistotle.

"Having shirts to sell serves a few purposes," said gallery co-owner Dylan Bradway. "They are cheaper than original artwork. Also, anyone can take home a shirt and may prefer that over a piece of art. It seems that art on a shirt is less stuffy and showy, and becomes a part of your life in a more tangible sense."

This will be Heilaman's first solo show in Oklahoma City since he moved to Austin, Texas, last year. He was excited at the prospect of designing a T-shirt and said he doesn't have as many graphic-arts opportunities as he used to.

Producing T-shirts as art is a different process than painting, he said. Much of his canvas work tends to be illustration-styled and focused on simple characters set against ethereal and otherworldly landscapes. The complex details of these designs prevent them from being transferable to T-shirts, and Heilaman said the backgrounds of his paintings don't transfer well to T-shirt designs.

"Painting is a bit more free-form. There aren't as many guidelines, but with T-shirts, you have to make sure all your lines go through," he said. "There are a lot of bad shirts out there and a lot of great shirts out there; what differentiates the two is the form."

For the shirt, Heilaman's movement and energy is still intact, but with fewer, bolder lines. He said his wearable design was "the best I've ever done," and that the shirt's female character is a subject he has been developing.

"She wears a kimono and is blind," he said. "The story is in progress, but basically she has this crazy mystical helmet she puts on. It looks like water that exploded outwards and then froze. When she puts the helmet on, she has this third-eye vision where she can see and feel things going on in a different way."

The character is nameless at this point, but Heilaman has discussed collaborating on a children's book based on the character.

He decided to buck a recent trend in T-shirt design, where the image is placed off-center so that it might wrap over the wearer's shoulder or around the torso.

"In recent years, the popular shirt designs have been larger designs off to the side and intentionally sloppy," he said. "I do more of an old-school approach with the design centered in the middle, more universally pleasing because not everyone likes the crazy designs. I think this design has a centered feeling, with the girl on the cloud and the rest of the design feeling balanced, so I felt the placement of the design should be centered as well."

The acceptance of T-shirts as legitimate art pieces is just part of an ongoing shift in the art world where artists are becoming smarter about the way they approach audiences and sell their work, Heilaman said. It also shows the influence other modern technologies and elements are having on the artists.

"In the last 20 to 30 years, the art world has changed dramatically. It has become very graphic- and market-oriented," he said. "T-shirts are just one step in that evolution, and it is the only way an artist can survive in this age, by thinking from a market viewpoint."

Heilaman calls T-shirts and other untraditional and inexpensive forms "art for those that can't afford art." As long as the approach the artist takes toward the piece isn't compromised, then he feels just about any method of getting art to the public can be legitimate.

"The art form of T-shirts has grown into something very valid "? more than a brand name or your product name," Heilaman said. "Having your art on a T-shirt has become accepted by the masses."

"?Charles Martin

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