London Is My Village

“The future is beautifully bleak, but let’s have it” – Corbin Shaw creates a portrait of London on Levi’s denim
By Ella Joyce | Art | 27 October 2022

Sheffield-born, London-based artist Corbin Shaw is standing next to a large map of London printed onto cut-up and reused Levi’s denim. “London is my village” is written in big, bold letters – as is Shaw’s signature text style – and places from the artist’s life living in the city are plotted: his first flat, the pie shop he used to work at, and the CSM building where he studied.

Titled London Tapestry, the artwork was born out of Levi’s new city-wide campaign LDN in Levi’s, handing their Regent Street flagship store over to young creative talent to display their personal history of life in the city; told through the eyes of modern Londoners who have made the capital their home, no matter how far away their own ‘home’ may be.

Shaw is, in his own words, “an exiled Northerner,” who had his sights set on the capital to study at Central Saint Martins nearly six years ago. Having called London home ever since, he’s now one of the city’s most talented and exciting young artists – creating tongue-in-cheek works that subvert and celebrate British traditions; from the tea rooms to the football terraces. “When I look at my tapestry on the wall I see all the people and places that made me feel at home in London,” shares Shaw, “Thousands of memories and many more to make”

Ella Joyce: What was your personal relationship like with Levi’s before this collaboration?
Corbin Shaw: Working with Levi’s was such an easy fit because Levi’s jeans have genuinely been part of my life since I was about thirteen. I remember getting my first pair of stone-washed Levi 501s with my dad, who was getting me ready for the football. I got so much life out of them – football, gigs, dates. I still have that same pair back home in the garage. 501s are definitely a staple, but they are known for being a blank canvas for us to project our own identity onto, depending on how we wear them. Clothes are these 2D objects that cover our bodies and then our bodies imprint ourselves onto the clothes. With my London Tapestry I wanted to imprint my life experiences back onto the fabric. I even wore 501s to create the artwork. Levi’s 501s are a pop cultural artefact. When you wear them you’re wearing the history of everyone who wore them before you. I wore them because my dad works in them, and now I’m working with them.

EJ: Where did the London Tapestry process begin?
CS: I used cyanotype to make my tapestry. Cyanotype is a water-based solution that you paint onto fabric, then you overlay your text or images and expose to UV light. Fifteen minutes later, the images have been ingrained into and onto the fabric. The cyanotype sets in a darker blue the longer you expose it. I took white denim and replicated the indigo dye usually used on denim through my cyanotype process. For the images on the tapestry, I took a trip down memory lane and photographed places like my first ever flat, my first workplace (a pie shop) and where I studied when I first moved here. I then used the cyanotype process to imprint those spaces onto the denim fabric of my tapestry.

“Levi’s 501’s are a pop cultural artefact. When you wear them you’re wearing the history of everyone who wore them before you.”

EJ: How does the technique of denim imprinting vary from your usual practice?
CS: I usually work with digital printing when putting images on fabric or reclaiming old tea towels with images on them. For this work I wanted to replace the way that jeans fade and wear over time. I was interested in how the body imprints itself onto denim. Denim wears and tells us stories about the person who wore it, what they did in the jeans.

EJ: London Tapestry captures your own memories and experiences of the capital, how would you define the city’s cultural landscape?
CS: The cultural landscape of London is so vast, so multicultural, and in a sense different for each person. I don’t think I can come close to defining it. The only thing I will say I have noticed is that the rumours we say up North about London and Londoners aren’t entirely true. There’s a lot of togetherness here and I think London is a harmonious example of people from different cultures all working in tandem, and this can be seen in the art that comes from the city.

“When I look at my tapestry on the wall I see all the people and places that made me feel at home in London.”

EJ: Having grown up in Sheffield and moved to London, how has the city shaped you?
CS: When I was sixteen I first came to London on a school trip, and I fell for the place. From then, I did everything I could to move down. I worked at a service station whilst studying at Leeds College of Art to fund my move. I had heard about Central Saint Martins in London through Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics on the song Common People, and knew I wanted to be there. It’s been a journey since then though, I moved down five years ago and was lost and alone at first.  I didn’t know if moving to London was actually right for me, it felt too different from the suburbs of Sheffield. Slowly though, I met my people and they’ve totally shaped me. When I look at my tapestry on the wall I see all the people and places that made me feel at home in London. Thousands of memories and many more to make, I’m an exiled northerner now but I’m a Londoner now! Well, an adopted one.

EJ: As a young artist, how do you envision London’s creative scene evolving over the next few years?
CS: There’s so much talent here in the city, it’s a loving ‘dog eat dog’ community. I have no idea how things will go but I want to work and exhibit alongside other great artists of this city. I’m sure in these uncertain political times the country is going through, great art will surely emerge from it. The future is beautifully bleak, but let’s have it.

Corbin Shaw’s new commission will be on display at Levi’s® newly reopened Regent Street until 4th November 2022. The artist will also release a limited edition set of slogan patches available to purchase from the Levi’s® Tailor Shop at Regent Street. 

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