From where Nick Cave sits now, as head of the Fashion, Body, and Garment graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he looks back on his lifetime of work as “a vehicle of sorts for change,” that’s been done “through forms of outreach [and] community service by creating spaces, places, for us to come together collectively,” he says.
Born into a family of creatives in Columbia, Missouri, Cave credits his relatives—among them woodworkers, seamstresses, painters, musicians, and poets—for the encouragement of his creative pursuits, which he recalls were “not hindered in any way.” This nurturing environment shaped the foundation of his artistry, which is uninhibited by materials, mediums, or boundaries.
In between attending the Kansas City Art Institute for undergraduate studies, dabbling in dance at the University of Missouri Kansas City, and earning a master’s degree in fine arts at Michigan’s esteemed Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cave bolstered his studies through residencies. Taking only a backpack, he took off for interludes of one year here, two years there in the American South, Europe, and Mexico. “I would bring nothing with me. And I would say, ‘I’ll figure it out when I get there,’” he recalls. “That’s where this abundance of material language came into play.”
Perhaps his most recognizable work is Soundsuits, a mixed-media amalgamation of textures and objects composed together to obfuscate identity. Cave constructed his first suit in the series (he’s since made hundreds) as a manifestation of his reaction to the LAPD’s violent assault on Rodney King in 1991. The otherworldly creations comprise faux fur, stuffed animals, sequins, branches, or anything else that appeals to Cave.
Nods to his Soundsuits and other works are the throughline of his recent 10-product collection for Knoll Textiles. “I’ve always been making cloth in some form or another within my own studio practice. I was interested in how we move it into [a] product that is to function and to serve in a different way,” says Cave.
There’s Puff, a candy-colored assortment of cozy, faux shearling that is based on a rainbow Soundsuit; and Heard, made from ribbons handcut, sewn, and applied in rows to imbue a sense of movement. “It’s important to me that the work holds an essence, that there is a presence, a curiosity that’s built in the work that it draws you to the object, allowing you to question what it is that you’re experiencing.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s February/March 2023 issue.