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Hi Fructose: A Look at Kukula’s Creative Process for “Haute Debutantes”

Left: Gimabattista Valli Couture, Right: “The Creators” by Kukula

Last week, we brought to you a glimpse of “Haute Debutantes”, the latest solo exhibition by HF Vol. 7 artist Kukula. We recently caught up with the Connecticut based artist to learn more about her process behind the show, who is celebrating with a reception tonight at AFA Gallery in New York. Kukula admittedly applies herself to excessive research in preparation of a new series. For “Haute Debutantes”, she poured over images of couture fashion designs and researched 18th century paintings of high class society. In such portraits, the artist gave the wearer’s clothes just as much attention to detail as the wearer. Clothing brought more personality to the image, becoming an important part of the painting. Kukula found herself fascinated by the idea of clothing driving artists to create a better work of art. In this tradition, she wanted to use couture designs, the best form of fashion, to craft a masterpiece. When beginning a new piece, she explains, “I create a rough or what I like to call “ugly” in Photoshop because I like to move things around for days. I project it on the board and draw it to details. I like to use blue acrylic before I paint because I can see it through the oil and keep the original lines.”

Left: Gimabattista Valli Couture, Right: “The Creators” by Kukula

The influence of the 1920s and Art Deco illustration can also be felt in her new paintings, an era that in turn is also influenced by different periods. In works such as “The Three Graces”, she borrowed composition elements from artists such as André Edouard Marty’s illustrations, and the highly detailed and elaborate evening dresses created in 1914 by designer Georges Doeuillet. Additional inspiration included French designer Erté’s New Bridges For The Sevens Seas and Gimabattista Valli Couture fashions. As a movement with great meaning to her, Kukula wanted to breathe a new life into the Art Deco era. She calls it a “renascence of Art Deco”. “It was when women really came out to the world as intelligent and free, it was a courageous time for women. The Art Deco movement was interrupted and stopped by the war and this spirit is gone forever. For me, it’s the biggest loss,” she says.

“The Three Graces” by Kukula

Kukula’s reinvention of the debutante is much more than a fashionable rich waif. Her debutantes break traditional conventions as they unapologetically express their newfound identities. When we asked Kukula what the attraction was to debutantes, we got a surprising answer: “Debutantes do not inspire me at all, nor was I one or ever met one. I was creating a “new debutante”, a woman that chooses how to present herself to the world. I was inspired by my friends, women that are creative, smart, independent and very feminine. Their style is an important part of showing they world who they are from the inside. The fashionable in the hip or hyped way, it will be more personal expressive and sometime messy. This is what I wanted to express. They create the world around them according to their choosing and their spirit. It’s very powerful but it’s not aggressive or manly like we used to think of the classic feminist.”

“Haute Debutantes” by Kukula is now on view through September 27th at AFA Gallery in New York.

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