George Banks lives and works in New York. He is a part of the team at Knickerbocker, where he assists with the manufacturing of clothing and other wares. George hails from Melbourne, originally working there at a retail store selling Japanese and US made heritage clothing, before making the move across to the production end of the business. Influenced by chain stitch embroidery, he has been working on a range of chenille embroidered bags, created from old Japanese and US army duffel bags.
We spoke with him in the lead up to his show at The Letter Bet to discuss his practice working with chenille & chain stitch embroidery.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be living in New York?
Around mid-way through 2016 I decided that I wasn't getting what I felt like I needed from Melbourne. I really wanted to work more with Embroidery but more specifically sewing machine's in general. I was working in a retail space selling heritage clothing mainly USA Made and Japanese Made, I really loved that industry and how artisan all the companies involved in it are. Anyway I knew about this company based in New York called Knickerbocker, a whole bunch of young people trying their hand at manufacturing on a commercial scale. To me that sounded like a bit of a dream. Anyway I got in touch and 6 months later I was walking into the factory here in Ridgewood and have been hard at it since then.
Where about's are you living in New York, how do you find it rental and living wise in comparison to your home-town Melbourne?
I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The cost of rental in New York is absurd, however it is what it is. I managed to find a large space pretty far from the city which is really peaceful, for a good price so I'm happy. Nothing beats having a beautiful old house with a garden and a bunch of friends sharing with you though!
New York has always been a creatively inspiring city, are there lots of people working near you who inspire your work, tell us about them ?
There are a bunch of amazing artists and makers that use the Knickerbocker machines for various projects. Brian Blakely does custom Chain-stitching on a pretty big scale, he was one of the first people to get good on the machine. He has done work for Calvin Klein and A$ap Rocky. There is also a guy called Kelly Heiss who uses vintage Louis Vuitton fabrics to remake Nike Dunks and AF1's along with a whole bunch of other products. He has made things for a whole string of famous people. The factory in general really encourages people to be creative and to work hard. Its about 100 years old and looks out over the city skyline. Its really beautiful.
Could you tell us about Chenille / Chain Stitch embroidery, and how you came to make it?
Chenille and Chain Stitch embroidery has been around for a long time, It was a really common practise back in the 50's and 60's people would use it to name their clothes and to customize things. Chenille is very common because its how all the old varsity jackets were made.
Talk us through the bags you embroider on, in your instagram you mentioned one was a repurpose USN duffel bags lined with a vintage Japanese Indigo Apron and other was a WWII Japanese Internment mail bag. Do you repurpose these yourself?
Yeah I buy old duffel bags and cut them into panels to reconstruct them into a more usable everyday bag for people like myself!
Where do you find the balance of making money versus creative output?
I work full-time for Knickerbocker but as with a lot of people who work in New York I don't get paid a lot. I find that I'm really driven to create things and work on projects to help make ends meet. It's tough because you have to work hard but its incredibly rewarding and I'm lucky that I work in a place that has the machinery and facility's I need to work on the things I'm passionate about.
You have built up a fair amount of tattoos now, has tattoo design influenced the way you approach your artwork?
I'm definitely influenced by tattoo culture. I love the simplicity of traditional tattoo designs and I feel like that is an area I draw a lot of inspiration from.
You will be exhibiting at The Letter Bet in St Henri on October 6th, what have you got planned for this exhibition?
I'm going to be hanging a tapestry of sorts, its a piece depicting the two faces of the Ancient Egyptian Deity Sobek. I'm fascinated by ancient Egypt and the evidence of past civilizations in that area. It makes my brain go all gooey thinking about how big the human existence really is. I'm also going to make a few bags with references to the wall hanging on each one.
Words: Nicola Mitchell