“Lovey”: The Latest Project of Joe Average Turns Television into Wearable Art

Remember the 1960s’ TV series Gilligan’s Island? It’s been revived several times over the decades in syndication, and who can forget the seven characters marooned on an island somewhere in the Pacific during its original three seasons: Gilligan (Bob Denver), The Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr.), Mary Ann Summers (Dawn Wells), Ginger Grant (Tina Louise), The Professor (Russell Johnson), Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus), and Eunice “Lovey” Wentworth-Howell (Natalie Shafer). Visitors come and go on the island, but through ninety-eight episodes of the series the seven basic cast members for some reason are never able to leave.

Canadian artist Joe Average is reviving memories of the show in his own way these days, which is to say, through his art.

I profiled Joe, his encounters with AIDS, and his art in the June cover story of A&U magazine (available online at aumag.org). As I noted in that article, “Joe’s art communicates a kind of colorful, joyous wittiness.” Those qualities are certainly evident in his latest project, which he titled Lovey.

Lovey is not going on canvas or paper, but on a piece of wearable art—a gender-inclusive, long-sleeve shirt produced in collaboration with Vancouver-based DEQQ Apparel. According to the company: “DEQQ Apparel is an artist-led fashion brand producing limited edition wearable art. We believe you can change the world when you share the art you love in your daily life. Art will start conversations. It will make us think. It will stir our emotions. Art is meant to be experienced; so share it with your community and wear it often.”

Why was the piece titled Lovey? According to Joe: “After I painted it, I looked at it and it just struck me. It reminded me of the wonderful actress Natalie Schafer. Most people remember her for her role as Lovey on Gilligan’s Island. That’s where the name came from.”

271Natalie Shafer as Lovey on Gilligan’s Island. 

Joe lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. The idea for the shirts-as-art project came from David Gratton, an established technology entrepreneur, who also lives in Vancouver. Gratton ran a boutique studio that developed products for companies as diverse as Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Mattel, and ArcTeryx, as well as co-founded one of Canada’s largest digital consultancies called Appnovation. Asked about the genesis of DEQQ Apparel, Gratton answered: “I came up with the idea when a man tried to buy an embroidered shirt off my back at a conference in Banff, Alberta. It took close to a decade for the idea to germinate and for the technology needed to guarantee authenticity and provenance to mature.”

Joe and Gratton have been friends for fifteen years, and Lovey is the initial shirt Gratton has chosen to launch DEQQ Apparel. Asked why, he replied, “First, Joe had never released this image previously, and second, Lovey is just a joyful name. The image makes me smile every time I see it. We need more love and smiles.”

Screen Shot 2020-08-17 at 11.36.42 AMLovey shirt. Joe Average in the background. (Image provided by David Gratton; all rights reserved.)

About Joe Average the person, Gratton continued: “Like Joe, I’m a Canadian and a Vancouverite. Joe’s art is on the street signs of Vancouver. It’s on the coins in our wallets and pockets. He’s a personality in our community and a strong advocate for HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ community. If you follow art, you know who Joe Average is. If you’re from Vancouver, he’s part of the fabric of our community.”

Lovey illustration 1 Lovely shirt. (Image supplied by David Gratton; all rights reserved.)

When Joe was asked why he agreed to participate in the project, he answered: “During my career I’ve been approached about twenty times by people with very grand ideas to use my art in some exclusive manner, ninety percent of which never came to fruition. People get to a certain point in a project, see it’s hard, and then give up. When David approached me with his idea, he was very excited and I thought the technology element was novel and interesting. I decided to let him run with it, and see if he tired out. But David didn’t tire out. He finished the project, and I’m pleasantly surprised.”

The technology both David Gratton and Joe mention refers to a chip embedded into each garment that works like those embedded in credit cards one taps to pay for a purchase. Because each design is produced in a strictly limited run similar to lithographs, in DEQQ garments the chips are used to identify the authenticity of the garment and its exclusivity (i.e. “this is #25 of 90). The customer just taps her or his smartphone to the chip to verify that information. With Lovey, the chip is embedded in Joe Average’s “A” logo located on the back of the shirt.

Lovey’s run is ninety garments. Like all DEQQ Apparel garments, it is being sold under the artist’s brand. Once the run sells out, that is it. No more garments with this particular design will ever be produced.

Each shirt is made of a durable, luxurious cotton fabric that feels exquisite on your body and can be easily repaired in the unlikely chance that it becomes damaged. Cost: $550 [Canadian] per shirt. The shirts go on sale August 27 and can be ordered through deqq.com

A final note: As David Gratton commented during the interview for this blog entry, “Wearable art is meant to be worn. Please don’t put it on the wall!”

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