Honest Clothes in Dishonest Times

Photo by Daniel Dorsa

A T-shirt from the artist Jack Greer’s clothing label Iggy can articulate an entire sense of the world. Take, for example, an early design featuring an illustration of an exasperated pencil pusher. The anguish on the nine-to-fiver’s face arrives tenderly and cartoonishly in Greer’s attention to what you could call spiritual detail. Globs of sweat dribble down the character’s forehead. Crumpled cheeks give way to a pained smile. Written underneath, in 

a sly graffiti script, “work.” It’s delicately perceptive, a good way to describe the 32-year-old artist’s entire constellation of work, which by now includes clothing, sculpture, film, painting, and photography. In addition to any possible permutation therein. Greer’s creations are nearly innocent, delving into big ideas with clear-eyed curiosity. Like his short film “Circles in Tompkins Square,” which he released last year. The film unfolds as a detailed portrait of the iconic East Village park and provides an affecting reflection on solitude and closeness. It’s familiar terrain for anyone paying attention to Iggy, a sort of nucleus for the artist’s point of view. Shirts with burning police cars and, my personal favorite, a drawing of the devil delivering newspapers, all speak to the hopes, fears, and anxieties of an artist looking to say only the truth.

Your background is in fine art. Tell me about the Still House Group.

We formed the same way you get roommates. We were not any more special than anyone else. It was just the right time. Contemporary art was having a bubble, people were really interested in what was happening outside of the traditional gallery system with people doing their own thing and subverting the gallery system by saying, we don’t have brick and mortar but you can come and buy artwork from us directly. We were almost like Amazon, a direct source. So what Stillhouse became was a very successful contemporary art studio collective, but a collective without people making collective pieces, it was individual. We were sort of a hot ticket to buy because the work was relatively affordable. But there were all of these speculative investors that got involved which meant that everyone’s market was really volatile because people were coming in, buying, holding it for six months, flipping it at auction. It’s what ultimately caused Stillhouse and the entire group of that era of art making to get fucked

How did you go from art to clothes? 

I’d done some strict graphic design but most of my freelance work was in one way or another, custom apparel. I’d basically go buy a jean jacket at the vintage store, embellish it and sell it as a couture piece. But even though that looked more extravagant than a silk screen tee shirt it was still easier because it was a one to one. I could spend a week decorating one garment myself. As Stillhouse was coming to a close, I thought to myself: “Well, if I have to go back to work, and now that I have money that I never had before, I can actually manufacture something for the first time in my life.” So I decided to launch Iggy as a brand, even though I’d had clothing brands under my own name with Opening Ceremony and Fred Segal and places over the past 10 years of my 15 to 25-year-old life, I never went for it. 

Why not?

I didn’t want to let anyone know about it, because unlike the world that we live in today, as little as 10 years ago, this interdisciplinary artist was not desired. People saw it as you don’t know your lane. Today you look at someone like  Virgil Abloh, and people love this Renaissance artist idea. This cross-pollination of industries. So, now I’m stoked. I’m not embarrassed about acknowledging the reality of what one needs to do in order to maintain some form of studio practice. Also, you get older, you become more malleable hopefully, and I don’t really care what the world perceives me professionally anymore. For so long, I thought that there’s this hierarchy and if you’re a fine artist, that’s the top and everything else is beneath it. And now, I’m like, “Dude, the art industry is just as fickle and evil and nasty as any other one.”

Why the name Iggy?

Iggy is the name of my dog that I love very much.

Iggy the dog

Have you always been interested in communicating ideas with clothing?

My whole thing with what I make is, a lot of times, it just has to do with what access I have to scale and material. It’s like I pick and choose according to my environment. I could make books, I could make small paintings, I could do whatever, just let me figure out what’s in my life and how can I build around that. I’ve always worked with clothes. Since a very young age, I’ve sewn, silkscreened, drawn on, and made different types of clothing for myself, friends, brands, and boutiques.  I can’t exactly put my finger on why this medium was chosen, it probably came out of the subcultures I’m a part of and my desire to make things like those people I looked up to made things.

The shirts have an uncanny way of communicating these big messages, kind of playfully. How do you approach what goes on a shirt?

I had my reservations about starting a brand because I wanted my friends and acquaintances to trust my integrity.  If the goal was to get a bunch of people rallying around an icon, I’d probably do better by supplying a lot of logo-based graphics.  Without going too far off course on a tangent, maybe I can consolidate my thoughts by this one reference made to logo culture by R. Crumb in the documentary on him.  He talks about how perplexed he is to see a bunch of human beings strolling around with giant logos emblazoned across their chest – walking billboards.  Well, I suppose I agree with this to some extent, even if it isn’t particularly damaging to society as a whole, it also isn’t helpful in any capacity.  This world doesn’t exactly need another clothing company. Therefore, I felt that if my goal was to target a wider audience than I’m currently capable of as a studio-based artist, clothing was an appropriate platform – especially the graphic T-shirt.  The graphic T-shirt is a billboard, so why not make it a billboard that organizes and expresses your sentiment towards people, politics, authority figures, etc.  I could use my illustrations on clothes to acknowledge my distrust of police, my anxiety towards the current environmental crisis, desire for unity amongst people, falling out of line, and maintaining overall disobedience towards the expected track proposed by society.  The messages are there, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, but always considered.

There’s also a feeling of 90’s skateboarding to the shirts that feels like a natural extension of their messaging. 

I’m a skateboarder, have been for about 20 years now.  Therefore, even if I tried, my illustrations are going to be influenced by it.  I definitely didn’t intend on starting a brand that was rooted in nostalgia for 90’s skateboarding, that would be too of-the-moment and likely to burn out.  I just draw this way, think this way, am this way.  I grew up in the ‘90s and have always been attracted to the craft associated with subculture based industries – skateboarding was smaller before and the products being put out into the world were made by people in their studios with a pen and paper.  You can tell when things were hand-drawn and the silkscreens were burned off acetate-based illustrations and they don’t line up perfectly and they have solid separations instead of google image search and photoshop construction.  What I’m trying to say is, not only am I influenced by skateboarding, I’m influenced by the craft, the elements of construction that result in a graphic on a shirt.

Photos by Daniel Dorsa

I feel like I’ve noticed that you’ve been putting out more intricate items as time has gone on. 

I mean, truth be told I have such a desire to make all kinds of cut and sew accessories. The rate of which things come out and the way in which they’re designed is completely dependent on the economic structure of the company. If I sell enough t-shirts that I’m making then I can use some of the money from the shirts to re-invest into cut and sew pieces that I know won’t sell. But I can still come up with the aesthetics so that people can hopefully engage and be like “oh, we believe in this” and one day it will take off.

It seems like you’re keeping Iggy close to the chest instead of building hype. Is that intentional?

This is what happens in fashion and a lot of things. The decisions you make are a lot of times just to keep the lights on. For a lot of people, it can be like “oh, this is my bread and butter, why don’t I make like ten of them?” And then people flood the market with those pieces. But because you’ve made too many of them you blow your own market. You gave out too much stock of your own being, now there’s more than 50 percent of you in this world and people can decide it’s not worth anything anymore. Even though the Iggy pieces are very simple thus far, they all feel individually designed to me and so it’s like an extension of my art practice, not a commodity that I’m trying to make money on.

How does it feel when you do notice people wearing Iggy? 

It may sound a little overly sentimental, but I take it really personally.  When anyone chooses to adorn themselves with something I’ve made, I take it as a form of validation that my beliefs are supported by a group of people out there who have something in common with me.  There is no bigger compliment than putting the shirt on and going about your day doing whatever it is you do.

This story appears in issue #1 of Secret, available now.