Casual culture inspires art show

Terrace fashion now on view at Liverpool gallery

Leading artists showcase their take on the three stripes, Fila Fs and Lacoste crocodiles

Now’s the last week to catch a unique exhibition at Liverpool’s Walker Gallery, in which notable artists, including two Turner Prize winners, interpret the casual fashions seen around Britain’s football grounds in the 1980s. 

Running until March 12, Art of the Terraces has attracted more than 30,000 visitors to the gallery, whose extensive permanent collection includes works by Rubens, Rembrandt and Monet.

“Many of them had never been inside an art gallery before,” says co-curator Dave Hewitson, the driving force behind the project. “They’re just people like me who grew up with football culture. On the opening day, there was a guy outside crying because he felt we’d captured just what it was like.”

Art of the Terraces/Joe Stubley

While football’s Rosebud factor is catnip to those of the three-stripes generation, the niche topic of casual fashion has never been presented in this way before. Hewitson has spent many years involved in the subject matter, running his fashion label 80s Casuals and writing the book The Liverpool Boys Are in Town… The Birth of Terrace Culture.

He will soon publish a special 25th anniversary edition of Kevin Sampson’s landmark Awaydays, set in the Birkenhead of the Thatcher era. While violent football Saturdays with which casual culture is also associated dissipated with all-seater stadiums (“not all of us were into the fighting,” explains Hewitson, whose Liverpool book goes against the grain of hooligan histories), the trend for wearing fashionable sports gear soon permeated into the mainstream. 

Its influences, however, post-punk, pre-rave, still cut deep, and remain in the groundwater for artists to dip into and sprinkle into their work.

Art of the Terraces/Joe Stubley

“Forty years ago there were only three TV channels, no DVDs or CDs..,” writes Dave in The Liverpool Boys, setting the scene for what later developed into the current exhibition. “A time when flares were the prevailing fashion and trainers were sold in sports shops alongside cricket bats and tennis rackets. A time when Liverpool were the dominant force in European football. For working-class Liverpool fans, the European experience now became a rite of passage. Once across the Channel, a whole new world opened up and this annual exodus began to express itself in the fashions they picked up… in France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Suddenly, Fila, adidas, Lacoste and Armani became de rigueur for the travelling fan.”

But this generational change would have remained a theme for T-shirt design and cult books but for a chance event Hewitson happened upon in London over a decade ago. A graduate of Liverpool John Moores University, artist Dave White had pioneered the Sneaker Art movement in 2002. 

“He had an exhibition in London showing 20 paintings inspired by that era,” says Hewitson. “Ten were adidas trainers and ten Nike. That’s when I realised that they could also be used as art. I sent him a copy of my Liverpool book as a thank you and he said he read it straight away, from cover to cover. He didn’t even go into work that day.”

Art of the Terraces/Joe Stubley

Having sparked up a friendship with White, a fellow Scouser from Crosby who would go on to show in New York, Shanghai and Miami, Hewitson began to seek out others whose work intertwined art and football fashion. He found it in another Liverpudlian, Mark Leckey, a Turner Prize winner, whose game-changing video Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore occupied the space where sportswear and dance subculture meet.

Then there’s Pete McKee, whose eponymous gallery in Sheffield stocks his prints, T-shirts and paintings, each expressing his signature cartoonesque approach. Scotsman Ross Muir went viral with his iconoclastic work, Square Gogh, showing Vincent in an adidas trackie top.

Not only would they be involved in Art of the Terraces, they would go on to make personal appearances at the Walker Gallery, presenting their work and engaging in debate.

Art of the Terraces/Joe Stubley

Having initially convinced the prestigious Walker Gallery of the artistic value of such a venture, Hewitson then had to consider the dauntingly large space at his disposal.

This was when the crucial four came into a picture. Around Hewitson formed a four-man midfield featuring German designer Jens Wagner, a one-time HSV supporters’ representative; graphic designer Peter O’Toole, known for his football-related projects with major clubs across Europe, and fellow designer, Adam Gill. Together, they have not only created a striking space to showcase these works, they have taken the ball and run with it.

“Room 1 explains the meaning of casual culture, displayed by mannequins,” says Hewitson. “Room 3 is a mock of a 1980s bedroom, with a Subbuteo pitch on the floor, original wallpaper and adidas trainers.” The last room contains a series of Post-it Notes – very ’80s – where visitors can write their feedback.

Art of the Terraces/Joe Stubley

Once the exhibition closes after March 12, the artists will be returned their work, some of which is valued at £30,000-plus. The documentation and accoutrements will be kept in storage in Liverpool, should the V&A, say, in London or Dundee, pick up on the success of this current show.

Certainly, Hewitson is keen on keeping the band together in some way or other, should any similar projects arise. “I’m currently working on reissuing soundtracks to cult films about the ‘80s,” he says, referring to The FirmThe Business and The Football Factory. “All on vinyl, of course.”

Art of the Terraces, Walker Gallery, William Brown St, Liverpool L3 8EL. Open: Until Mar 12, Tue-Sun 10am-5pm. Admission: At visitor’s discretion. £5 recommended.