PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY, April 2006
On the Go!
by MK Holmes
It all started with a T-shirt.
Late last fall painter Rah Crawford began planning an exhibition of new works for what would become "Go!" Realizing the exhibition would take place during New York's Fashion Week, he began dreaming up ways to incorporate apparel into the show.
He first considered T-shirts, an obvious choice for someone who has his own line. Crawford's finely detailed mugs of Frida Kahlo and the Notorious B.I.G. are part of Rope-a-Dope's "Artists Series."
But that was too simple, too obvious. He wanted to do something spunkier. He consulted friend Bela Shehu, a designer and owner of the Bshehu boutique in Center City.
"I was eager to do something," says Shehu, and without thinking, she told Crawford, "You need a more couture body of work. You need me. This is what we're doing. End of story."
And so it was.
Shehu used his paintings as a muse for her sketches and they went shopping together for fabric. "I felt the wood and I saw the layers and the pieced newspaper print. It all ties in together so well," Shehu says. "In his work everything is very detailed. I wanted to interpret the same combination of roughness and perfect finishes into my designs."
Each item in the collection corresponds to one of Crawford's paintings, sharing names and imagery.
"Married Monk," Shehu's favorite and the wedding dress of the collection, consists of a fitted, Mandarin-collared, button-front sleeveless bodice in tea-stained ivory silk shantung attached to an amethyst double-layered silk taffeta floor-length skirt with multitonal floral lace applique and splashes of multicolored paint. On the back is an exact replica of its namesake painting.
Crawford's favorite piece is "Denim Trap," a steel-blue denim empire-waisted babydoll dress with a cream crinkled silk chiffon sleeveless top accompanied by an eyelet-lace ruffled collar, a yarn bustle tie in the back and the hand-painted face of a woman. Embroidered diagonally across the front in candy-apple red are the words: "I Love Rah Crawford."
"People seem so numb these days, and anything that can pop them out of their paradigm is meaningful. Rah is shaking things up," says David "Words" Wurtzel, president of Rope-A-Dope.
Crawford's signature style is called neoteric pop-iconic clairvoyance (NPIC). "It's artwork for the modern human being," he says. "For our computer-tech-savvy, cool pop-culture generation." Like the multiple entendres of hip-hop's most gifted wordsmiths, Crawford's paintings ask you to do more than simply look at them.
"They ask you to research and uncover the meaning, and once you have the definition, then it means something else," Crawford says. "If you don't, it's all good-it's just there."
Shehu, a self-taught designer who opened her boutique in November 2004, believes garments will sweep the masses into the NPIC fold. "They're very 'wow' pieces," she says.
The NPIC by Bela Shehu collection will be available for purchase this fall at specialty boutiques worldwide.
The pair have definite plans to join forces again and see themselves as blazing a new trail-this is no trendy gimmick or crass commercialism. "They [can] own a piece of me and a piece of him and they own art," Shehu offers. "That's something special."
"Go!: New Works by Rah Crawford and Bela Shehu"