Artist Profiles Zine/Print Material

Artist Profile: Cool Boy 36

Editor’s Note: This piece was written for print and is the feature writing in the limited edition REUPCYCLE LOOK BOOK Zine, a collaboration between Durham Beat and Cool Boy 36 due to launch on Saturday, November 3rd. Launch Party Details HERE.
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Blaine Wyatt Carteaux. Yes, that’s his real name. You might know him better as Raund Haus co-founder and local fashion artist Cool Boy 36. I met Blaine for the first time in the weeks leading up to Moogfest 2018. As the resident local journalist dedicated to covering all of the local sets, I first started to get to know Blaine in the short, intense burst of time surrounding the festival. I knew from the very first moment I met him that he is an innovator. Quixotic though he may be at times, Blaine is a fiercely self-aware individual who effortlessly emanates an energy of uniqueness.

Born in upstate New York and raised in North Carolina since the age of eleven, Blaine has been making art for his whole life. Through the years he has walked down many creative roads. From his early affection for street art, sketching and drawing, to the design, screenprinting, and VHS video art of his current path, Blaine has been a fearless navigator of “creating something in a non-traditional way.”

“I started as a design student at UNC Greensboro,” he told me over drinks at Criterion. During his five years in undergrad, he dabbled in mediums ranging from photography to etching. Throughout these formative experiences his design process grew, became more intentional, and more inclusive of different mediums. By the time he finished college and had landed in Durham, the spark for Cool Boy 36 had already been lit.

Fashion wasn’t something he studied in school. His passion for it grew over time and took root when he worked in fashion retail. Between flipping through fashion magazines on breaks to the inevitable people watching of the mall, his observations and experiences during this time would help inform his path to come. His first foray into fashion would come in Durham when Cool Boy 36 was little more than a great notion waiting to be born. Thanks to an injection of income from a tax refund, Blaine was able to do his first-ever run of shirts under the Cool Boy 36 brand. Now five years old, Cool Boy 36 is an established presence in Durham.

Cool Boy 36 is as much an artist persona as it is a brand. The aesthetic of Cool Boy is driven by Blaine’s longtime affection for street art–everything from graffiti to busking to trash art and found art. To his core, Blaine is a street artist. While today the Cool Boy 36 brand represents a much larger body of work and artistic mediums, street fashion is the cornerstone. The Cool Boy garments are every bit as unique as the artist who makes them. One of the fundamental qualities of the brand is the non-traditional approach to production. No two garments are ever the same. Cool Boy 36 specializes in limited edition one-of-one garments, each its own unique piece of art, which can never be truly replicated. If fashion is meant to help people express their individuality through personal style, then Blaine’s approach is true fashion sense. Over the last year, Blaine describes himself as having “hit a stride” and achieving “a level of rarity I’ve always wanted.” The Durham environment has certainly aided in Blaine’s creative ascension.

Since Blaine has been living in Durham, the Cool Boy 36 brand has been reacting to the growth and changing landscape of the city. “I’ve been growing as the city is growing,” he told me. Durham is home to a vibrant art scene, some publicly funded, some strictly DIY, but all of it furiously local, and often intersecting. Blaine himself describes Durham as having a “very open artist community” where people are “down to collaborate.” But in the midst of this highly creative space, there exists a particular chaos that goes beyond people and art and community.

Durham is undergoing a transformation for all to see. Construction makes itself known everywhere it goes: orange cones, workers in green and orange vests, fences, piles of dirt and rubble, and dead empty lots. All of these images exist in the daily life of Durham. This is the everyday chaos of tangible change that Cool Boy has captured in his REUPCYCLE clothing line.

For this new line, Blaine designed images inspired by urban development, signs posted, utility work, orange lines spray painted on the street. Bright colors and images of chains, “restricted area” signage, and his own rendition of Durham’s recycle logo, all reflect the face of a space in flux, of a city preparing itself for a massive infusion of new residents, and with them, new cultural values. According to city officials, Durham is currently growing at a rate of 20 new residents per day, or 7,300 per year. The city has grown more than 12 square miles since 2000, and has already seen a 22% increase in population during the decade of 2000-2010.

Durham’s changescape is highly visible, and yet the impending impact of these changes is most often heard in cursory complaints about traffic and parking and housing and road closures and spontaneous utility work–the usual quotidian dilution of a much larger conversation. Still, Durham is fighting the implications of its gentrifying trend, walking the contradictory line between embracing the inevitability of growth, while also seeking to retain aspects of its identity that are at risk of being eradicated by that same persistent change.

The REUPCYCLE line is both a reaction to and reflection of this transformation. Blaine deliberately calls attention to Durham’s changescape through his use of color, color manipulation, and street-inspired imagery. The utility orange color of construction is a bright camouflage for gentrification in Durham. Utility work and construction sites around the city throw up signs, build fences, and spray paint lines on the street, creating a particular visual aesthetic, and, at the same time, an unintended street art. No matter where you live in Durham or even elsewhere in the Triangle, the visual of change and growth, as indicated by this unintended street art, is widespread. Those of us living in Durham breathe that dusty air, drive on those torn up streets, swerve to avoid poorly placed road plates and erroneous cones, and watch the prices for consumables slowly creep up.

This is an appropriate moment to mention bleach. In addition to the unique designs of Blaine’s REUPCYCLE garments, one of his Cool Boy 36 trademarks is his use of bleach to manipulate color and create distortion. While the use of bleach on garments in this way is typical for the Cool Boy 36 brand, it carries special significance to this REUPCYCLE line. Bleach is a product typically used for cleaning, to make clear again that which was distorted by dirt and grime. Blaine uses bleach in a way that directly contradicts its traditional purpose. He creates color chaos. He distorts the original crisp coloring of a garment to imbue a sense of commotion into the very products he makes. Then, by screenprinting his designs on these distorted garments, he has simultaneously created a background of the dusty mayhem of a city wrought with construction, while overlaying his interpretation of the Durham changescape’s unintended street art. REUPCYCLE is very much the embodiment of a complicated relationship between the artist and his space. It is also a rigorous commentary on the fashion industry.

The REUPCYCLE name is meant to evoke the thought of recycling, “something that needs to be continually promoted,” as Blaine said to me. The name is also a riff on the common street term “re-up”, which simply means to resupply one’s stash. The union of these two practices does more than simply tie together Blaine’s passion for street culture and his clothing brand; it is also a nod to the process and the materials used to create REUPCYCLE.

“I’m sick of the waste of the fashion industry,” Blaine told me. An oft glossed over topic, even in this contemporary time when repurposing and recycling have become more prevalent, the waste of the fashion industry remains rampant. According to an NIH study published in 2007 called “Waste Couture”, the fashion industry is second only to the oil industry in polluting. Only a fraction of clothing donated to charities and thrift shops stay stateside for reconsumption by the American consumer. Nearly half of all used clothing is shipped overseas. Between 1989 and 2007, the total weight of used clothing shipped from the United States rose to seven billion pounds per year.

Ever mindful of this reality, Blaine actively seeks out used clothing to serve as the canvas for his designs. He visits thrift shops across Durham to find garments he can give new life to and make relevant again. This practice is uniform across all Cool Boy 36 fashion productions. It is especially relevant to the REUPCYCLE line ostensibly because it seeks to promote recycling and the culture of repurposing existing materials. Similarly, the Durham changescape maintains an element of this “repurposing” of existing spaces. While new development all over the city has popped up at an alarming rate (in light of the population explosion), several small businesses have taken the initiative to use existing infrastructure to house new offices or retail spaces or venues. The Durham Fruit is a good example of this: once home to a fruit packing warehouse originally built in 1926, the former industrial warehouse has since been successfully converted to a multipurpose arts and event space… an old building made relevant again by a new purpose.

REUPCYCLE embodies within it the very heart of Durham’s struggle to grow while still maintaining its authenticity and edge. As a member of the artist community which thrives here, Blaine, through this project, has contributed substantial commentary on Durham’s present moment and its difficulty in reconciling its future self with its present identity. This fashion line is a statement, an authentic and unforgiving reflection of Durham right now. From concept to process to final product, Blaine has produced clothing for people who consume art, while also delivering a solemn, although brightly colored, message to anyone who wears or encounters one of his REUPCYCLE garments: look up, look around, understand where you live.

I am also a resident of Durham and a member of the local artist community. Throughout this months-long collaboration with Blaine, we have shared many moments of mutual lament about the changescape of Durham. Having already been displaced from my home city because of the economic violence of rapid gentrification, working on this project has struck a chord in me. I have already seen what happens when development is not merely left unchecked, but actively pursued regardless of cultural impact. This look book collaboration, from the perspective of your humble author, is a stake in the ground, a declaration to fight for the heart of Durham, to preserve its authenticity, its edge, and especially the creative economy of the local artist community.

Featured Photo: Cool Boy 36 Polaroid by Tyger Locx.

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