TESS SOLOT-KEHL / CLOTHING DESIGN
Writing by Ruby Baden-Lasar
Images: Elsa Dupuy D'Angeac
Tess Solot-Kehl is a self-taught artist from San Francisco, CA. She has been involved in the arts for her entire life; from dancing in high school to doodling on any piece of scratch paper in sight. She began selling printed, thrifted clothes on her Depop this past winter break.
In March of 2020, Tess sat in her printmaking II class, listening to her professor assign their next carving as she patiently planned out her next project. Unbeknownst to Tess, or to her fellow classmates, they would not be returning to their printshop for another seven months. Tess, accompanied by some friends, traveled back to the Bay Area for the first half of Spring Break, excited for the possibilities of the second half of spring semester. However, as the entire world shut down, Tess quickly realized that she would be unable to finish her printmaking class, in the studio.
As the world closed, shops turned over their “OPEN” signs, and schools went online, Tess found herself back in her childhood bedroom. Surrounded by past art projects and desperately looking for some kind of outlet, she turned to her printmaking class. Fortunately, the School sent out many kits of art supplies to students doing remote Studio Art classes to help ease the online transition. Tess received wood carving tools, linoleum tiles, and all the other goodies needed to continue printmaking at home.
During her freshman fall, Tess and some friends would spend time skating in the Butts courtyard which inspired her first print, “Booty Skaters”. This print embodies the carefree aspect of life before a pandemic: fresh college students in their first few months of freedom, skating around a place called “The Butthole” on Thursday nights. The print started exclusively on paper, but Tess began to transfer it onto shirts which helped her friends ground themselves as they were forcibly sent back home -- despite the physical distance of Summer 2020, Tess’s prints served as (much needed) reminders of closeness.
Since the summer, Tess has returned to the Wesleyan campus and has continued to create new prints. In the Fall, Tess transformed one of her recurring doodles into a print and began to construct her clothing pieces. This print, which has become a symbol of this line, consists of ghostlike faces which drag and move with the contours of the cloth. Despite her creating these works for nearly six months, Tess did not begin selling her clothes until this past winter break. Once home, for almost three months, she realized she had enough time to genuinely invest in her brand. Over the course of break, Tess engaged in intense thrifting (similar to Extreme Couponing on TLC) and started to print furiously. Her room, aka home office, became a tornado of ink, tiny tanks, big pants, and Lady Lips prints.
She began to transform some of her doodles, including ghostly faces and sketches of skaters, into carvings to then print on clothing. Without consciously recognizing it, Tess recreated aspects of her freshman year in the prints, almost as if completing her uncompleted school year on these linoleum tiles. She experienced what so many other creatives experienced for the first time last March -- a complete separation from artistic minds, a general lack of outlets and resources to create with, and an overwhelming desire to keep making. Rather than pausing until she could get back into the print shop, or “waiting out” for normalcy, Tess decided to use her art as a way to survive the pandemic.
This past spring, Tess created her most recent print entitled “Big Car Girl”. She is currently enrolled in monotype printmaking and has been using her projects this semester to start conversations. For “Big Car Girl”, she chose to create a very feminine print (with her choice of colors) of a very masculine topic (a Big car). With the addition of “Big Car Girl,” Tess hoped to contort the traditional toxic masculinity of being a car guy into something softer, and even comical. She has been dragging her friends to Goodwill and rifling through their old clothes to find more items to create into art works.
Tess turned a pandemic pastime, a hobby borne out of crisis schooling, into a mode of connecting people: despite the physical separation, or even mental distances, we’re all still wanting to skate in the Butthole on a Thursday night with our newest, closest friends.