Last month Noel Fielding’s art show Bryan Ferry versus the Jellyfox finished its run at Maison Bertaux. This month the innovative gallery in the patisserie kicks off its new exhibition, Diva Zappa’s Bruce. Knitted fabrics have replaced Fielding’s vibrant canvases, while his wall doodles have made way for intricately knotted yarn.
At TVO we reckon Diva Zappa counts as an honorary member of the our universe: She famously appeared in an episode of The Mighty Boosh (‘Party’) as Howard’s love interest; the Boosh Band played at a recent concert in honour of her father, Frank Zappa, whose music has been an inspiration for their comedy (with Diva appearing on stage with them!). She also shares her art dealer with Noel Fielding in the form of Tania Wade. She’s also incredibly talented, so more than worthy of the odd nod from The Velvet Onion in our opinion!
One of our Velveteers, Mog, spoke to Diva at the launch of her show and asked her a few questions about her art:
I take my (woolly) hat off to Diva Zappa: there’s something unexplicably magical about the marriage of glitter and knitting. The contrasting textures, the unique way each lands on your retina, and the ability of both to bring out your inner child. Sparkly yet fuzzy. What a wonderful discovery! And I’ve never seen so much glitter – at the opening night Maison Bertaux spangled with powdery specks of dancing light.
Diva is a prolific and imaginative knitter. Hats, scarves, dresses and swaithes of fabric adorn every wall, lifted well beyond the everyday by their extraordinary textures and clashing colours: fluffy, fizzy reds jostling with glistening metallics and holey pastels. The knitted pieces are attached to the walls via an intricate system of delicately knotted woollen fibres, giving the entire exhibition the appearance of having been put together by charmingly forgetful spiders. Photographed canvases neatly embroidered with vibrant shapes and symbols sit between the knitting, providing orderly pauses here and there.
On the first floor an extreme scarf by the name of Emilio loops and bunches its way across the ceiling like a netted python, while tiny robot butterflies flutter in giant jam jars. Down in the basement Fielding’s Bryan Ferry bed has been replaced by a twisted tree branch nestled in explosion of soil and glitter. It was an unexpected delight which lent the show a sense of genuine Narnian wonder that stayed with me for the rest of the day.
Given all of the above, I ask Diva if it’s possible to define what she does. “It’s stream of consciousness knitting – I don’t know what I’m making when I make stuff. A scarf turns into a dress…they just become what they want to be. I tend to knit without even knowing, I’ve even fallen asleep knitting and my hands keep going!” She explains that knitting clothing for friends can be difficult when you can’t predict exactly what it is they’ll be getting. To prove her point she reaches into a bag of yarns that’s nestled by her feet and brings out the beginnings of a new project: a small square of kitten-soft greys and blues, sliced through with silver and warm pink. “I think I’m making a cape right now, but it also thinks it maybe wants to be legwarmers.” She beams a broad smile, clearly still delighted that her work continues to surprise her.
It’s obvious that Diva is far more instrumental in her creations than just the passive holder of the knitting needles. However, she’s disarmingly humble about her impressive craft skills, insisting that “it’s super-simple if you really look – it’s mostly rectangles that fold and mould into whatever they are.” I ask her if she has any idea what directs her work if she’s following the path chosen by her knitting. “I pick up on stuff – it’s just how I am.” She recalls being on a flight and knitting a truly ugly piece without knowing why she’d done it; it was only when she spotted a fellow passenger’s clashing outfit that she realised she’d unconsciously channelled it into the wool. “I’d knit her whole outfit from the shoes up! All of the vomit she was wearing!” She talks of having a 6th sense for what’s really happening in situations, which is then introduced into her work, “My stuff is basically saying ‘hey, this is what’s really going on’.”
That doesn’t mean to say that Diva’s overly deep and analytical about her work – quite the contrary, decribing it playfully as “A big breath of magic and wonder and whimsy and happy…all doused in sparkles.” She also leans on reference points from pop culture, happy to sidestep accusations of pretentiousness. “I’m so not deep; what inspires me is gunfire and Bruce Willis. And Law & Order.” Indeed, the name of her art show, ‘Bruce’, comes from her admiration of Bruce Willis, while Emilio the scarf is named after Emilio Estevez because its first few inches reminded her of a film he appeared in.
Emilio is the one project Diva’s worked on that has a clear long-term plan: already 45 feet long, Diva’s aim is to keep going until the scarf is 1 mile long. She intends to look for a permanent home for Emilio in a museum, where she can continue to add to him until he reaches the one mile mark.
With so much discussion about knitting, I wanted to find out how her canvases came about. Diva explains that prior to this show she’d resisted hanging her knitting on the wall. “It shouldn’t go on the wall! It’s supposed to be for a person – it’s supposed to hug you,” she says. It was when a friend of hers, Sex & The City Producer Michael Patrick King, wanted to put her work on the wall that the solution of hanging photos of the knitting was born. Diva, however, found the textureless images boring, and felt compelled to add embroidery to provide texture. One of the most stunning pieces in the exhibition is one of these: it’s a co-creation with Noel Fielding, which began life as a flat illustration of Serge Gainsbourg which Diva then added stitching to, altering the colour palate of the image as she went.
At the mention of her creative collaboration with Noel I ask her how she ended up joining the Boosh Band on stage at their recent Roundhouse gig. “They asked me, and I was thrilled to be in that stinky pink thing!” (in case you’re wondering, Diva was encased in the Charlie Bubblegum costume). She laughs as she recounts how the audience had no idea who she was when she was revealed, forcing Noel to shout “It’s Diva!” by way of explanation. Currently one of the less well-known members of the talented Zappa family, Diva admits she’s happy and proud to be a Zappa and talks fondly of her memories of growing up watching The Simpsons with her dad in the family home where she still lives, “where the magic is.” One suspects that she won’t remain anonymous for much longer, given the quality of her work.
To end our conversation I ask Diva who or what influences her the most. “Sunlight” she replies, praising London light which “Makes the blues and greys and pinks pop and sing”. It’s a light she loves, and she bemoans that it’s only available in California in the early morning, while we’re lucky enough to have it all day. As I venture back outside, leaving the hubbub of the patisserie behind me, the overcast London street starts to look a little less bleak.
Diva Zappa’s ‘Bruce’ runs at the Maison Bertaux Gallery until June 1st.