Pop culture artist, art director, designer and Mickey Mouse super-fan, Christopher Lee Sauvé is the new voice of contemporary culture.
In New York, one name is buzzing on everyone’s lips. Five years on since his now iconic Save Anna graphic became a global sensation, and after taking a break from the art scene to work as Artistic Director at MAC Cosmetics, Sauvé is back with his latest collection, the already famous MadMaus series. More than just iconoclastic, his pieces are as celebratory as they are satirical. Like water lilies to Monet, pop culture is the motif that defines Sauvé’s work. Just as Renoir rejoiced in the female body, so Sauvé revels in the celebrity, picking up where Warhol left off in an analytical yet exuberant exploration of the world of pop.
“Pop is just such an interesting subject,” enthuses Sauvé. He’s just finished a long shoot for Michael Kors, but the Canadian-born, New York-based artist’s passionate energy is contagious. “My grandmother was obsessed with pop culture,” he recalls. “I have a box full of magazine covers that she cut out.” It is this personal relationship between pop culture and society that has inspired his new MadMaus collection. A series of printed t-shirts depicting pop idols and sartorial aristocracy from Justin Bieber and Madonna, to Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, it rivals the Hollywood Walk of Fame as a who’s-who of contemporary cultural icons.
“People package themselves and that fascinates me,” explains Sauvé. “You can take a lot of celebrities and simplify them into these bare iconic marks, almost like a logo.” Reducing famous faces to their simplest form, MadMaus recreates celebrities as a graphic caricature of their strongest features, always accessorised with the trademark oversized ears of the ultimate Americana icon, Mickey Mouse. It is pure pop culture porn, and resistance is futile.
Just as the Save Anna graphic started life as a hasty pen drawing, so Sauvé’s MadMaus designs begin as a sketch before being transplanted to his canvas of choice, the t-shirt. A self-confessed perfectionist, Sauvé pays close attention to all aspects of the garment, but has refused to compromise substance in his pursuit of style. With a unique ability to rapidly respond to the zeitgeist, his work is proudly reactionary and the strongest examples are often created in less than half an hour. Beginning his career with political art magazine Adbusters, Sauvé acknowledges that he cannot resist “going against the grain of culture,” and this counterculture stance remains palpable in the anarchic tones of his work. However, in an unexpected twist of rebellion gone rogue, his work has been acclaimed by the very industry leaders that he satirises, his t-shirts gaining cult status amongst the fashion cognoscenti. In a metatextual moment of life embodying art, even the subjects of Sauvé’s portraits are embracing MadMaus, with numerous celebrities eager to be enshrined in his work and Miley Cyrus herself ordering a selection of MileyMaus shirts.
Did the artist anticipate this reaction? Absolutely not, but neither does his about-turn from satirical commentator to taste-maker surprise him as the post-recession consumer rebels against the established gatekeepers of style. Indeed, Sauvé predicts monumental changes in the American fashion industry, with emerging talent establishing a new hierarchy: but he won’t be abandoning art in pursuit of fashion. Embracing his dual role as both artist and designer, Sauvé refuses to pigeon-hole himself. “It’s a nightmare filling out occupation forms!” he laughs.
This year has seen Sauvé complement his MadMaus project with a return to his roots as an artist, collaborating with Scooter LaForge and, most recently, Fabergé. Cementing his status as a modern day master, Sauvé reinvented a five-foot fibreglass Fabergé egg with a collage of MadMaus images, fearlessly fusing the brand’s classical roots with his unapologetically contemporary style. But he is quick to reassure us that this flurry of activity does not spell out the demise of MadMaus. On the contrary, he promises that the next collection will be even more proactive as he pushes boundaries and explores a new pop-punk realm. Sauvé invites us to expect the unexpected, and with a new project with Kimora Lee Simmons already in progress and an art show in the works, one thing is for certain: 2014 is the ‘Year of the Maus’.