Between 2021 and 2022 I kept running into DeSe Escobar. It was always during some art event, just before the celebratory party. I am speaking in the first person, but it doesn’t matter who I am. I am the anonymous “kitri eye,” a regular visitor to the art world interested in the dynamics of this system, which often develop outside designated spaces and vaporize in the post-opening clubs.
In all her Los Angeles glam grace, Escobar always escapes before the end of a dinner party in order to prepare for the evening, at the console — just like that night in Geneva.
It’s hard to tell who DeSe Escobar is, but I’ll try to tell you. She was born and raised in Los Angeles by immigrant Filipino parents. After studying fashion design at Otis College of Art and Design, Escobar moved to New York and began working in fashion as an assistant designer. While fashion design has had an enduring influence on her practice, she quickly felt stifled by working within the confines of corporate fashion. In search of a more fulfilling relationship between art and fashion, nightlife became an outlet for the artist. She was quickly welcomed by veteran underground musician/rapper Dosha — the House of Ladosha’s de facto mother. The House is an art collective of like-minded queer artists, musicians, and DJs whose broad range of work has profoundly influenced New York’s nightlife underground and art scene. Being received with devotion, respect, and friendship by this likeminded cadre allowed her to explore herself while establishing a consistent art practice, beginning in drawing, then moving into more conceptual themes such as pop imagery within installations. She began crafting social spaces with performative elements and inspiring cultural mementos as an investigation of art.
Escobar holds firmly to her roots in fashion illustration. Her drawings recall those of Jackie Doyle, whose illustrated works date back to the 1960s and are known for their quick, minimal strokes of shading finished with an elegant line. Early forays into fine art were deeply informed by her experience of studying illustration with Doyle and her interest in garments. She had her first solo show, “Treat me like somebody,” in 2014 at Bed-Stuy Love Affair, Jared Madere’s project space. Continuing to exhibit her work and participate in her newfound social milieu led to the establishment of a globally recognized multidisciplinary art practice. Escobar works to dismiss the unspoken boundaries that separate contemporary fine art spaces from underground nightlife spaces. Her inspirations include her experience as a reflective California teenager, her perceptions of glamour, and her ongoing obsessions with fashion, nightlife, and, above all, music.
kitry eye: How did Club Glam come about?
Dese Escobar: While nightlife and club culture are recurring themes through my practice, this influence was born through necessity. Like many who came to New York before me, underground nightlife spaces were essential for me to make ends meet as a young artist living in downtown Manhattan. As a new transplant and creative, these environments allowed me to pay rent and find a concrete art practice. Club Glam, a monthly club night, had its inaugural party in May of 2016 at China Chalet, the now-defunct Chinese restaurant that turned into an event space after hours, located in the heart of the Financial District in downtown Manhattan. After more than half a decade of navigating New York’s underground, the venue presented itself as an ideal space for young creatives to mingle over drinks, smoke cigarettes at the front-of-house restaurant seating, and then make their way through the long, mirrored hallway to the ballroom. There, myself and other DJs would offer a soundtrack for a wall-to-wall sea of friends and patrons to dance to, offering an outlet for unbridled freedom of expression. This party gave life to many romances, hook-ups, networking opportunities, and it hosted a new era of fashion designers that changed the New York fashion scene. Independent New York Designers I admire such as Area, Anna Bolina, Gauntlett Cheng, Luar, Telfar, and Vaquera played an important role in the evolution of Club Glam, and I am forever grateful for their ongoing support, not to mention the many artists and galleries who hosted many evenings at Club Glam. By keeping the image of Club Glam fresh and interesting I wanted to take the playful current that runs through my art practice and apply it to the club night’s promotion. The work I’ve done with many collaborators transcends the conventional promotional party flyer. I collaborated with other artists and videographers on “Glampaigns,” inspired by fashion video ads. These were my playful touch on video promotions to post on Instagram to build excitement for the night of the party. Club Glam ran for four years at China Chalet before the space unfortunately closed its doors due to the onset of the COVID pandemic, and made its return earlier this year in April after testing the waters with a new Manhattan venue I was tipped off about by my go-to sound producer Carlton. With intentions of bringing the spirit of Club Glam to other cities, I hope to host the event in various locations worldwide. Opportunities like these make me interested in taking on more chances to provide event planning and promotion for the fashion and art worlds after a decade of experience under my belt.
ke: How has your art practice been shaped by fashion studies?
DE: Through my studies in fashion, illustration and draping in particular have become techniques that have greatly informed my art practice. While fashion was transitioning into the digital landscape, where handcrafted approaches to quality became useless in the eyes of the commercial fashion industry, I made the decision to leave my job in fashion design and channel these techniques I’d cultivated from that world into a formal art practice that began with drawing, and now encompasses video, music, sculpture, and various other forms of media. Aside from the artisanship of fashion illustration and draping, my reverence for fashion is largely due to its capacity to function as a mode of storytelling, and what a designer wishes to express beyond the garments themselves as they appear on the catwalk. Telling a story through visual communication, both in fashion collections as well as everyday styling, has been a constant source of inspiration for me since childhood. My work aims to transcend the visual aspect of fashion, and my intentions are always to establish a particular feeling, while exploring the relationship between fashion and art, and how these two worlds can mutually influence one another.
Archiving and preservation of specific designer or vintage clothing have also become important sources of inspiration for me. After wearing a garment many nights out on the town, they hold moments and memories that give life as an archived object instead of a commodity or product. This has been pivotal in bridging these two worlds. A recent work I submitted to a group show at the Anat Ebgi Gallery in Los Angeles, curated by James Bartolacci and Stefano di Paola, stems from that concept. It’s a seafoam green off-the- shoulder dress with a silk chiffon cape that dragged around the slushy streets of a 2013 snow storm and the dirty floors of a Brooklyn DIY warehouse venue, and I hope that audiences can feel the intimacy of experience through the state of the garment. It also feels like a vestige of an era of New York that no longer exists now that all of these neighborhoods and DIY spaces have been gentrified and shut down.
ke: The world of the night, the club, has a special fascination that inevitably spills over into your practice. How do these two dimensions coexist — the night and the day, the ephemeral life of the DJ set, and that of the work itself, made of matter, of process?
DE: I simply feel safer at night in a club than I do during the day, because I feel I walking around in the day with the general public you might find yourself in a situation where you might have to put your guard up . In nightlife spaces, I choose the music for my DJ sets almost as if I were making something like a mixtape, something that is both deeply personal but also resonates with others. Like my work, the music always needs to be very playful. Nightlife can be unexpected in the most inspirational and exciting ways. I think of my role in nightlife as more curatorial. It’s about bringing communities together from disparate scenes or parts of the city. The spaces the events take place in become a stage for performance in the mode of experimental theater that can only be experienced in that moment. The building of community and nourishing new relationships gives way to the process of how I approach my art. Through nightlife, I have discovered a multidisciplinary style that incorporates various forms of media. In a solo exhibition curated by Jonas Wendelin and Maurin Dietrich at Fragile in Berlin, I staged a Los Angeles Airbnb scenario. At the beginning of the opening, viewers were invited to experience the narrative of three newly single New York City influencers who check into a Venice Beach Airbnb apartment where suitcases are left open, the television playing music videos on YouTube in one room and in another room a bathtub is filled with pink water. The scene portrays the girls getting ready for their night out, but the makeup wipes surrounding the bathtub with the runs of mascara raise questions about how their night ended. Was it a good night, or are they still mourning their recent breakup? The show went on until 4:00 a.m., which took the viewers from the beginning of the night to an afterparty experience where viewers got to participate in the enjoyment of a house party full of strangers and loud music which is typical the Los Angeles party style I experienced in my teenage years. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of a walkthrough in a gallery space, because I loved how Universal Studios Hollywood would always host their annual haunted maze Halloween attractions with each having a different theme. In the future I would love to do similar installations, with all the elements of sound design and experimental theater, in foreign cities around the world. I would incorporate specific memories of Club Glam, or other parts of New York City streets that I frequent at night. I take pride in throwing events because I get to stage these kinds of installations in real life, and the people who attend often don’t realize that they are active participants in the performance. Matter is made in another practice I’ve recently started during the pandemic which consists of archived images I’ve saved of snapshots of night’s out. These are printed on translucent vellum, then submerged in hot cooking oil, similar to how my family would deep fry eggrolls, and then are coated with a clear resin which allows these images to take on a new life as a hard sculpture.