Whitehot Magazine

Preston Douglas: Spirituality in Practice

Preston Douglas, Repurposed Religion, photo by Alex Conradt

By VICTOR SLEDGE February 25, 2024

What is it about a choir that can move people to tears at a spiritual gathering? The melody strikes a chord and the lyrics speak to each heart in the room, of course. But could it also be the oneness of seeing a collection of voices fill the room and become one singular song? Could it be the gathering of individuals turning into the body of a congregation all releasing to the same spiritual movement in the room? Multidisciplinary artist Preston Douglas may suspect so. 

“We are all connected, one organism, one consciousness, one energy, one frequency, and I know that, but what does that really mean,” Preston asks.

That’s the question Preston seems to work toward in his interdisciplinary practice. And his answer seems to stem from the spirituality that he once found in a church service experiencing worship music and the unifying feeling it brought to the room.  

While Preston, at one time, would have never even considered going to a church service, he was inspired to step out of his comfort zone after his mother had a moving experience when she attended a service with a friend in his hometown of Houston, TX.

“I had a similar spiritual experience listening to the worship music at the beginning of the service as I did when first seeing Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor) 1994 at the Menil Collection, if not even greater,” he remembers. “Now, I go every Sunday that I am back in Houston, chasing that dragon, oftentimes finding myself crying in awe of the atmosphere of faith and healing energy.” 

That experience has now bled into how his work strikes his viewers.

His performance art series REPURPOSED RELIGION, for example, erases the borders between the styles of art he works with by having models dressed in pieces from his couture line 77EAVEN, surrounded by the audience in a circle as opposed to the traditional catwalk setup, dancing to an immersive musical experience. 

“I spent lots of time in the music studio, the design studio, and the dance studio working on REPURPOSED RELIGION with my collaborators to create this world together,” which Preston explains was inspired by his spiritual experiences.

As the performers weave through the crowd, REPURPOSED RELIGION turns everyone involved again into one body. You see Preston’s work become somewhat of a spiritual experience as everyone becomes a part of the same conversation immersed in music, fashion and movement. And as you experience REPURPOSED RELIGION, the inherent spirituality in Preston’s work and art itself is illustrated for you – and by you.

That’s only one of the ways Preston pushes the boundaries in his practice. He has built himself as an artist that isn’t constricted to tradition or expectations but rather is inspired by the idea of breaking those constructs. 

Preston’s work is fully expanded by his willingness to walk across boundaries. His art practice is as much painting as it is fashion and as much fashion as it is performance art.

“The beauty of being an artist is it’s such an umbrella term that I can work in all these various mediums and come back to my core of who I really am as an artist,” he says. “My mentor Mark Flood encouraged me to think about things that should ‘disqualify’ me as being an artist and make art about and through those lenses.” 

Preston’s ongoing “zipper paintings” bring this sentiment to life as he pushes fashion into painting. In this series, he uses fabric, zippers, custom zipper pulls, and recognizable fashion brand logos to create three-dimensional abstract paintings. 

Preston Douglas, Desire Frequency (detail)

Visually, the “zipper paintings” are stunningly intoxicating. The paintings draw you in while a series of zippers reading “HOPE IS ALIVE,” for instance, keeps you locked into the experience. The work’s visual aesthetics suddenly become heavier when you consider the depth of meaning behind the series.

“Just like our reality, oftentimes what we see in this physical reality is not really what it is upon further inspection. I am attracted to abstract painting that initially strikes me with its beauty,” he says. “After being struck by this intense sense of beauty, there needs to be another layer of substance that is revealed.” 

These paintings explore how corporatocracy influences contemporary culture, drawing a stealthy parallel to how corporations work in our lives. The alluring work hides a striking meaning the same way corporatocracy and the beauty and riches we see on the surface often hide insidious truths.  

“These paintings aren’t just about the corporate logos that are distorted and then created into beauty,” Preston explains. “These works are about restoring faith in humanity, moreover God working through us humans.”

You can see how Preston’s spirituality caps the work with the zippers. “HOPE IS ALIVE” is a phrase he found on a piece of paper his mother kept on her window during the peak of quarantine. 

Preston Douglas, In The Instinct, 2023, Dye sublimated charmeuse, zippers, and custom zipper pulls on custom aluminum stretcher, 80 x 60 inches (203.2 x 152.4 cm)

“My M.O. is often that of a pessimistic nature, so it’s a reminder to myself at the end of the day that the optimist inside of me also exists. And my life tends to be better if I choose to listen and live by that message,” he says. “I want it to serve as a reminder to others to keep the hope alive in the midst of confusion, darkness and despair.” 

Whether inspired by his spirituality, the oneness of life around us, or pure desperation in this time of turmoil, Preston seems to embody that hope in the work while still openly interrogating the issues that are hiding right under our noses. 

As an artist that’s multifaceted and fearless in not only the ideas he captures but how he presents them, Preston is sure to continue expanding on these works in the near future in ways that continue to ground audiences in our spiritual connectedness and our shared experiences. 

“We are producing a new abbreviated version of the REPURPOSED RELIGION performance with Weinholt Projects at INTERREALITY on February 28th as part of Frieze Week here in Los Angeles,” he says about his next steps.  

He’s also debuting a spiritual couture experience, 77EAVEN, as his official return to fashion. 

But what’s important about Prestons next steps is that he’s letting himself be led. He’s at peace with how his spirituality has elevated his work and how he moves through it, and that’s sure to translate as he continues to create.

“I have all sorts of plans and desires, but God has different ones sometimes, and I have to place my trust in that reality,” he says. 

You can learn more about Preston on his website and follow him on Instagram @culturebitch  

To learn more about his performance of REPURPOSED RELIGION at INTERREALITY in Los Angeles, please visit here. WM

Victor Sledge

Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia.  He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic. 

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