Warning: These t-shirts contain scenes of violence. Wearer discretion is advised. A dead hooker in a bathtub, an arm with a knife behind your back, Jack the Ripper, someone getting choked to death, blood splatter patterns and the shower scene from Psycho. Diagnosis: murder.
Princess Diana, Marvin Gaye, JFK, and Malcolm X are not only famous celebrities and political figures who died tragically, they are also the inspiration for Vancouver’s controversial t-shirt line, Merder Tees.
Love these shirts or hate them, you’ll be sure to have a strong reaction when you check out these murder-themed designs. Artistic or exploitative? You be the judge.
Merder Tees, a partnership between designer Duran Bodasing and his two business partners, made an appearance at Vancouver Fashion Week in November 2008, garnering both rave reviews – and firing up a few critics.
Each t-shirt features a different dead celebrity, printed in a comic-book style with images and words that depict their life and the events surrounding their death.
Bodasing, an illustrator and designer by trade, says he came across the concept of Merder Tees by accident.
“I love to draw and I was looking for some kind of common theme that I could turn into a series or artwork and put on t-shirts, canvas, and prints,” says the video game artist who is inspired by comics and cartoons. “I thought about dead presidents for a while and then it started to go from there. I realized that the most interesting presidents who I wanted to draw had been murdered. Was it a coincidence? No way, the theme had finally surfaced and it was murder.”
Bodasing says there are about 35 different prints to choose from and they fall into three categories: “homicide,” “forensic” and “cold-blooded killers.” About 14 of the shirts feature celebrities. Bodasing says he went “straight for the jugular” with the celebrity designs. They all had to fall into the cold-blooded murder category.
“I’m not fascinated, more like intrigued by their tragic stories and conspiracies. Each one has their own to read and learn about, which I found very interesting,” says Bodasing. “Gradually, the direction of my designs began to get more violent, bloody and over the top. Most of these shirts went through four to seven versions before I was happy. For example, there’s a Phil Hartman shirt that will knock people out of their seats. It scares me half to death to think that people get away with murder all the time.”
Perhaps the most controversial of the entire t-shirt line is the 9-11 inspired t-shirt that features the Twin Towers and tragic terrorist attacks. But, Bodasing says he loves New York and had family there on the day of the attacks.
“I have shown my American friends and I am grateful they are also intelligent in the way they have interpreted my art,” he explains. “I have friends all over the world and – granted the 9-11 shirt is heavy – but people in America do get it. It’s America. They are used to shock art of this kind.”
“I’m just an artist who wanted to shake things, up a bit – okay, maybe more that a bit,” he adds.
In addition to select stores in Canada, Merder Tees is launching in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Seattle. Meanwhile, the UK market is hungry for the label and has even embraced the Princess Di designs, according to Bodasing.
While there’s much interest in Merder Tees, there are still many critics. One blogger recently described the designs as “sick, and truly offensive”. It is certainly apparent that these designs are not for everyone.
“These are artistic interpretations of tragic situations regarding the subject of murder. And, that’s all they are,” says Bodasing when asked about his response to critics. “…So, be a critic and judge it, I won’t take it personally and I certainly don’t expect everyone to love them all. Hell, there are few heavy designs in there, even for me.”
Bodasing’s message to us is this: “If there is only one message that I want people to take from my artwork, it’s that murder is a very serious issue in our society and if remembering the loss of someone like John Lennon makes you realize that – then, awesome, I did my part.”
Check out Merder Tees and judge for yourself.
PUBLICATION: ION Magazine