The inspiration for this artist’s fashion line is rubber creatures from outer space

Tom Buhrman created “Rubber Creatures from Outer Space.”Photo courtesy of Tom Buhrman.

Durham artist Tom Buhrman didn’t always see fashion as an art form. Sure, he’d make Halloween costumes for friends or one-off garments for his kids, but his focus was in more traditional artistic avenues – painting, collage, etc.

That all changed after he saw a video project by former New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham highlighting street style in the city.

“The videos are fantastic because Mr. Cunningham was always excited about fashion and a joy to listen to,” Buhrman said. “Even if he talked about an outfit he didn’t understand, he always appreciated the efforts and creativity of people dressing up. His enthusiasm for all things fashion was contagious, and I caught it from him.”

But Buhrman didn’t want to create a typical fashion line. Having seen bags made from re-purposed bicycle inner tubes, he knew he’d found the perfect material for his clothing. Such an unconventional material begs for a quirky theme, and he found it in the kitschy B-movies of the 1950s and 1960s – think “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

“I love to make art that suggests a story, and once I had the creature story going, I couldn’t stop,” Burhman says. “I filled my sketchbooks with drawings of creature clothes. I then zeroed in on science-fiction movies from the 1950s and 1960s, and the most recent pieces could costume a space invader from one of those old B-movies.”

The result is “Rubber Creatures from Outer Space,” a fantastical collection on display through Oct. 31 at Golden Belt Arts in Durham.

While certainly creative, Buhrman’s choice of material proved difficult when it came to manipulating it into forms that can fit a human body.

“Tubes are curved and want to stay curved, and this is a big challenge,” Buhrman says. “Most garment creation begins with flat material that you can purchase, but in this case, I have to convert curved materials into flat sheets before I can even begin making the clothes.”

Buhrman then cuts the rubber into 3-inch pieces and sews them together into a large quilt-like piece. Then he cuts forms from that to make each individual garment. He created 20 pieces, along with bags, scarves and other accessories. Twelve are on display in the show.

“I enjoy the material’s abilities and challenges, but sometimes I wonder if it’s the best way to spend my free time,” he says. “Fortunately, I have a patient and understanding family.”

This is Buhrman’s first solo show in 20 years, so he’s gone all in, creating not only the garments, but also an accompanying soundtrack that visitors can download, plus videos and more on

Buhrman will be at the gallery for an artist talk and pop-up shop where attendees can place custom orders of pieces from the show, sized to fit them. The event is 6-7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13. Golden Belt Arts is at 807 E. Main St., Durham. The collection is in Room 100.

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