Andrew Wilkinson is a New Jersey-based artist who I met online. I think he sent me an email one day and the next thing I knew, I was interviewing him. His work focuses on pop culture www.arwilkinson.com with a twist of humor. He’s a warm and friendly guy with an earthy, positive vibe. I think you’ll enjoy our chat.
MICHAEL: Hey Andrew, I must say that what I've seen of your work seems very pop culture oriented which I certainly love. Why does pop culture inspire you?
ANDREW: I unconsciously became a cultural sponge. The work I make is a reaction to the heavy dose of American media with a layer of nostalgia embedded via my cultural displacement. Aspects of 'culture' became amplified after my family moved from the U.K to the U.S.A. I didn't make any friends so I just watched loads of TV. The Brady Bunch, The Monkees, QVC channel, late night infomercials and a lot of cop shows. Things I didn't grow up with became visually overwhelming - such as KMART, HOME DEPOT, WAL-MART, etc. Eventually, the output became art form in whichever media best suited the message.
MICHAEL: My childhood media exposure sounds very similar to yours. Many of us ... currently and going back to Andy Warhol ... really associate pop culture with image, brand, money, celebrity and surface things. Do you think pop culture has any real depth or a "soul"?
ANDREW: Great question. I want to answer with a YES, but my mind keeps saying NO, of course not. If popular culture is what is embraced by the masses - the mainstream, there's seemingly little depth to the content, but why would so many people automatically agree to liking the same thing? I am very interested in that moment when things become adopted on the mass scale and what triggers it. Perhaps it's about acceptance and conformity - fitting us all into the top part of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Because of the popularity of so many Andy Warhol pieces, we default to thinking that image, brand and celebrity are largely the content of pop art. The soul of these pieces are 'self', where the artist is the custodian of identifying what is current and exploiting the content into another somewhat accessible medium for the masses to re-consume. It's such an obvious target to use familiarity as the spring board since the audience will already have a surface relationship with that piece. I don't know that it makes the art that challenging - I constantly exploit the accessibility aspect. Pieces become time capsules as much as the art itself and I really enjoy these references - especially, when the art world makes fun of itself. There are good examples in pop art, where there is a narrative, a style and technical craft employed by the artist. (Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami). Artists such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons seem to stir the pot both ways, where 'self' and craft play a larger part than the narrative, however, these pieces still become extraordinarily memorable. The word 'brand' comes to mind.
MICHAEL: How do you describe yourself as an artist? Are you a painter, sculptor, photographer, installation artist who does pop art? What is your genre and is pop art always the prism?
ANDREW: I studied photography, but always had an affinity for metal. I love the casting process and making ordinary objects in bronze, aluminum, lead, etc. Currently, I'm fascinated by moveable type and text messaging - the two extremes of communication. It's such an interesting time to be living in the digital age and watching the death of print. So, I'm somewhat of a medium interloper in that respect.
MICHAEL: What are you doing with movable type and text messaging?
ANDREW: With the moveable type, I have been painstakingly inking up one letter at a time and pressing them into paper. I did a series for the Brain and Spine Institute of Princeton where the letters were intentionally offset in cyan and magenta ink. The content was about things that are left and right or opposing. The prints were viewable with 3D glasses. The text messaging project I made in 2010 was the Lord's Prayer, I re-did it as a silk screened poster titled 'LRDS PRYR TXT MSG'. It was the King James version that I had to repeat every morning in assembly at my school Rushmoor in Bedford.
MICHAEL: Given your work in art, design, photography, public relations, etc ... you're literally all over the map creatively. All someone needs to do is visit your websites and that will be clear. How do you keep things straight? It seems like you're juggling a lot of different things at once.
ANDREW: I'm always thinking, planning and problem solving to save time before I implement and rely heavily on calendars and the piles of scrap paper all over my desk. I modified my house for my lifestyle. The first floor is the media lab - a room filled with computers, cameras, books and magazines. The lower level is the studio/play room with about five work areas dedicated to all the projects in progress. I collect things constantly, but I purge things I don't want to look at anymore. My goal was to capitalize on my creativity and I consciously set out to create a media company to afford the luxury of time needed to invest into art projects. It only took ten years. As my company was developing, I would evaluate my weakness and figure out ways to be efficient and adapt to new methods of working - always upgrading process. I can handle a lot and it seems even more so the busier I become. Many of my commercial clients are understanding of my schedule and we organize their projects so I can carve out blocks of time to dedicate to them.
MICHAEL: I asked that question because it seems to me that your career and art are mixed ... sort of like art and commercialism are meshed together to create pop art.
ANDREW: As you learn more art history, it becomes easy to apply in a commercial context … such as remembering and using poses in classical paintings to reproduce in photo shoots. Really, the art and the commerce projects are separated - occasionally I'll blur the line intentionally. But, when you are soaked in media, you can't avoid influences.
MICHAEL: I love your crushed soda can series. How did it come about? And it must be a real pain to photograph them given the glare issues.
ANDREW: The Flat Cans series has been so much fun. It came about by my standing in the parking lot of the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in Trenton. The lot was empty, with the exception of all the trash people left behind. I was mincing about the lot and saw three flat cans next to each other. So I thought I'd better take them home. And they sat in a photographers developing tray in my studio for ages. I kind of knew what was going to happen, but was resistant to act on it. When I finally began photographing them I was shocked by the results, I continued to exploit the idea. I have over 60 in the master edit now. I think I like the glare – can’t say I thought about it until now. My sister mails me flat cans from the UK regularly and my mum has been gathering them from supermarket parking lots. I love how they see garbage and think of me, but more than that, they save it for me. I’ve written a chunky statement about it, since it's process driven.
MICHAEL: I also like your works on paper. Your work is familiar and fun. I don't get a sense that it comes from some heavy, dark and profound place. Do you ever
feel that maybe your work won't be taken “seriously” by "serious" art people?
ANDREW: Thank you, many of the works on paper are about 'The Death of Print' or weird scraps I hear my Dad say and some of my friends say such profound things at times. It’s way of preserving them in a long, drawn out, manual way. My background is in print media, so I have a love of fonts and printed matter. I never expected my training to become an outlet for art projects, but when it started happening, it really made sense to me. Yes, I have thought about not being taken seriously on occasion – especially when I see other 'one liner' ideas in art - which make me cringe and think, 'Am I one of them?'. But then I'll remind myself of Richard Prince and his joke paintings. Over the last two years though, I've been selling to interesting people: directors of museums, collectors and dealers. I even have a photograph of a coconut in the Jersey City Museum collection - so it seems as though taken seriously or not, the right people are buying it!
MICHAEL: Is it important for you that the “right people” buy your work?
ANDREW: I never used to mind who liked or bought my work, but lately I have been more so since so much thought and time goes into producing some pieces and then exhibiting. I gather the provenance of certain works can be relevant. I like to pay to attention to who likes the work enough to want to own it and what else is in their collection. It helps me keep tabs on who's got what. In truth, I go down my list and make art projects bit by bit when I can, mainly for me and then my friends I suppose. I am conscious of scale and price point - I self-represent pretty well.
MICHAEL: You've really touched on an important point ... keeping tabs on works. It's also important for collectors. At some point, it becomes more than just fun, but business and a big responsibility. I think a lot of people, particularly artists, have trouble balancing or combining business and creativity. How do you do it? Does the business end take away from your artistry?
ANDREW: I enjoy both parts - one cannot exist without the other in my world. And, since I work for myself, there are times when I can concentrate on the commerce part. I create art projects in batches these days and then look for opportunities later. I'll keep XL spreadsheets as well as build my mailing list, so I have a record of who bought what, when and for how much. I'm definitely in a transitional phase of managing myself as an artist and learning the business aspects more and more. It doesn’t interfere with the artistry … once you develop a system.
MICHAEL: Did you say you're originally from England? What brought you to the U.S? England is definitely one of the top art nations in the world. Surely you could've done well there.
ANDREW: Yes, I was born in Kent, in the South of England. My Dad worked for an American engineering firm in the UK and they eventually wanted him to relocate to the States - so we all came. When I lived back in London for a bit, I could see that even on the student level - the art was good. It didn't seem as dense as the gallery scene in Chelsea (NYC) in some ways. I'm always looking for opportunities to exhibit in the UK, since I never have.
MICHAEL: You don't strike me as a struggling artist yet so many artists are having a tough time ... especially now with the economy. How are you doing?
ANDREW: I'm doing ok. There's always room for more. If I don't see any opportunities on the horizon between producing and promoting - I'll make something up. This area has an overwhelming community spirit. So many of my artist friends dial me into opportunities and I do the same. I only want positive people around me that realize their success is based on the success of their community. A bit Zen isn't it?
MICHAEL: I like it. You're close to NYC. What do you think about the artworld today?
ANDREW: I love the art world! Has it ever been as vibrant? On all levels - from blockbuster Museum exhibitions to galleries to auction houses. My world is somewhat Central New Jersey stretching to New York and sometimes Miami. I troll the art fairs when I can which is very inspiring. I do visit the Chelsea gallery scene every now and then - there's always so much to see. I approach these events as a visitor more than an artist - I just love seeing people's ideas no matter how known or unknown they are. Just saw Jasper John's newest sculptures at Matthew Marks Gallery - they are brilliant!
MICHAEL: You have such an open, friendly spirit which is rare to find in people these days. We've never met and it clearly shows through in this interview. Where does this come from? Is it because you're self-employed or doing what you love?
ANDREW: I think it's many factors. I always like to credit my mum and dad. I was brought up in a very 'hands off' parenting style household and they are so supportive of my crazy art moves. I asked my mum to bring back a bag of cricket bats on one of her visits to the UK - she's 80. Being self-employed is great - never a dull moment, there's been some rough 'character building' years. And that quote is true, if you don't fail now and again, you're not taking enough risks.
MICHAEL: I hear you. Finally Andrew, what are your goals for your art future?
ANDREW: I have aspirations to work on a larger scale, with all the mediums I use, but it's only realistic if I can find gallery support or placement of the work - or wrangle a grant to finance the piece. I'll continue to take workshops. I do one at least once a year. And hopefully exhibit overseas someday. I like several galleries in the UK right now. My art goals are rooted in the present … to make good art now.
MICHAEL: Well Andrew, I wish you the best.
ANDREW: Michael, This was great fun. Thoroughly enjoyed this interview!
To find out more about Andrew and his work, check out his website at www.arwilkinson.com.