Artist Ian Wright boasts an illustrious career spanning four decades. His creative approach to illustration constantly pushes his work into new creative directions; testing new developments in technology and combining varied techniques and materials.
His early portrait of Grandmaster Flash was made entirely with salt to replicate cocaine as a reference to the seminal rap track, ‘White Lines.’
Wright's work today expands upon his early illustrations while maintaining the integrity of his early investigations. We talked to him about the materials he's used over the years. This is what he had to say:
How it started
Early in my career, NME asked me to produce weekly black and white portraits for their album cover pages. I tried to change it all the time. I realized newsprint wasn’t the best means of reproduction.
It was years later that I realized materials were important to me. They had an idea in them. What I took from the people who influenced me directly (George Hardie, Bush Hollyhead, Bob Lawrie, Geoff Halpin, Malcolm Harrison, Donna Muir) was that you had to have ideas.
I saw other people drawing beautifully, in a way I felt I wasn’t capable of. They were able to wield a brush in a controlled manner. I had to find a way of fucking it up that looked deliberate.
I’m not a drawing person. I like to process. Machines make me process. Photocopiers were great; you could change how your work looked. I could put in different colour toners and overprint – replicating screen-printing. I could do one off things without the drying time.
Rather than draw things, I just use them. My method is quite broad. I let materials dictate the outcome. The physical presence is important, the tactile quality of certain materials – that’s what I’m trying to get across.
People like to see the process as well as the end result. You’ve got a story to tell, the piece has a story attached to it. We can show how things are made.
The journey of what I do is important to me; it hides other inadequacies. I know what I want to do, I’m frustrated I can’t do it, so I find another way around it. I want to solve problems – Maybe I’m a problem communicator?
Using materials allowed me to up the scale. The notion of an idea repeating itself allows you to go big quite quickly. The modular thing allowed me to enlarge scale without it all going pear-shaped. That’s when I started working with the grid. Now I’m more interested in breaking the grid.
This all started in 2002, I did stuff with Issey Miyake and that made me realise the scope of something. I realised it could be done.
You’re trying to tell a story; even if it’s out of context, by using materials it has relevance to the source. It’s a vehicle with a message. The badge as a means of communication is interesting. It can be worn by anyone, and they’re very disposable. There was an interview with Paul Weller; on the day the Jam got signed he was more excited about the fact he’d found his old Who badge in a drawer. I could empathise with that.
When working in newsprint for the NME, I liked the fact that the current issue was in the bin before a new one came out. I like the fact that they’re in the loft. They’re there but they’re not accessible. I like the fact that they’re not around for too long. You don’t want stuff hanging round your neck, I’m interested in moving on.
I worked for Saks Fifth Avenue in the US. I reacted to the affluence, the fact that they were a high-end, well-respected brand. I tried to react to all the expensive clothing by using something pure like paper – it needed to be monochrome and tactile. There was so much going on in the rest of the store. It’s hard to fight all that colour, brightness and material. So what do you do? You go low-key and quiet.
I was commissioned by Keaykolour to launch their new paper range. That involved visualizing something that was important to me, like a ghetto-blaster. How to layer the paper, grid it and give it a pattern that I could work with. That was a good challenge because it goes back to problem solving - it’s not so nutty.
My dad used to cut hair in the Air Force. He used to cut my hair and I hated it. He used to say to me “Do you think cutting out all those pictures will ever get you anywhere?!”
I did a project on haircuts at college. I could see the shape; I could see that you could work with this. Hair’s fast to do, the immediacy gives you quick results. You can brush it around. It’s got connotations to hair-cuts.