Andrew Wilkinson: "Art Is A Joy To Watch And A Joy To Make."
This month’s featured artist is Andrew Wilkinson. Andrew is a photographer and multi-media artist based out of Trenton, NJ. Andrew has for many years been very involved in the artistic community and seems to never be at a loss for a new project. Andrew has been an inspiration for me over the years with his wide variety of artistic endeavors, including sculpture, film, photography, graphic arts, printing and silk-screening, among others. Andrew is also my photographer and I am much honored to call him my friend. It was great to do this interview with him because I learned more about him than I knew. Now, you get to learn about him.
ST: Hello Andrew! Thanks for taking some time out of your very busy schedule to speak with us.
AW: Well, thank you! you are very welcome. I always enjoy provocative questions.
ST: What is the reason for art? What meaning does art have in your life and how did that meaning develop?
AW: I don’t know the reason for art, that’s a question for someone with a masters degree.
I know I love seeing art - almost all forms of it. I used to dwell very much and for far too long on Contemporary art - Damien Hurst, Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin, Banksy (is graffiti art?) and it all excited me to learn as much as I could about it. As time goes by you become more informed and your taste changes in everything - music, food, people. And then you are pulled into different places Lucian Freud, John Singer Sargent, Gustave Corbet, Louise Bourgeois. Art keeps you going. For so many years I immersed myself in everything art - probably to annoying proportions to everyone around me. I put pretty much all I had in to every project I was working on. So, art is still a joy to watch and still a joy to make. For a moment I felt relevant when I was new to the game, and that spurred me on a bit. It was a very simple set of circumstances. I made what I wanted for shows I was asked to be in by curators. The show was written about and that made me feel good - so I carried on; some years making loads of projects, and others none at all when I wasn’t feeling like it. So, appreciating art and making art is always changing its meaning with you, but always for the better I think.
ST: So, Andrew, you are from the UK. Tell us about your history. What caused you to come to the US and to become an artist and photographer? Were you formally trained?
AW: Yes, I am from the UK. My Mum, Dad, Sister and I all moved here for my Dad’s job. He really want to come here and live in the States. We used to visit a little bit here and there so we were fairly familiar with parts of America. As far as my art and photography career I’ve certainly been doing things backwards. I concentrated on photography in University for my degree in Media, Communication and Technology - a B.S. (Bachelor of Science), but, I did better at computers and design then. I did some photography after graduation, but nothing serious and never thought there was a possibility of making a living as a photographer. I built up my little media company to primarily service the arts and both my art and photography path started in parallel. Early on I confused potential commercial clients with an artistic approach. It took ages to back out of that and rebrand and retool. The clients I was working with were to ‘local’ minded and my inability to articulate or really sell a project. I wasn’t installing confidence that I could design, manage and produce. It was a difficult time to realize that things just weren’t working. So, I separated the commercial projects from my artistic projects. Both did well at various times, one would inform the other. Fast forward a few years and then the funny / ironic part arrived. Clients would commission commercial projects based on the artistic projects I produced. So, in the end it was the creativity they wanted.
ST: What kinds of views or insights do you think being from outside the US has given you that would be different than someone else born here? How have these views influenced your art?
AW: Living here is different enough than visiting here. I think coming from another place was a real advantage early on - traversing aspects of cultural displacement. You certainly see the place you move differently than perhaps the people that grow up in that same place. So you arrive with only the culture you know and then it shifts to adapt to the new culture.
ST: Has the fact that you are foreign to the US helped or hurt your career at all? A lot of people seem to like English accents.
AW: Help Me Reinforce My Stereotype, is a piece I made many years ago. Some Americans like English people, see like a novelty. I meet more Anglophiles here, that know more about the UK than I ever did. I suppose it’s possible it’s an advantage. I haven’t notice a back lash against English sounding people.
ST: Your art and photography cover a wide range of media, materials, ideas and manifestations. What are you intending to communicate with your art?
AW: After a fair amount of time and interloping between mediums I sat back to look at what I had done to see if I’d notice any common elements of themes. I managed to agree with myself that I work within a few categories no matter the medium. The categories are: Religion, Iconography and Objectification. Early on I think the general theme was consumption. I think that I just want a reaction. I felt as though I was treading a dangerously thin line of ‘pun’ art, and I did not want to be that. But, I do like art that has a sense of humor in there somewhere.
ST: Tell me about your creative process.
AW: Something inspires me - perhaps I have an idea that I think is funny or clever (whether it is or isn’t) and continue to pursue it until I’ve beaten it death. I’m a very visually led person, as I need to see a lot of things around me to see. My environment needs to have a lot of stuff in the way, more so real things - not on a computer. Anything in nature is something I have to have - that’s where my mind is mostly. And, words written, typed or spoken can greatly inspire me in that it can open doors, windows and shutters in my mind to a different world. I think moving to the US from the UK despite minute cultural differences enabled me to see things that are normal here, but not so over there. Anything out of place ranks quite high in my inspiration isle - a thing that should’t be near a another thing. There are many times though when I see the finished product in my mind, and it’s complete. All I have to do is make and they seem to come out exactly how I imagined. There’s little experimentation. I could stand to do that more I might enjoy the process.
ST: Many people, sometimes even artists themselves have the view that the starving artist’s image is true. Do you find that to be so? What bearing does that view have on your efforts in an artistic career?
AW: Artists’ should prosper, not starve. That’s such a stereotype, and additionally the fault of the artist if they can’t figure it out for themselves. That has no bearing for me at this point. I don’t really live off my art, I think it lives off me. I know few people that can sustain a living from self representing their art and sales. I made my mind up early on to work for myself. It was a lifestyle choice so I’d have the freedom to pursue the art projects on my time, on my terms.
ST: Did you find it to be relatively easy to get to where you are now with your art?
AW: I don’t know that I’ve been paying attention to where I am. I’m certainly not as tenacious as I once was. There’s more opportunities I’m less interested in, than the other way around. I had different goals with an art life than if you had asked me this question a few years ago. I feel like a tourist with the art world in general. I love to visit it, but that’s about it. Perhaps I should have been an art critic instead.
ST: How have you struggled, or what have been your greatest obstacles?
AW: I have struggled financially more than a few times. I am only dependent on me for income. So when work slows down or stops, things get rough - I’m glad to be out of those times, wondering if you have enough money to put gas in your car, write a check without it bouncing. Worrying about money is not a catalyst for creativity for me. I can see how creativity can be born out struggle.
Early on I was in collaboration. It was an accelerated art education for me - all very romantic, but I felt as though I was more of the financier and fabricator, than the artist at times. I learned many things from the experience. The difficult part was relying on the mood of the person you are collaborating with, when you are raring to go and lobbying or negotiating minor details. It was too complicated than it needed to be. Anyway, a little while after it ended, a sculptor friend appeared and made much sense to me about authorship of concept. So I set off from there and never looked back. I think my parents seemingly not believing in me was somewhat of set back. That I felt was an obstacle, until I got a certain amount of press and then I felt as though I noticed more support from them. Perhaps it was there all along.
ST: How have your struggles affected your work?
AW: They must have, but I have no visible proof as to how.
ST: Considering things like money, fame, notoriety, Artists always have something they want. What do you want? Do you consider yourself to be succeeding in that and why?
AW: For the longest time I thought that being represented by a gallery would solve a lot problems since they take care of the placement. Your job as artist is to consistently make art that has value based on the want of collectors. Sustaining oneself from your art is a big idea, but not impossible. I think I am succeeding by continuing to create the art I want for me and my friends. I don’t have many goals beyond that right now.
ST: What was your biggest setback or failure? Where did it take you?
AW: My favorite setback / failure was when I was standing in my attic. I was looking around at all the really bad art I’d made over the years. And I recall saying aloud, ‘This has to change’. And, I made more than a conscious effort to alter my ratio of bad art to better art.
Another one was when I was invited to do an installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Peekskill, NY. I couldn’t find anyone to look after my dog so I had to bring her. She had an upset stomach and was farting terribly. The curators were riding with me in the truck as we installed my stuff around. It was raining sideways, the dog was farting, the curators whom I had met for the first time were gassed and would get out of the truck and stand in the pouring rain waiting for the stench to vacate. This experience that I thought would be the last, took me into some lovely exhibitions and a long term friendship with Gallery Aferro.
Oh, the other one, where I ruined the gallery floor at Jack The Pelican in Brooklyn and left two rows of garbage a block long…
ST: What qualities do you possess that have worked for you getting your art to the place you want it to be?
AW: Doing my homework is a big one. If there’s an opportunity, researching the space, the curator and what they like - visiting the space. And knowing that what you make would be a good fit. All the business end of it. Updated web site, well written bios and exhibition history, good images of your work. All that basic stuff, putting the right thing in front of the right person. My favorite place I want it to be is in someone else’s house - still haven’t figured out the fastest way to do that yet.
ST: You have added teaching to your list of accomplishments. How important do you think arts education is to children and to adults in relation to the world we now live in?
AW: I love teaching. I’m very new at it so the patina hasn’t worn off yet. I think arts education is extremely important. Believe it or not, but there’s not a lot of time to broadcast all you need to in the High School environment with art. It seems to come down to a few simple factors and they are making sure the student has a great experience with art - expressing themselves, and seeing a lot of art. I selfishly, just want to keep learning and experimenting and teaching is the perfect vehicle for that.
ST: You could be called a photographer, a sculptor a printermaker, and now a teacher. What other creative abilities would add titles to this list and where have they taken you?
AW: Hmm, other things own this list? I don’t know, but perhaps at this point just an artist, and educator that uses a camera sometimes.
ST: Looking back on everything you’ve done, is there anything you’re most proud of?
AW: My big ego usually thinks the most recent thing I make is worth it. I like to come back to things after leaving them alone for a period to decompose. The Flat Cans series was a good one I did in 2010, might be time to look at them again and see if they have a different or similar effect the first time they ran around. It really doesn’t matter, honestly, anything that resonates with someone else it's worth all the effort.
ST: On occasion, people who are not artists may ask questions which artists sometimes feel are not appropriate, like “Do you make a living from your art?” or questions not easily answered, like “How long did that take you to make”. How do you feel about those types of questions? How do you answer them?
AW: I surround myself with challenging people. I don’t fault people who don’t know any better. I'd rather have someone be curious and interested than never truly ask what they would like to know. I like to ask those questions, or worse make parallels. My other favorite question is, ‘what’s your best price on that?’. I’m really not offended by much at all when it comes to my art - you would stand to learn more about you or the art if you were challenged in a conversation. I share as much time as I can with anyone that has an interest.
ST: What do you want people to know about artists?
AW: Many are lazy and a pain in the ass. Many have an inflated view of self worth or the value of their work with nothing to measure against. Many create garbage and think it’s awesome. And they are all my friends, and I’d do anything for them and help them find the best opportunities to do well, have a great experience and perhaps make money from their creativity. I think what I really want people to know is that artists’ should be rewarded for their work and to be respected as a true profession - not something you do as hobby or on weekends. It’s a life-long pursuit.
ST: Who is “Andrew Wilkinson”? What is the one thing you want people to know about you?
AW: No one knows who Andrew Wilkinson is, not even his parents.
The one thing I would want people to know is…
ST: Where can people find you?
AW: In person - at coffee shop in Trenton, or staring into space in a New York museum or gallery, and on-line: arwilkinson.com
ST: This has been great. Thank you for spending some time with us at Studio Tour Magazine.
AW: Again, you are so welcome! Having to think through answers to who I am, and where I am at this point in time serves as a good self reflection. All the best.