One of artist Wilfrid Wood’s most recent commissions was this portrait of the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner
for online fashion retailer asos‘ magazine. The below feature on Wood’s work appears in the current issue
of CR, where readers also have the chance to win the sculpture…
Wilfrid Wood has almost run out of room: there’s barely a patch of wallspace left in his house, the majority of it taken up by sketches, drawings, paintings and sculptures. Some are by friends and relatives but the majority are by the outsider artists whom Wood collects. His own sculptural work is displayed in the lounge: there’s a toned half-naked biker, a portly character bending over (entirely sans togs) and a man with a monkey’s head coming out of the top of his own. This is strange stuff. Designer toys these are not…
Wood has been working in 3D for just over ten years. Prior to that he worked as a graphic designer (designing encyclopaedias) and was introduced to the rubbery world of modelmaking via a two-year stint as a head-builder for seminal TV satire Spitting Image. “The work I do now is quite different as the show was very technical and my work is pretty basic,” he says. “But being there made me think I could do 3D if I wanted to and that work can and should be fun. I don’t mind sacrificing a steady livelihood for interest, involvement and fun things.”
Leaving the security of the nine-to-five for a true passion is rarely straightforward. Indeed, Wood’s first foray into making his own 3D pieces was a series of monkeys that he hoped would succeed in the commercial market. So he took them over to the American Retro shop in London’s Soho: “I went in with my monkeys and the woman there said, ‘Hmm, I think we’ve been seeing rather a lot of monkeys recently don’t you?’ It was awful but she was absolutely right. I was so proud that I was making these things but she made me realise that I needed more originality. So afterwards I started to do what entertained me – which is monkeys to some extent – and tried not to second-guess what people would want.”
Wood’s solution was to further integrate his work into his day-to-day life, using gestures, people he saw, or met, as his starting point. His Gay Chav character, with his low-slung tracksuit bottoms and hoodie, is based on a group of dolled-up teenagers Wood saw in nightclub Heaven. The Biker, on the other hand, owes a little more to Wood’s own saucy imagination. “Yes that motorbike guy was just someone on the internet really. He didn’t have a helmet on though. Or pants. But he was standing in such a nonchalant way, looking great. I just drew him and only at the end of making him turned him into a biker.”
It would be an understatement to say that Wood’s work leans towards the naughtier side of life. “Sex is such a great subject for art,” he says. “What I try and do in my work is look at the tension between pornography and primness, realism and cartooniness and hopefully the work ends up somewhere in between those things. With ‘designer toys’, some are brilliant, but a lot are too straightforward and obvious; there’s no room for ambiguity. It’s also just something about art: you don’t want to be told exactly what something is, you want a bit of mystery.”
As for how he makes his work, the brevity with which he describes the design and manufacturing process (which he does in his nearby studio) belies the time he can spend making a single piece (up to a month). After sketching ideas as near to a point of satisfaction as he can get, he then makes an armature, covers it in tin foil, then moulds Super Sculpey polymer clay around it until happy with the form and detailing. Then he puts this in the oven and, when cooled, sands the figure down and paints it before final varnishing.
And while happy to remain unattached to any particular creative camp, Wood is equally at home in describing his one-off or limited edition art pieces as he is talking about work he’s produced for commercial clients, through agency Dutch Uncle. Recent commissioned work has included a print campaign for Nestlé’s Fab ice lollies and an illustration of Arctic Monkeys’ frontman, Alex Turner, for a new magazine put out by online fashion retailer asos.
“In a way I just do what I do,” he says, “but people always say either that I should put my work in galleries or that I should, instead, make them into toys. So in a way I don’t really care. I’ve had two things made into toys: one figure for clothing company Howies [based on his character Fat Boy] and one for an edition called Coot [for a Japanese manufacturer]. But then people buy the one-offs as art with a capital A and that’s great. In a way, I’d rather do art with a capital A as what I really like doing is inventing a character.”
One thing Wood is determined not to change is his distrust of the computer. He has deliberately kept his studio Mac-free. While he readily admits that much of his work could probably be made using rapid prototyping, reducing production times dramatically, it would take the fun out of discovering that these figures, whether in a gallery or on a book cover, are all made by hand. And it wouldn’t be any fun for Wood either.
“I remember talking to my tutor at college, who I don’t think liked my work, but it was one of the only times I had five minutes with him,” he recalls. “I was talking about my work and attitude and he said, rather grudgingly, ‘well, after all, graphics is part of the entertainment industry’. It was a nice thing to say. He confirmed for me that, just possibly, it was an OK thing to make people laugh.”
Many more of Wood’s characters can be seen at wilfridwood.com where they are also available to buy. Prices start at £100.
This feature appears in the July issue of Creative Review, where there’s also the chance to win the Alex Turner figure (shown, top)