During the Roots and Routes Season of Hull UK City of Culture 2017, The Transglobal Art of Mark Wigan Exhibition launches this weekend at The Museum of Club Culture
An alumnus and former Lecturer at Hull School of Art and Design Mark Wigan is a contemporary visual artist recognised internationally as an influential illustrator and was a pioneer of urban art in London, New York and Tokyo in the 1980s and 90s. He creates social and cultural hieroglyphs for our time with vivid landscapes teeming with a Jungian ark of hybrid creatures which form intricate patterns.The show features recent paintings, prints and drawings and videos of previous projects around the world.
Wigan’s approach is interdisciplinary crossing fine art, illustration and urban art and his prolific output includes regular international gallery exhibitions, live painting performances, theatre and set design, animation, public art commissions, music graphics and mural paintings.
Most recently his vibrant artwork has featured on a collection of boots, shoes, backpacks and t shirts for Dr Martens. The acclaimed Dr Martens X MarkWigan Collection has been enthusiastically received all over the world.
Browse our archived interview with Mark, in conversation with Lucy Anna Howson..
How did you find your passion in art?
I’ve been quiet an obsessive drawer ever since I was a child where I was always creating and drawing my own comic books. I went to school, then to Art College, I then did a foundation year at Manchester which lead on to me getting a degree here in Hull. From leaving Hull I went down to London and I began working there as a freelance illustrator.
How would you describe your style of work?
I call is phyco-symbolic iconography, so it’s very much about social and cultural hieroglyphics. That’s the kind of idea behind it. It comes from graphic directness and the compulsion to draw which leads on to paintings, digital media etc. My work relates to pictographs, biomorphic forms, ideographs and the idea of magical symbolism, which is something that runs throughout my work, because it references ideas related to the collective unconscious, ancient motifs and the beginning of language itself with the first use of symbols to create communication.
Do you think your artwork reflects your personality?
I guess because I’m creating art every day, it becomes a huge part of my personality in that sense. I always say drawing itself is based on the memory of previous drawings that you’ve done. So it’s a continuous process of working with my own personal visual language. Although I usually listen to music when drawing, actually creating the work itself, is quite peaceful and meditative in a way.
What kind of projects have you worked on in the past and where did these take place?
I used to live in Tokyo and New York for quite some time and had a chain of merchandise shops across Japan. It started off with t-shirts, but then moved into lots of different merchandise.
What are you working on at the moment?
There are some brands that I’m designing for a Japanese market at the moment. There’s two Apparel ranges called ‘Wiganofsky’ with men’s and women’s clothing ranges. I’m also working on designs for Line stamps for a Japanese app called Line, where I’m designing lots of different emojis and pictorial symbols. The app has about 560million are registered as users with 1.8 billion stickers being sent every day. It’s a huge market and it’s a great way for me to getting my designs out to people and promote my work.
The other project I’m working on is designing merchandise for Doc Martin’s. That’s a collection of boots and shoes and backpacks, belts, accessories. I’m going to America to their stores in the states as well as Tokyo, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore in September where I’ll be designing installations and doing live painting in the shops where people bring in their boots and I’ll customize them.
Where did the fascination in club culture come from and is this where you mainly get your inspiration from?
My family owned a disco so I actually worked there when I was about 14 for two nights a week. I get my inspiration from club culture, music, fashion sub-cultures and illustration. I’ve been lecturing in illustration for 18 years now at different universities around the UK, Camberwell, Central St. Martins and I’ve written 6 books about illustration.
Can you briefly describe your books and the content within them? What was the main purpose for writing and publishing them? What can someone get out of it?
They’re a series called Basics Illustration and their target audience is foundation students and degree students doing illustration or graphics. They, in a way, encapsulate a lot of the stuff I’ve involved in teaching but also the contacts and networks I’ve built up internationally with illustrators and illustrating agencies and people working in different areas of visual communication.
They contain project briefs and lots of Q&A’s that I’ve done with illustrators from around the world, asking them what they think illustration students need to learn on a degree course. Then there’s lots of examples of illustrators work from around the world and interviews with agents. The latest book is called ‘Thinking Visually for Illustrators’ and that’s published by Bloomsbury. I also managed to get quite a few Hull students work featured in the book along with some big names in the illustration industry.
What is your favourite club/style culture (e.g jazz age flappers, rockers, metal heads, teddy boys, hipsters etc.?
I started out being very interested the Northern soul scene and I was very much into the dancing and the fashion that went with that. I’ve always been interested in that area of sub-culture and fashion, that’s why I worked for i.D magazine for quite a long time as a photographer and a journalist as well. I was always going out to nightclubs and interviewing people and taking Polaroid photographs of people. I became what was known as their roving reporter, I would go off to places like New York, Tokyo and Vienna to take pictures of people that were DJing and interview them. I’m personally most interested in Black American Music; mainly northern soul in the 60s and 70s, funk and dance music, that sort of thing.
What brought you to Hull?
Well, I graduated here in the 80s, so for me, it was just like coming back. I curate and the Museum of Club culture with my partner Kerry Baldry who is from Hull originally; it’s a two person job. I’ve been back in Hull for 6 years, working at the college and running the museum for 5 years down Humber Street, and it’s been really good. The museum has had really good reactions; thousands of people have been to see the shows.
How did the Museum of Club Culture come about and what goes on there?
The museum was about one of the first places to open down Humber Street when it set up in 2010 and stayed open every weekend since. We’ve had lots of shows of photography, graphic art, illustrations and lots of film and video. We work as a showcase for talent in the City of Hull, a well as bringing people up from nationally and internationally. Our audience ranges from little kids to people in their 70s and 80s. A lot of people are fascinated by the era of clubs, as its where many people meet their partners and where lots of memories are created. At the moment we’re doing a documentary called ‘Untold Stories’ where we are interviewing the older generation of people in the city about the clubs they used to go to.
It seems you identify both the positive and negative effects different movements of culture have on our society; sharing insights on commodification, authenticity, gender issues etc. Is it as important for you to deliver a message in your work?
I do social and political commenting in my work in a satirical and humorous kind of way, but it does make political points; it’s not just celebratory. In the past, I’ve worked for organisations like CMD to the anti-apartheid movement and the labour party to design posters. So I have been involved with political activism as well quite a bit in my work.
Do you have a preferred medium to work in? e.g drawing, painting, animation?
Well everything stems from drawing and keeping sketchbooks. But then it’s about taking those ideas and transforming them into paintings, works on canvas and also digital work and animation. I do a mixture of personal projects, self-directed projects and commercial projects. Before lecturing I worked many years as a self-employed graphic artist, so a lot of the projects I was doing was for the music industry like CD covers and music videos and freelance illustrating.
Do you prefer to work large scale or small scale?
It depends what the client wants really but if I had to choose a size it would be probably about 12ft by something so I’m up a ladder working on large gestural brush strokes. I like the freedom to work on larger scales with mural projects.
>>> The Transglobal Art of Mark Wigan previews on Thursday 6th April 2017 6PM to 8PM and continues weekends 10am to 4.30pm until 7th May 2017.