Wilfrid Wood sheds hilarious light on his latest portrait series
“Sometimes a stunning fashion model walks through the door and I do a crap picture of them. Sometimes a mouldy old potato walks through the door and I do a drawing we both like. It's best to just get on with it and see what emerges.”
- Jenny Brewer
- 9 August 2021
London-based portrait artist Wilfrid Wood cut his teeth as a “headbuilder” creating the grotesquely satirical heads for TV show Spitting Image, and since then has become best known for his sculpted portraits. Lately, he has been transferring his astute knack for capturing a person’s essence in plasticine and clay – see his 2016 Olympics portraits for reference – on to paper, with a new exhibition of his drawn portraits opening this week in London. People will display several years of work depicting friends, acquaintances and “curious individuals who get in contact via Instagram,” every drawing done from life with Wilfrid and the subject face-to-face for several hours.
His practice in drawn portraiture started off by “drawing horny men from Grindr but it got messy,” Wilfrid tells It’s Nice That, and so moved to Instagram, where he looks for interesting faces to portray. The artist says he gets lots of people messaging him to offer themselves as subjects, or to commission him. “Occasionally I’m talking to an interesting looking person at a party I’ll ask them,” he continues. “The other day I was walking down the street and a fantastic looking schoolboy with a huge afro passed me on the street. I very nearly stopped and asked if I could draw him but couldn’t quite summon the courage. When I got home I told my boyfriend and he said do NOT go round asking schoolboys back to your flat for a couple of hours so you can draw them. The voice of sanity.”
After many years of experience in portraiture, Wilfrid says he’s learned not to pre-judge who will be good to draw. “Sometimes a stunning fashion model walks through the door and I do a crap picture of them. Sometimes a mouldy old potato walks through the door and I do a drawing we both like. It's best to just get on with it and see what emerges.” While drawing his subject, the artist says he gets to know his subject well but “not via words” because he can’t draw and talk at the same time – rather he gets to know their face and its idiosyncrasies intimately. “We usually have a cup of tea before we start and I try to listen to what they’re saying but I’m usually scanning their face thinking: ear, wonky nose, ear, angle, eye, nose again, ear, hair, nose, one eye smaller than the other, mouth, teeth, eyebrows etc.”
As for his drawing implement of choice, Wilfrid adds he’s recently moved from 3B pencils to a massive box of colour pastels, which he compares with “going from being a solo folk singer to having Led Zeppelin as your backing band”. Going forward he says he’s “f*cked my arm with too much hard pressure drawing so I’m trying to dabble with dainty watercolours”.
In the show, there’s a portrait of Ally Capellino “of the classy bags” with her 90-year-old mother, Betty. Ally approached Wilfrid to draw them both, and Wilfrid was interested at the chance to “meet the creator of my rucksack and also for the rare chance to draw a couple of ladies of a certain age”. Ally comments on the portraits in her blog: “As anticipated, Wilf then revealed two of the most unflattering images of mother and daughter that could be imagined. They get a great response from ‘that’s nothing like you’ to ‘omg that’s so you’. So it’s warts and all for me and my mum.”
Also featured in the line-up is Curtis Holder, winner of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2020, who Wilfrid knew from attending East London Life Drawing; and Tin, a Chinese designer who Wilfrid approached, wanting to depict her “extraordinary face”. The artist notes that she was “totally charming and stared at me with beautiful composure,” but, he adds with signature honesty, doesn’t feel the drawing hits the spot. “Sometimes amazing-looking people are difficult to do because God has done half the work for you. Plainer people give me the opportunity to go on a flight of fancy, exaggerate a little or add interesting shadows for atmosphere. I went on to do a better sculpture of her so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.”
People by Wilfrid Wood opens at the Copeland Gallery, London from 11-16 August 2021.
Wilfrid Wood: Ally (Copyright © Wilfrid Wood, 2021)