Rare is the man that walks into Margaret Howell and says, “I really don’t want to do this,” but if ever there was someone to prove that so called anti-style can be a style all of its own, it’s Wilfrid Wood. Wearing a jumper knitted by a friend and charity shop trousers, as he makes his signature caricatures – be it Bowie or Mark Zuckerberg – he switches between glasses from Garret Leight and Specsavers with the same purposefulness.
The walls of his top-floor Hackney studio are a diary of sorts, covered with postcards, inflammatory quotes about craft, and racy drawings. From Lucian Freud to Terry Richardson, his references are nuanced and far-ranging and either by accident or by design, quite comfortably sit astride the worlds of art and fashion. We sat down with him to find out more about his work and what he wears, touching on the “super style” of Picasso’s studio, why deadlines are brilliant for an artist and why image maybe isn’t.
Could you tell me a bit about your background?
So I did graphics at Central Saint Martins, then I worked for Spitting Image, which was a TV company. That introduced me to 3D stuff. Then I went freelance and have been a sculptor ever since.
What was the segue from graphics to 3D?
Well it was really Spitting Image. I just happened to know someone who worked there. They made latex puppets for TV – it was a satirical programme – and I went in there as an apprentice head builder and was making things like eyeballs. It was just basic stuff in the workshop but I always wanted to make things and that was my entry, via the TV company. I learnt a bit but really I’m self-taught and everything is 100% done by eye and hand, and by wonky touchy feel.
What’s a typical work day like for you?
Well I’m very irregular in terms of the time I get to the studio, but it’s usually around ten o’clock, or I get waylaid by nonsense at home and then sometimes stay late. Typically I start really concentrating at about half past six and then I really knuckle down. I cycle from my house in Hackney Central just across the park so it’s all very local. I like to keep things quite compact where possible.
If I haven’t got commercial work I’m working quite hard on my own stuff and a deadline really helps to focus the mind. Deadlines are brilliant for an artist. I’m aiming to have a show of portraits at the end of the year.
Jack Johnstone: Wilfrid Wood
What are you wearing today?
My jumper was knitted by my friend Pat and I wear it absolutely constantly. I can’t believe it was given to me for my 40th birthday but it was, which is now seven years ago, my God. It’s lasted well but it’s had two serious moth attacks and she patched it up the first time, and then I did it myself very badly. We went to John Lewis and chose the wool together, and apparently, this is the actual colour of the sheep. Anyway, it’s lovely and it’s thinning of course, but I’m really very fond of it. It’s super warm and doesn’t really seem to get that dirty.
These trousers are from a charity shop and I think they might be hospital scrubs. I love this blue colour. My shoes are from Redwing, which I highly recommend.
My glasses – I’ve got two pairs of glasses – these Garrett Leight ones were pretty expensive and I bought them in a shop on Wardour Street about three or four years ago. I was trying on all sorts of glasses but the man in there is brilliant. Then for close-up, these other ones are uber cheap from Specsavers. So I’ve got both extremes here.
Do you dress differently when you’re in the studio?
It’s very tempting just to wear the same clothes all the time for everything but it gets too filthy, so I’ve really made a conscious effort to arrive in certain clothes and change. Otherwise everything gets sticky, splattered, dirty and dusty.
What do you tend to wear when you’re not working?
Very ordinary jeans, T-shirts and jerseys. Although I have just bought a suit for a wedding in Japan. My second only suit and it was really expensive and it’s from Margaret Howell. I didn’t know much about Margaret Howell apart from that she has a brilliant shop on Wigmore Street. My husband’s brother is getting married and much to my annoyance said I must get a suit. So I walked into Margaret Howell and said, “I really don’t want to do this, but I’ve got to find a suit.” They suggested grey and I thought that’s perfect. The suit’s a posh thing, but normally I’m not super on trend.
Why do you think Margaret Howell seems to be one of those brands that attracts so many makers?
I think maybe it’s partly because she’s got so many brilliant books and ceramics and pieces of furniture. It’s very enticing. I think you walk in and think, “I’d like to be part of this.” It’s more than just walking into a clothes shop.
"Some artists’ images are super consistent and obviously tied up with their work, but I really hope to put work first."Wilfrid Wood
Tell me about all the pictures on your walls.
They are kind of a fun, inspirational compost where ideas come from and a way to remember things that I like. If there’s is an artist I particularly like but keep forgetting the name of, I’ll get a postcard and stick it on the studio wall. Plus there’s a lot of old stuff I’ve had for years and can’t bear to throw away, and there’s no point having it tucked away in a drawer.
Jack Johnstone: Wilfrid Wood
Is there anything specific about your style that is attached to sculpture?
Well it’s not as if I’m chipping away at marble blocks; I’m not Rodin. I’m quite fiddly and what I do is quite delicate. I’m making heads so I’m not a kind of real, tough sculptor. Maybe if I was I’d have dungarees. I guess all these things feed into everything else.
What’s your take on people whose style is very visibly tied to what they do?
I don’t want to be too self-conscious about it and I don’t like it when artists are too self-conscious about it. I am aware though – especially since I make things by hand when so much is done on the computer – that I’m very interested in tactile, real materials, whether that’s what I happen to be wearing or working with. Some artists’ images are super consistent and obviously tied up with their work, but I really hope to put work first.
Has your style changed much over the years?
Well I guess like everybody’s but I think I’ve always just gone with the flow, almost not knowing it. If I look at photos of myself ten or 15 years ago I probably think I look pretty awful – that’s fashion isn’t it? Then I look at myself 30 years ago and I think I look terrific and the same goes for everybody really. There’s a terrible phase where everything looks awful, then it starts to look good again. It’s bizarre but I do think we’re think we’re incredibly, unconsciously aware and influenced by fashion in all sorts of ways.
"I think the real tie-up, the glamour and the transitory nature of a lot of art at the moment, is very influenced by fashion. Together they make an irresistible combination."Wilfrid Wood
Maybe it’s the way art, fashion and advertising have come together?
Art and fashion have merged – massively.
If you see Picasso in his studio or Matisse, it’s unbelievably stylish, the whole scene. It’s super style. I think the real tie-up, the glamour and the transitory nature of a lot of art at the moment is very influenced by fashion. Together they make an irresistible combination.