Interview: Wildfred Wood

Wilfrid Wood is the artist behind the Amplify logo as well as a number of other amazing creations, including characters for Levi’s and Howies. We caught up with him in his studio and asked him a few questions to give an insight into his wonderful world.

Describe the world of Wilfrid Wood in 20 words.

I think I’ll pinch my friend’s motto: ‘it’s better to say yes than no’.

Talk us though your creative process – where do your wonderfully comedic ideas come from? Where do you draw your inspirations?

Mare Street in Hackney has enough oddballs, intentional or otherwise, to supply any artist interested in the way people look with a continuous torrent of inspiration.

We love our Amplify logo that you created. What gave you the inspiration behind this? Were we a pain to work with? How long did it take you to develop?

I did graphic design at college so I approach 3D work with a designer’s sensibility rather than a fine artist’s. I’ve always enjoyed lettering, as opposed to typography which is the most angst-inducing and impossible task. So I took some hand drawn lettering ideas and it was a delight to turn these three dimensional. You were fine to work with; in fact it really helps to have a second opinion when something has to be both formally interesting and legible – it’s easy to only see the shapes and forget that they’re letters too. I think the project took about a month in total.

What projects are you currently involved with?

I’ve just done some plasticine figures for a government campaign to encourage fat kids to get out of their houses. I’ve got a book jacket in the pipeline plus my own work.

You spent some time working on legendary TV show ‘Spitting Image’. How was that? Did any of the characters inspire your later work?

Spitting Image was hilarious fun, with very tight deadlines, burning rubber, noxious powders, frantic drilling and soldering and super glue disasters. My stuff is quite different in form and intention from the Spitting Image approach but working there showed me that you can earn money and have fun at the same time. Previously I was miserable as a designer in a publishers.

What do you say to people who label your work as ‘designer toys’ rather than art?

Well I’d rather they called it art, but that’s just out of snobbishness. Really it’s up to others to categorise. I do what I can do. There are brilliant ‘designer toy’ makers and crap ‘artists’ out there. And vice versa. When I do commercial jobs, I am quite often used as a 3d illustrator. I usually say that I make sculptures. To say ‘I am a sculptor’ sounds too grand. ‘Figurines’ sounds too Royal Doulton. ‘Toys’ sounds too Playmobil.

Many would say your work has inspired other artists, such as Ronzo, who designed the giant credit crunch monster on Great Eastern Street. What advice would you give to aspiring 3D artists?

I haven’t even heard of Ronzo or the monster! But then I don’t spend a massive amount of time keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing. I think that would be my advice actually, stop looking at what everyone else is doing and get on with your own stuff!

You’re well-known for your decision to stay Mac-free, which is increasingly difficult in this day and age. Any plans to go digital or are you staying true to your roots?

It’s not a principled stance. It’s just that I don’t particularly get on with using computers to create visual stuff so I intend to work by hand for as long as anyone will take an interest. I absolutely love computers for eBay! Since I’m 40 and considering all the noxious dust I’ve inhaled, I might just about be able to get away with non-computer involvement for the rest of my life. Other people imagine things on the computer I could never make and then print them out using amazing rapid prototypers.

Which artists are you watching at the moment and why?

I like photographers, Japanese women in particular for some reason. Rinko Kawauchi has done a wonderful book of photos of fireworks called Hanabi. And there’s someone called Asako Narahashi who takes extremely spooky pictures of the shore from the sea called ‘Half Awake and Half Asleep in the Water’. A woman called Ume Kayo has done a hilarious book of Japanese children mucking about on the way home from school.

What would you say are your creative highs to date?

Having my first toy produced by Howies called Doh Boy was a thrill.

How does it feel now when you see your characters in Levi’s stores across the UK?

I’m afraid that the creator tends to see all the faults and none of the positives. I read an interview with Martin Amis where he said that when he re-reads his books, all he sees is a bomb site of mistakes and missed opportunities.

You describe yourself first and foremost as an artist. With increasing commercial interest and cross-over appeal, is it hard to find time and energy to stay true to your art?

I have too much time on my hands, honestly! I spend hours every day mucking about and prevaricating. As far as clients go, they seem to come to me because they like my work in the first place. I don’t get many times where someone wants me to make something that goes against the grain. Though I did have to make a thin pretty girl recently, which was very difficult. Fat men are more up my alley.

Your work would suggest you have a penchant for the naughtier side of life... With that in mind, what’s next for Wilfrid Wood?

How very dare you! Well I’m going to the Alternative Miss World on Saturday which should be fun.

Is there anything else you would like to promote?

Erm... Tesco Value smoked salmon trimmings? Just as tasty as your traditional slices but only 88p!

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