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Headbuilder: An Interview with Artist Wilfrid Wood

The Big Ship were lucky enough to visit artist Wilfrid Wood in his studio recently, where we discussed his process, inspirations, and a lifelong fascination with faces.

“Your ears are massive,” Wilfrid barked at me mere moments after I stepped foot in his Hackney Wick studio, a sentence I’ve heard countless times throughout my life. “I’d love to paint them.” That is a sentence, however, I was hearing for the first time.

I sat down in front of Wilfrid’s piercing eyes, his square-rimmed glasses more of an illusion that there was something separating his eyes and my soul. I think if he could, he’d like to prod at my face, see how it moves, see what lies in between my pores, and in my earholes. Nothing is sacred on Wilfrid’s canvas. Nothing lies unexposed. Then he made the first stroke, a sweeping blob of acrylic onto an acid-yellow background, a long ghastly shape that would make up “my face”.

“Faces are the most fascinating objects in the universe,” he tells me, “I don’t know why people bother with anything else, quite honestly.” And it’s easy to see his point. Underneath his wonky portraits lies a certain sympathy with every one of his subjects. Kind, childish souls screaming to break out of their grotesque but extraordinary skin prisons. Looking around his studio, I see a deluge of these faces and heads staring back at me: his animated, plasticine sculptures with ignited expressions mid-yap or gurn or scream, complete with Wilfrid’s fingerprints still impressed into their rosy play-dough-flesh waiting to be squashed back down; the impermanent, reusable nature of his material choice.

After a somewhat agonising, somewhat meditative hour, he flips around my portrait for me to see the mirrored image of my nightmares staring back at me. The radiant, glowing yellow seems a frighteningly apt choice, as the acrylic paint fades out into revealing the colour underneath, the background becomes flesh, or hair, and highlights colours not usually seen in people's faces – drawing out the “vibe of their personality,” which he tells me is key to capturing his sitters and maybe happens “in spite of what I’m trying to do, rather than because of it,” as he uses the background to “fight against” the subject, and create a wholly new drama amongst the sitter’s facial features.

And there I am. Staring back at myself, long face, blue eyes, and massive ears. Realer than real.

If you liked this, you can find more of Wilfrid's work here.


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