The only thing that cheered us up last year was Andrew Jeffrey Wright’s Labs With Abs2007, a hand-screenprinted wall calendar featuring comic book-style drawings of incredibly buff dogs getting wild in the streets with their six-packs (of abs, that is). Then we saw a drawing he did of a marijuana leaf wearing a bikini.
Finally, our friend turned up at the office wearing a mind-blowing t-shirt he designed for Juiceboxxx (featuring Pacman about to eat Q-Bert’s ass) and we knew we had to ask him to be part of Vis-Ed.
When I call Andrew Jeffrey Wright on his house phone–he doesn’t have a cell phone (or a bank account, for that matter)–he’s in the middle of drawing, with Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” blasting in the background. This is what Wright, a 37-year-old Illadelphian with a taste for the absurd, does every day, with breaks to flip over the Life is Too $hort cassette or procure a fresh-squeezed juice (he’s on the pH Miracle diet).
AJW is probably best known as one of the founders–along with Ben Woodward, Adam Wallacavage, and a host of others–of Space 1026. The communal art space has put Philly on the underground art map while offering affordable studio space, gallery shows, and even an in-house store to its over 40 artists-in-residence. But who are we kidding? It’s really legendary for its shows and parties, which have included installations from Fort Thunder, puppet uprisings, a food show featuring dishes like “mock smurf” and “mock unicorn,” and a yearly prom, where AJW–who has DJed around town for seven years–played records such as Josh Wink’s “Higher State of Consciousness.”
Wright, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Ridley Township, has done a lot of other things, too. He has a degree in animation, and shamelessly exploited the RISD facilities while screenprinting for Shepard
Fairey in Providence in the mid-’90s. He was a backup dancer for MC Paul Barman. He’s worked on immensely cool videos with Clare Rojas and Paper Rad, music videos for Thom Lessner’s party-rap band Sweatheart, album covers for Plastic Little, buttons for Pink Skull and Amanda Blank, and t-shirts for Toy Machine, Obey, and Poketo.
With a show this month at San Francisco’s Luggage Store Gallery, and another soon at London, Ontario’s Community Outreach space, the time seemed ripe to talk to Wright about drug art, corduroys, and Gumby, the movie.
XLR8R: When did it occur to you that you could do art for a living?
Andrew Jeffrey Wright: It was always kind of the goal to live off what you love to do... It’s such a weird concept to be like, “I’m going to live off of drawing.” [But] now it’s a reality and it’s a struggle but it’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of at the point where, to survive off of art, I’m not just selling drawings and paintings and screenprints and zines, I also have to design t-shirts for companies and record covers and do other types of freelance artwork–which is a lot better than being a security guard, but I just really want to create the little art world that I want to make. It’s just really hard to get to that point, for me at least.
What are some of your favorite comics?
I never really liked action or superhero comics. For me it was always Mad magazine, Richie Rich, Casper the Ghost, Little LuLu, Archie. That’s what I grew up with in the ’70s. Then in the ’80s I got my hands on Robert Crumb and Peter Bagge and JD King and all these adult comics that you had to be 18 to buy, but I was buying them at 14. I was a Christian then, too, and I know I have this one issue with Sharpie all through it–whenever they would take the Lord’s name in vain I would cross it out.
I’ve never done drugs, but I’ve always loved drug art. I find it really interesting. I remember being at a county fair when I was little... I had to be no older than 10, no younger than seven. I was hanging out by myself, and I won all this stuff, so I bring it over to my parents like, “Look at all these iron-ons that I won!” My dad and mom were looking at ’em, and my dad was like, “Judy, he cannot keep these.” And my mom was like, (whispers) “Bobby, he doesn’t know what they mean.” One of them was a cartoon owl smoking a really big joint and his eyes were dilated, another one was the Freak Brothers running from the cops smoking pot, another one was a really cute drawing of a beaver taking a bite out of a tree and it said, “Save a tree, eat a beaver.” I didn’t know what they meant; I just thought they were really cool drawings. My parents let me keep one–for some reason, it was the owl smoking the joint.
What kind of stuff were you into by the time you got into high school?
In freshman year [of high school], me and my skateboard friends were all on the wrestling team. I think I was the only one that lasted the full year, because I’m kind of stubborn. Whenever I would lose a match I would feel bad for letting the team down. And whenever I would win a match I would feel bad for the person I beat because I could see how frustrated and upset they were. It was a lose/lose situation. So I quit, and I was just skateboarding all the time throughout high school.
What is your favorite thing you once owned that you wish you still had?
I’ve had glasses stolen, long boards, cars…
What’s with you and getting things stolen?
I live in Philadelphia! I was never mugged but I’ve had apartments broken into. One year when we weren’t living in our apartment for a whole summer, people were squatting in it. One time I was parked outside of Space 1026, which is a pretty good area nowadays. Someone breaks the window, pops the trunk, and–this was two years ago, so it’s not like VHS was a big thing–the only thing I had in my trunk was the Gumby movie and somebody stole it. There’s some crackhead running around trying to pawn the Gumby movie on VHS! But then I found it at a flea market again. It’s a good movie. I recommend it.
Since being friends with Sweatheart have you gotten into spandex?
I don’t wear spandex. I’ve been trying to get corduroys because our nation has a denim overdose. The only place that I can find corduroys is this spot in New York near the Giant Robot store. I got tipped off by [the artist] Ara Peterson. I don’t want baggy ones. I try to get ones that are close to high-water, but nice straight leg, thin tread, not the thick tread of the ’90s.
Would you say thrift stores and flea markets influence your art?
Yeah, they definitely do. A lot of my art and my sense of humor comes from hearing something wrong or seeing something wrong. That happens with a lot of old thrift-shop videos that I get; I watch those for inspiration. I try not to be too retro or nostalgic with anything but I’m definitely influenced by past decades in things that I use.
In every photo of you, you’re wearing one-inch badges. What buttons have you got on right now?
You caught me. I’m not wearing any right now. But I do have a little rotation shelf of buttons that I currently wear. Right now on the shelf I got More Money Less Problems, My Bloghole is Getting Sore, I Heart Toilets, and Repo Records, the record store where my girlfriend works. I wanted to make buttons for a while but then I got really inspired by Noah Lyon (a.k.a. Retard Riot). He’s the king of buttons–his life is probably 90% buttons, whereas mine is about 10%.
What is your favorite Philly slang?
Jawn. Saying “jawn” is like when my great grandmother would say “whatchamacallit.” It’s for everything; just substitute it. I like “chumpy.” When I used to work at Kentucky Fried Chicken outside of Philly, this kid Derek was showing me the ropes and it was just like, “Yeah, you grab this chumpy here and you throw it over here next to this chumpy.”