by D.L. Bakerstein | 11 Aug 2018
Jared Wright is a mixed media artist from the salt-stained metropolis of Florida’s Tampa Bay area. If pulled for words, a critique savant might choose to call his work detailed, meticulous, elaborate – painstaking, even. There’s a tendency to want to pull out a pocket magnifying glass just to be able to appreciate the intricacy of the fine contours and elegant pen lines.
A lot of his work is dreamlike, hallucinatory – a surreal amalgamation of de facto creatures in imaginary worlds. The resulting aggregate is something entrancing, profound, and beautiful all at once.
We got the chance to sit down with Jared and talk over a few things – some art related, some not (he’s got quite an interesting conviction on the essentiality of Malcom in the Middle’s Dewey). We chatted about things like breaking onto the art scene, what it’s like to work on commission, and how it felt to go from designing pieces for his friend’s brothers, to working alongside industry skateboard moguls like Stevie Williams and Tony Hawk.
[Images courtesy of Jared Wright / photos Jonathan Garcia]
DB: So let’s knock back some pedigree information. Tell us where you’re from, where you grew up, and where you’re living at now.
JW: Well I’m originally from Connecticut I guess. I like to say I’m from Massachusetts but really I was born in Connecticut and have lived in Florida almost my entire life. A huge chunk of my family is still up in MA and CT, so I kind of identify with them for whatever reason. I don’t think I’ve ever really felt like a Floridian. Currently I live just outside of Tampa in a cool little area called East lake. There’s tons of deer and turkeys in my neighborhood, it’s super rad.
How old are you?
Mentally I’m probably about 15, but legally I’m like 29 or something.
You’ve been earning a lot of recognition and acclaim in the art/commissioned design scene for awhile now. How did you break into the business? Was social media a big factor?
I have? Well that’s news to me, haha. I would say if I have broken on to a scene it was solely through luck. Through social media I’ve met a TON of people in the skateboard and art industries, and that’s helped so much. The connections you can make is pretty crazy. Both of those scenes are pretty tight knit at their core, and there’s a lot of respect and love and its super rad. Just through art I’ve made so many friends and some just happen to be people I’ve looked up to for years or even my whole life. It’s pretty nuts sometimes.
Could an artist in today’s day and age be successful without the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram platform?
I think you could for sure be successful without the likes of social media, but it just helps so much. Its like you could climb a mountain without a sherpa, it’s possible, but the challenge is so much greater. Fortunately in this day and age your work can and probably will be shared around social media without you even knowing – if it’s good. I do think you need some sort of internet presence though, even if it’s not social media. People need a place to see your work and without a web presence they’ll just forget about you and move on to someone whose art is more easily accessible.
What was your first ever commission? Did they come to you, or did you reach out to them?
My first ever painting commission was actually about 2007-ish? It was a friend of mine’s brother and it was a painting based off of [the Wes Anderson movie] The Life Aquatic. I remember being so honored and perplexed that someone wanted my art enough to commission a piece and pay good money for it. I’m still friends with him as well and he is a great dude and what I would consider an avid collector of my work. It’s always rad when someone you know likes your work, it makes it more personal and gives me a different feeling. I like it.
Is a client generally pretty specific as far as what they want, or do you mostly have a full reign of creativity?
Haha well I don’t know if I’ve earned full reign status yet. Some clients let me do my thing and just say thank you, and others will come in with an idea and just micromanage the entire time. It goes both ways but by know I’ve pretty much figured out who I like to work with and who I don’t. I can sniff out a pain in the ass client from a mile away. And if I’ve worked with you in the past and have no interest in doing more for you or your brand, that’s almost always the reason. Either that or the project just doesn’t seem fun. I stopped taking jobs that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy. It’s hardly ever worth the money. It makes what I love to do a normal job, and that’s what I’ve been avoiding my entire life.
“It makes what I love to do a normal job, and that’s what I’ve been avoiding my entire life.”
Have you ever gotten super frustrated trying to satisfy a client’s requests? You don’t have to drop names.
Haha oh yeah, I won’t drop any names but I have some stories. I think anyone in a freelance position like me has stories. I’ve had people calling me and wanting to talk for hours at night or on weekends about a simple project that they’re only paying me a couple hundred bucks for. There’s always that client who has a million ideas and thinks they know what they want, but they almost never do. They want you to fill in the blanks of their flawed idea of a design, and it never works out. [At the end of the day] one of us has to give in, sometimes it’s me but usually it’s the client once they see [and appreciate] the new direction.
You’ve done a lot of commissions for skate/surf brands. What have been a few of your favorites to work with?
Well doing stuff for AYC [Asphalt Yacht Club] was rad, I got to meet Stevie Williams and talk shop and design for an hour or so and that was just crazy. Growing up the DC [skate] video was always in my VCR and Stevie’s part was my fucking favorite. I had the dude’s shoes in high school, I mean he’s the reason why I nose grind everything. And then suddenly we’re standing face to face at Skatepark of Tampa talking about designs. It was a trip for sure. There’s certain people that I look up to that wouldn’t have an impact like that on me.
I’ve also done stuff for Birdhouse [skateboards] and that was amazing for sure too. That one was like a bucket list thing though, I mean designing a board for Tony Hawk? That’s [a story] for the grandchildren.
I also have to give a shoutout to Pyramid skateboards – they’re an independent brand out of Maryland with cool art direction and a solid team, they’ve always shown me love and they’re a pleasure to work with.
You’re obviously a big skateboarder. Do you still find time to skate?
Yeah I always make time to skate, it’s important to me. We have a covered hockey rink that all the locals have left obstacles at, we go a few nights a week and it’s amazing. Wouldn’t miss it.
What’s the best trick you’ve ever done in your life? Don’t be modest.
Oh man that’s a loaded question. I don’t know what we’re judging this by, but I recently did a kickflip back smith on this barricade we have at the rink, it’s pretty hefty. I was hyped to get that, it’s one of the ones that sticks out to me. Doing stuff like that reminds me why I love skating so much. It was at the end of the session, I was gassed and thought I wasn’t gonna get it. It was rad.
Did you ever use to cut your switch shoe to make it look like you were better at switch and nollie tricks?
Haha yeah for sure! I don’t do much switch or nollie so I used to either just scrape my right foot on my grip or do a bunch of nollies and throw nollie flips just for the wear on my shoe. Now I don’t really care, I’m not trying to impress anyone. Maybe I’ll start doing that again though, who knows.
You’ve worked with a pretty wide range of mediums. Do you have a preference for one specifically? Or is it nice to switch things up?
I mess with everything and I really do enjoy most mediums but I find that I really love pen and ink, and painting with acrylic paint. I go back and forth, it’s great because the precision of a .03 pen feels amazing after a few days of painting with a big paint brush. It also goes the other way though, after days or weeks of inking and staring at tiny lines, a big colorful brushstroke is the perfect contrast. So I really enjoy going back and forth between those two. When I do commercial work it’s almost solely inked by hand and colored in Photoshop.
In addition to commissions you’ve also nailed some spots at several exhibitions/galleries. What have been a couple of your favorites to be a part of?
Hmm well the first show I was ever in was super rad, it was an Alien (the movie) themed show at this place in Orlando, Florida called Motherfalcon, and I did a big watercolor piece that sold before we even got to the show. Plus there were some rad names in that one like Hydro74 and Dres13 – that was cool.
Another one was the first show I did for a gallery in New York called Bottleneck – I made a print that sold out and trended as “hot” on Expressobeans.com [one of the biggest poster sites around], so that was incredible. I remember me and a buddy saw that while we were at a bar, he’s the biggest poster collector I know and we had to celebrate with a few rounds. I don’t remember the rest of the night though, ha.
Is it a little nerve-racking displaying your work at a gallery, or are the exhibitions usually pretty enjoyable?
It’s not too bad normally because [most] people don’t know who I am, so I’ll kind of just linger by my piece and see what people say, and if they talk shit I’ll “accidentally” knock the drink out of their hand in a passive aggressive rage. Ha, I’m kidding but I do listen to what people say and it’s always complimentary. Sometimes people will want to meet you and compliment the piece, so that’s always cool.
“I like my baseball players roided, and my artists intoxicated.”
Do you have any specific modus operandi when it comes to getting creative or drawing inspiration for a new piece? Music? Film? Other artists? Drugs?
I don’t have a specific routine or anything, usually I’ll just get the idea or a fraction of an idea randomly and try to hold on to it until I can put it on paper. Sometimes it’s cool and sometimes it’s lame. If i’m gonna sit down for a few hours of drawing or painting I do like to enjoy some weed first. I wouldn’t say it makes me creative but it makes my creativity come out easier. I think it helps me think less, which helps my work flow out easier – most of the time. I also enjoy a cold beer while painting. I don’t know why but there’s something about looking over to dip your brush, and [then there’s] an ice cold beer that you forgot you had because you were so into that thing you were working on. [And of course] I like to listen to music while I draw and paint too, but it’s always something different.
Speaking of drugs, a baseball player, for example, is labeled a cheat if he’s caught using steroids or some PED to boost his performance. Why don’t you think artists are treated the same? It almost seems to be a form of validation, rather than condemnation, if an artist uses psychoactive drugs to enhance his/her creativity.
I wish I had a really insightful answer for that, but I don’t. Personally I think most professional sports should allow PED’s. For real, why not. I guess when you create art anything you can do to help you create is justified as long as it’s not some pagan ritual stuff or whatever. I mean in most cases an artist isn’t expected to behave like the majority of society, so I think some people like to almost live through them and enjoy the fact that they can live that way and explore the parts of their mind that most people never get the chance to. I like my baseball players roided and my artists intoxicated.
Alright let’s switch gears a bit. You lived in Ecuador with your wife for a while a few years back. How was that? Did you miss the USA?
Yeah my wife, son and myself moved there a few years back. We were over the “pay to play” high stress crap so her parents kept telling us to come stay with them in Loja, Ecuador. So one day we were like, ‘okay let’s go.’ It was super fun, it’s a beautiful country and the people are seriously great. The food is unbelievable and everything is so cheap. My father-in-law set me up with an art studio at a building he owns, and I kind of worked out of there until sunset, because there wasn’t electricity on that floor yet. I definitely missed the USA after a few weeks though. We would go to KFC over there so I could taste something familiar – the chicken was spot on but all the sides were like rice and beans. It [became] my embassy.
You can design a concert tour poster series for Dan Auerbach or Paul McCartney. Who do you choose?
Damn that’s a tough one. I mean Dan Auerbach is like my Paul McCartney in a sense. I think I might have to go with Paul McCartney though, I mean he’s a Beatle. My parents were huge Beatles fans. My mother who passed away before I turned a year old was an enormous fan. I have this scrapbook she made of Beatles stuff – it’s got magazines and newspaper cut outs, articles, pictures … it’s kind of crazy. I think doing something for Paul McCartney would be a rad little connection to her.
Would you rather get an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or be Mila Kunis’s personal massage therapist for a year?
Haha well as much as I’ve been trying to break into the celebrity masseur game, I gotta go with an exhibit at the Met. I’m not sure anyone would go, but that would be insane.
If you could go drinking with Charlie, Dennis, or Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, who would you choose?
You know I gotta go with Charlie. He seems like a lot of fun, plus we could hang out under bridges and eat milk steaks. Frank would be fun too. Maybe a Charlie/Frank combo. Gruesome twosome!
Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or Rashida Jones from The Office?
Karen O. Plus she gets bonus points for dating Spanky, that was true right?
Jazz cabbage, Grandpa’s cough medicine, or clean country living?
I believe in a steady diet of Jazz cabbage and the ol’ cough medicine. Self-prescribed and dosed as needed.
Have you ever spent countless hours on a piece, and then realized there was a Cheetos fingerprint or something on it?
Haha I’ve definitely spent hours on something and then put a big smudge or spot on it. I try not to freak out, usually you can get it out or cover it pretty well if you stop and think about it. My originals have character though because they’ll always have some little flaw or smear, maybe a light spot or correction you can’t see unless you’re looking at it close up in person.
Netflix/Spotify guilty pleasure?
Malcolm in the Middle. Dewey gets no respect.
Best artist living today, in your opinion?
Oh man that’s a loaded question. If we’re going visual artist I would probably say James Jean. There are so many amazing artists out there but he just seems to me like the most consistently remarkable and inspiring.
Any parting words?
Listen to your parents, they know some shit. Also be nice to people – and animals.