Murphy & Cadogan Artist Interview: Andrew Wilson

"FRUIT Spring 2016" by Andrew Wilson

“FRUIT Spring 2016″ by Andrew Wilson

In your artist statement, you talk about how different mediums help to tell different parts of the story in your work. Can you say more about how you learned to use each medium to effectively tell a story?
In undergrad, I went primarily to study jewelry. I was working in jewelry and I started doing work in ceramics, metal sculpture, book arts, fiber arts, textiles, garments, photography. I used to slam a lot with Youth Speaks so performance and literary poetry is also in the mix. My mother and grandmother were seamstresses so that’s always been kind of heavy in what’s gone down.

In being very fluid in my interests, I could see how all these different media are connected — They’re all different types of marks. There’s something that a sculpture can do that a photograph cannot. There’s something that a book can do that a ceramic vessel cannot. There’s something that a utilitarian object can do that a conceptual object cannot. So I think being able to work through that helps inform how I want to tell what I would like to tell.

And I guess the other piece is, you’re never going to say “I know everything there is to know about African American Studies,” after only reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. That would be ludicrous. So similarly, I think that applies in my own work. I can’t try to tell multiple parts of the stories of masculinity and sexuality of Black men, Black history, vessels, slave ships, bodies, loss, absence and presence — There’s no way to investigate all of that with just one mark.

Your work in the Murphy & Cadogan exhibition seems to be (in part) a response to the representation of Black men in mainstream fashion. What made you want to focus on fashion as a locus for (self)representation?
It was interesting when I was reading that question, I was kind of stumped. I don’t think it’s so much about representation in fashion. It’s about loss and presence. It’s about the body. It’s about utilizing fashion as a language — The language of consumption. Fashion is always about what’s next, what’s new. In that way, it’s similar to the art world.

I’m trying to utilize this language of fashion to think through the consumption of the Black body in the American context. Why were Africans enslaved and brought over to the US?

When we think about slavery, we’re trained to think about the slave ship, the auction block, the field, and the plantation house, but never about the actual bodies and people that were involved, so that’s really interesting to me.

The larger work that this piece is part of is going to be 454 garments because the vessel Brooks that is featured in many of the prints could hold 454 individuals if stacked according to the plan. It’s about economics and money, and not about humanness.

I think fashion is in there kind of — the garments are kind of an avant-garde cut and there’s a pants series that goes with it — but I think it’s so much more.

Right. It’s using the vocabulary of fashion as a way into much deeper conversations.
There’s a lookbook that goes with it, there’s a broach series that goes with it. I do plan on learning how to make shoes. It’s actually a full fashion brand called FRUIT, so this is just one iteration of the work.

Even your using that word “branding,” also speaks to the ways in which Black bodies are consumed in our contemporary moment, not only in fashion but across all kinds of marketing.
The Black body has always been consumed in relation to labor, sexual and entertainment potential. That’s the value of this body. And if this body acts outside of that, it is then terrifying and it must be destroyed. That’s why we’re being made more aware of the violence enacted on the Black body.

Do you think that your interest in making clothes and even jewelry came from your grandmother and your mom?
Definitely clothing, because I don’t have formal training but my grandmother was a seamstress from the time she moved to San Francisco when she was 18 until the time when she was pushed out of San Francisco when I was in middle school in 2003. So I grew up in a sewing room, learning to crochet and knit. I grew up constructing objects.

And then I got interested in jewelry when I was in high school and that’s what informed my desire to study jewelry in undergrad.

What questions do you hope gallery visitors will walk away with after seeing your work?
I shy away from giving an answer because I feel that giving an answer will start to restrict what the audience will interpret. In not answering, I think that leaves so many openings. What I try to do in my work is to leave breadcrumbs for the audience to follow, and it just depends on how far the viewer would like to get and I think that’s a very personal journey.

About Andrew Wilson:

Andrew Wilson is the recipient of the prestigious Murphy Award and a second-year MFA student at UC Berkeley. His work includes sculpture, fiber arts, book arts, photography, and performance and literary poetry stitched together by themes of masculinity and sexuality in Black men and Black history.

About the Interviewer:

Sarah Pritchard is SOMArts’ Director of Communications and Strategy. They are also a dancer, choreographer and organizer based in Oakland, CA.