Wildcat Will (real name William Blanchard) was born in Dorset in 1964 . Following secondary education, he briefly went to art school for a year in the mid-80s, lasting a year before dropping out to move to London to play drums for various musical acts.
Abandoning his art path for rock ‘n’ roll, he worked with a number of bands as a drummer, including Shakespeare’s Sister, where he met his long-term partner Siobhan Fahey. He stayed in the music industry for nearly two decades and continued to build his musical credentials, working with artists such as Beth Orton and Death in Vegas.
For his forthcoming show, he will present a body of work charged by the artistic, libertine spirit of the FolliesBergère, a Parisian music hall famed for the titillating world of topless girls. He explains, “The women of the FolliesBergère existed in a twilight zone; a demimonde who existed glamorously on the fringes of society. They become celebrities of their time but many died in poverty.”
He remarks, “In a way, becoming a drummer is the modern day equivalent of joining the circus, a fantasy removed from normal life. The Belle Epoque period was the rock ‘n’ roll of its time. I wanted to produce work that had a correlation to the kind of duality that I have experienced.”
Describing himself as more of a rock artist than a pop artist, Blanchard would sometimes take a break from grueling world tours and occasionally, out of boredom, would often find work on building sites. During one of those periods, he formed a friendship with a co-worker, the now-internationally famous street artist Ben Eine, who was daubing illegally on the streets of London.
Drawn into the sub-culture of graffiti art in a world that was slightly gritty and dirty, Blanchard became inspired by the artists who would use the street as their canvas. Though inspired by the punk nature of street art and its renegade figureheads, Blanchard avoided leaping on the bandwagon although it did steer him back towards art. With a hoarding gene inherited from his father, Blanchard started making multidisciplinary art from a vast personal museum of objects and memorabilia collected from his childhood through to his adult years.
Creating collage pieces from textures and materials, Blanchard had always been interested in painting, graphics and typography but creating his own artistic language has been his focus. Blanchard explains, “My art is full of my influences, it’s a language that is personal to me.” As a nonconformist artist, his signature has become a meddling of images and assemblages.
Combining surrealism with pop culture, Blanchard’s nudes are suspended in canvases adorned with butterflies, a recurring motif that appears in Blanchard’s work. Blanchard explains why he has chosen the Follies-Bergère and why his interest is drawn towards the magnetic forces of counterculture. He says, “Edourard Mamet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ is full of ambiguities and doubt. What’s seen in the mirror behind the barmaid isn’t something that we see in front of it.” Blanchard explains that the dreamlike dislocation of Manet’s masterpiece became the starting point for his next show.
Blanchard is an active fantasist, who likes to dress like some of his favorite movie characters, from a chopper-riding hippy biker from Easy Rider to channeling a 1970s Gram Parson’s inspired Keith Richards, complete with poncho and Stetson.
Feeling an affinity with the Follies Bergere featured elaborate costumes (and often a good deal of nudity), he explains, ‘It was show time every day and I have always felt like a member of a flamboyant demimonde who manages to shimmy away from a conventional job.”
After Nyne caught up with Wildcat Will to discuss the inspirations for his newest exhibition.
Firstly, before we discuss your upcoming show, it puzzles me as to why such a successful artist chose to drop out of art school in the mid-80s?
I attended a one year foundation course at Shelley Park in Boscombe, Bournemouth as it was the local art college and was offered a place after leaving school. The course was intended to teach a variety of different subjects from textiles, graphics, photography and fine art painting and sculpture and 3d design. I opted for graphic design as I was a keen illustrator and loved fonts and punk graphics. I was keen at first but rapidly found I was not learning what I had hoped and the tutors even less interested than I was becoming!
Apart from a screenprinting course that I really got into, and making a movie for fun with an old super 8 camera bought from a junk shop and a bunch of unused out of date film stock I found in a cupboard there, I failed to pass the course. I did receive a letter acknowledging that I had duly attended and not bunked off which to me amounted to the same thing, ie I couldn’t care by then if I had passed or not as my heart wasn’t in it to continue for another 3 years of further education. I wanted to live life!!!
Do you ever wonder how different would your life would have been had you finished your degree at art school?
Yes I do wonder if I had got into the college I tried for ,which was Chelsea, if it would have made me a better artist. At least in the sense of teaching me the process and using materials and especially finishing things properly. Shelley Park(there was a connection with Mary and Percy Bysse I believe)was underfunded and I don’t think the tutors who taught there gave a toss whether we went on to college or not.
I ended up teaching myself and making my own art for the next 30 years so I’m more of an insider artist than an outsider! I think if I had finished my degree it would have set me up for a career in graphic design, and this was before computers and photoshop, and I would have hated it!
I still feel the constrictions of having to decide to study fine art or graphics or other were limiting as I wanted to be free to escape the labels and make films, collages, paintings, sculpture, assemblages and prints. So there is something to be said for having a truly great teacher, but also for following your own direction and self belief, but certainly colleges that have great facilities can allow you to experiment and try out different mediums.
You have been involved in the music industry for decades and therefore describe yourself as “more of a rock artist than a pop artist”, but at the same time you were inspired by many artists from the POP art era. What is it about POP art that appeals to you?
When I dropped out of college I desperately wanted to join and form a band, as all the greats whom I admired in music started out at art school in the sixties. I also wanted to work in the film business so I moved to London and achieved both within a couple of years. Whilst at school and at college I discovered POP art and immediately fell in love with its playfulness, colour, immediacy, comic book graphics blown up and sense of fun. From Richard Hamilton’s “What is it today…” collage and Eduardo Paollozi’s “Bunk!” and Claes Oldenburg’s lipstick monument collages to the American mid century work of Ed Kieholz “the Beanery”, Robert Indiana, Tom Wesselman, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.
All of these artists produced a new kind of art that shouted out something akin to punk rock: that you could do it yourself; that you didn’t have to draw and paint like a renaissance artist; that a new world of amazing ideas taken directly from the modern culture that was springing up after the 2nd world war and that it resonated with the birth of ROCK AND ROLL music! Peter Blake was my idol, his work incorporated his pop heroes, he even collaged 7 inch singles of his favourite pop and rock artistes into his work! So for me it was totally accessible, modern, graphic, powerful and instant just like Roy Lichtenstein’s “WHAAAAM!!!”
You also take inspiration from street artists yet avoid “leaping on the bandwagon”. Nonetheless, can you recall an instance in which following the masses ever worked to your favour artistically?
When I moved to east London in the mid 90s the street art scene was starting to take off with work by Banksy, Eine, Faile, Bast and Pure Evil amongst many others. I was inspired by this backdrop and the immediacy of it as well as the sheer anarchy! Faile and Bast were particular favourites and fired me up to start painting again after a 10 year hiatus where I felt uninspired and also too busy with constant touring and recording schedules.
I felt it would have been fake to start putting my work on the streets as these guys were already fairly well established not only in east London but in New York and Los Angeles where I would see their work as I passed through on the road. I don’t think these artists were following the masses, on the contrary they were against mass appeal and commercialism, until later that is when they decided to cash in!! But the masses discovered them through the media and the popularity of street art exploded.
So I muse on what will be the next contemporary movement as I think Mr Brainwash was the scraping of the bottom of the barrel of the street art movement where it mixed with contemporary and classic POP art and now that Banksy’s are selling for millions that street art has peaked.
I believe that when the masses start following something is when it favours it commercially and I sincerely hope that it happens with my work!! But working to my favour artistically is another thing entirely. I follow successful artists careers and take my style and inspiration from their work if that is what the question means?
You have been said to have a “hoarding gene inherited by your father”, what has been the strangest thing you’ve “hoarded” and has it ever appeared in your artwork?
My father and my mother both grew up during the war and that may have something to do with the fact that they rarely threw anything away if it had some kind of use to make into something else or had a purpose. We also grew up in the countryside so we would collect materials from nature, feathers, skulls, seashells etc, so our house was filled with artifacts and objets trouves from their travels abroad and books, magazines and ephemera and paraphernalia. The hoarding
I believe now is more genetic as my 3 brothers seem to have inherited the same disease! The house is now more like an archive of a whole lifetime lived which included a menagerie of animals rescued as a sanctuary and as pets. Reoccurring themes such as targets and butterflies are consistent in my work, which I cannot explain more than the fact that I simply just like them! A corner of our house for some inexplicable reason is full of dead Tortoiseshell butterflies, perhaps they find their way there to hibernate or just to die, but I have a hoard of these although I haven’t yet found a way of incorporating them into my work yet.
What is the significance of the reoccurring butterfly as a consistent motif in your latest body of work?
I think they are fascinating creatures and the way they emerge from caterpillars and chrysalis into these psychedelic flying machines that live on nectar is one of the wonders of the universe and nature, and all the different species and colours, they just simply make me really happy!!! Especially when I see an exotic species fly by me in the wild, in California and recently on holiday in Thailand, it reminds me that on a natural level in nature this is an incredible planet to be existing on. They are natural POP art!!!
In what ways have you attempted to capture the “dreamlike dislocation” associated with Edouard Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” within this new series?
Without drinking gallons of Absinthe my imagination has tried to portray the women who might have inhabited the Folies as kind of beautiful ethereal ghosts, as they are now long dead. Mixed with wallpapers and aged with yacht varnish to give them a tint and sepia tone, an aged feeling of depth. Along with a cloud of butterflies gives a slightly surreal image of fragile beauty, sex and death
What is the significance of the phrase “I love you more than words can say” when used in your Folies-Bergѐre pieces?
The phrase is a continuation of phrases and messages used in my works and without giving away the mystique could possibly refer to the whisper from one of these belles into the ear of an admirer!
The artwork you create is often consistent in the use of collage. Why did you decide to use scrabble pieces as a way of combining text with your images?
The fonts that I use are in fact not scrabble pieces, but from some vintage card games that I sourced at a flea market. Something about them appealed to me as a unique way of saying what I thought or felt to accompany an image, like literally spelling it out with words used for a spelling game! Spelling “I love you more than words can say” with actual letters is amusing to me as you have to use words to spell out a sentiment that is beyond words!
Finally, what are you currently interested in and how is it feeding into your work?
This I can’t tell you as it would be giving too much away!!! You’ll just have to wait and see what I do next!!!
9th July 2015 – 31st July 2015
Beautiful Crime Gallery, First floor, 2A Luke Street, EC2A 4NT
Mon — Fri: 11am-6:30pm Sat: 11am — 5pm