Now Featuring Trey Wright
Trey Wright observes and skewers contemporary visual media from inside. Working in advertising production, he’s knows how images are made, he understands the illusion and nevertheless finds fun in the seductive quality of glossy images. Disassembling fashion magazines, he creates awkward tableaux that goof on the seamlessness of Photoshopped fashion shoots. Appropriately, his a edition for Little Paper Planes is a piece of apparel, a scarf printed with every figure from one issue of a magazine, dancing out of context across red silk.
MH: Can we start by talking about your process, the steps you take in developing an image? I’m curious because processes that involve appropriated images and photographs always create questions about the origin of an image, and how many steps have been taken before the final composition emerges. And of course the context is always especially provocative in fashion photos, with retouching being such a hot-button issue for some.
TW: I’m always prompted with every project by curiosity, how something will look and how to re-interpret my experience. And I always try to create that with as few materials as possible. I divide my creative process into two separate steps, gather and layout. I usually start with a magazine and it tends to be fashion because of the availability of color and texture, really tangible images. My first real body of work, Last Day of Magic, was really just an investigation into image making and how I felt at the time. Everything felt very non-sensical– how do you read an image in world that has been inundated with images and you’re consuming them non-stop? The work came from a place of wanting to reflect that in a satirical way. At the time, I also began utilizing actual objects to disrupt the reading of the image, a kind of visual trickery to get people to linger on an image. I began working at an advertising agency around the same time and because I was surrounded by these very slick and highly produced images—the amount of time I witnessed people arranging peas on plate with foot long tooth pics made me want to barf—I responded to to that by creating these shrines that were really slapstick and stuck together with glue.
I gather all my material from magazines and initially that was very much driven by finding colors and textures that were most viscerally evocative. That process has since grown to be more rigid and instead I collect based on subject matter or one particular color. Now I even use the magazine itself as a set of parameters; my new work consists of gathering every person from a single issue and arranging them into a giant scene. Then I go into the studio and spend hours arranging and building the set and there are several takes until I arrive at an arrangement I like. I eventually have to make myself stop it would be very easy to just keep amassing more and more stuff, but eventually gets to a place that feels finished, it just has to strike a balance.
MH: Paper jumps out as an important material in your work. What does it mean to you? It’s making me think about how it can imply the fake or ersatz (like a paper tiger or paper flowers) but also breathes in quickness, immediacy and a sense of fragility.
TW: So much of what I find interesting in someone else’s work is the ability to work with very simple materials and create something beautiful out of it. Paper is so widespread and you can fold it, cut it and mold it. I work in an environment that is so much about surface, both literally and figuratively, paper just feels right for that. I’ve experimented with different materials but I always go back to paper and it does have a lot to do with what you describe as its ability to imply imitation while bringing something to life.
MH: What’s your relationship with color? So much of your work is super-saturated, almost acid, which looks like it’s partly based on source material, but amplified.
TW: Color is important to me because it’s just so visually enticing, a draw factor. I use it as a tool to direct and command attention, which was especially important to me in Last Day of Magic, when the saturated backgrounds acted as something that grounded the bits and pieces I was cutting out and gave them some visual importance.
MH: How do you think about the body when you’re working? There are a lot of disembodied limbs and eyeballs and mouths in your work, some serving as swaths of color, others feeling quite fleshy and tangible.
TW: The body has never played a central role in my work but I do like incorporate elements that suggest the physical body. So much of the imagery I’m looking at are objects and the body pieces help to bring it back to something more tangible. I think it’s just a byproduct of living in the world now: we see things in bits and pieces.
MH: Can you talk about your background and how you started making your own work?
TW: I went to school for fine art but I graduated into a financial downturn in Texas, where there is already a serious lack of support for artists. I worked in retail for many years and continued to do so while beginning to freelance as a designer for different advertising agencies. I began making personal work at the same time that I began working in the agencies, and that influenced my approach. During school I was making really banal images of parking lots and commercial buildings, all with a cyan cast to them, washed out and completely desaturated for the most part. It just made sense to work within the confines that I was in everyday.
MH: What artists and media do you look at for inspiration? Who are your favorites, whether they’re influences or not?
TW: I really like painter Allison Schulnik, her comical and creepy twisting of subject matter is really interesting to me and how everything feels very malleable. I like Sara Cwynar’s work and the spirit of curiosity that is very apparent in her work and the kind obsessive tendency in all her images is very poignant. And Angel Oloshove! I see she has some work at LPP. I love how playful her ceramic forms are and I just look at her work and I instantly think MAGIC.
MH: Do you have any new projects or idea percolating that you can talk about?
TW: I’m working on a couple different projects, and all are what I consider to be collaborative in some way. I’m working with an engineering friend on some kinetic sculptures and I’m working with with a poet on some video work, where we are slicing words into different objects and filming them. And of course I’m still collaging, I’m cutting out every person from a magazine and arranging them in groupings/class pictures on the solid backgrounds. I’m not sure how it will evolve—which is exciting and a part that I relish—but I plan on following the magazine issues and seeing how the project evolves.