Jay Wilkinson is making big moves. I learn this quickly while talking to him inside his temporary studio tucked in the back of Montgomery Street’s Fort Works Art, where he is currently the artist in residence. And it’s clear he has made himself at home, as he shows me the art he’s working on for his upcoming show, barefoot with coffee cup in hand.
The name he chose for his first solo exhibition – everyone poops.
Fort Works Art owner and creative director Lauren Childs cringed at the name when Wilkinson told her, but he soon explained it with both his reasoning and charm.
“It was a little bit jarring to say the least, and I definitely fought him on that title for a while, but eventually I came around. His work is all about these experiences he had as a child of divorce and what that means,” Childs says.
The title of the exhibition is based on a children’s book Wilkinson’s mother read to him when he was a child – “when everything was fine,” as Wilkinson says. It’s his childhood that influenced the more than 20-piece show – each painting is based on a candid photo of a family member or friend. One of the largest pieces is Wilkinson on a pony at a carnival as a child.
Describing his work as “somewhere between contemporary portraiture and indirect portraiture,” he says each painting is really about the moment and not really about the person. “It’s kind of like when lyrics fade back into the song.”
“For me it’s kind of a humanizing idea, and the ability to translate those little feelings that everybody has. I just want to approach [art] from this concept of what it means to be a human being. What it means to be alive, make mistakes, be in love, hurt people, and do all of that at the same time.”
Childs treasures the abundance of negative space in Wilkinson’s work. “As a viewer, you feel almost like there’s a portal of entry, and you can go in and become a part of it,” she says. “His paintings are very interactive and nostalgic. Because of his negative space, they allow you to enter them and become a part of them and have a nostalgia for what things were like when ‘everything was fine.’”
Wilkinson’s road to his first solo show was paved by big moves just like this one. After spending time at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and University of North Texas in Denton, Wilkinson went out on his own, opening a few different businesses including a comic store, a music-booking business and Gorgonzilla food truck – which is still in business today – before officially landing on art.
It was a giant installation show at Shipping & Receiving with his collective, Bobby on Drums, in 2015 that first got him recognized. Following that, he earned the chance to be the artist in residence in Fairmount for Art South and created a 27-foot sculpture of a mother and her child for Arts Goggle. “I try to take the biggest, hardest risk possible.”
Wilkinson says over the last three years his art has gotten smarter. “Before, it was can I do this?” Wilkinson says. “Now, it’s why am I doing this? What’s the purpose of making art?”
Just as our conversation starts to get serious about art’s larger purpose, it pivots with Wilkinson’s mention of an artist he looks up to – Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. “He was real ambitions and crazy … he made these crazy shifts.”
When asked if he anticipates another shift in his own career, Wilkinson responds with an emphatic yes. “I don’t know what yet. I’m a leap-before-I-look kind of guy,” he says.
“But, it’s a good time to be an artist in Fort Worth. There’s still magic in it.”
Everyone poops runs June 28 - July 29 at Fort Works Art and will include an exclusive Opening Night Reception as well as a moderated evening of conversation with the artist.