Jay Wilkinson’s first works of art were inspired by comics but not in a Roy Lichtenstein kind of way.
“I was dyslexic,” Wilkinson said, “so my mom gave me comics. Books were overwhelming. Comic books were cool because I could just look, and then I’d get excited and want to read a little. So that’s how I got started drawing.”
At his Near Southside place, the 29-year-old Fort Worth native is preparing for his second recent show at Shipping & Receiving. His first, Apples: New Years in the City, was a party with lots of live music and lots of booze. And, oh, yeah, some amazing art. For his next event at the Near Southside venue, on Saturday, May 30, the vibe will be a lot more, let’s say, above the waistline. In addition to a ton of new material, from large installations to collaborations with Fort Worth painter Jeremy Joel and oil paintings, Bobby on Drums will have plenty of room for work by other area artists, including multimedia artist César Hernández, painter (and Salsa Limón owner) Ramiro Ramirez, and photographer Diana Urbina.
Wilkinson wants Bobby on Drums to be a declarative statement, drawing attention to the wealth of underground talent in North Texas. “So we’re pulling out all the stops,” he said. “A healthy art scene means that [artists are pushing] themselves daily.”
Bobby on Drums could be seen as a sort of sequel to Apples. As with the first show, the second will be focused on art as a concept, not a commodity.
“Most of the art shows in Fort Worth are geared toward selling,” he said. “There are not a lot of extravagant pieces being built without thought to selling them. I think it’s really important to build things that are so absurdly large that there’s no way to move them into the lobby of a lawyers’ office. It can’t move. It just lives there at that one event. Then again, there’s not a lot of money in that, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.”
Wilkinson, of course, is not the first Fort Worthian to reject the commercial component of art. In 2013, the 13 members of HOMECOMING! Committee manufactured by hand and exhibited in several outdoor locations a nearly 40-foot-tall inflatable sculpture modeled after “The Eagle,” Alexander Calder’s giant red steel stabile that stood in front of the Fort Worth National Bank Building (now The Tower) for 17 years before disappearing amid controversy in 2000. Last year in Oak Cliff, Christopher Blay erected a 20-foot-long ark that he and community members built out of locally salvaged materials, and in 2012, Kris Pierce installed three red payphones in three different public locations that streamed callers’ voices online.
The thing that may distinguish Wilkinson from Fort Worth’s popular conceptualists is that he has little ties to academia.
After graduating from high school, he got accepted to –– and did a short stint at –– the school of art at Brooklyn’s esteemed Pratt Institute. The tuition, however, was more than he could “keep up with,” he said. He also wanted a break from art. He moved back to Fort Worth, on the heels of a crush.
He soon met Casey Smith, former owner of the defunct Where House, and Nicole Ofeno, co-owner of All Together Now Productions, an event planning business. One of the first projects Wilkinson did for Smith was an enormous mural for a cancer fund-raiser. After a late start, Wilkinson covered 750 feet of wall in one 30-hour marathon session.
Art is also a physical challenge for the artist.
“I get easily bored with standard things,” he said. “I have more than a few unfinished [traditional] portraits.”
At The Where House, Wilkinson began to explore everything art could be to him. And what art was for him at the time was grand in scale. Enormous dinosaurs and mythical creatures that he had created stalked the Near Southside venue. The experience was formative.
Wilkinson said, “It was the first time where someone said, ‘Here’s a big room and some money. Go nuts.’ ”
To keep the lights on, Wilkinson tends bar at The Bearded Lady and accepts commissions.
“I’ll do portraits of people’s dogs, sometimes grandmas,” he said with a laugh. “Last Christmas I did portraits of [a client’s] dogs, but I put them in Patton-esque general outfits. Sometimes [clients] are like, ‘Go nuts.’ Other times I’m told to just stick to the picture. It’s a great way to earn a little extra cash.”
Wilkinson isn’t worried where he’ll end up. He’s just enjoying the ride.
“Art is toying with people’s ideas of the universe, law, politics,” he said. “I’m still solving this problem of what art is. I don’t know where I’ll wind up. I assume I’ll settle into one format eventually, but it’s not something I’m worried about right now.”