Wright Stuff

Roderick Mills talks about his friend and hero Ian Wright – an illustrator with attitude and a penchant for making badges, who is continually inspired by the ever-changing world of music and pop culture.

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Jimi Hendrix

Whilst working as an Illustrator I’ve always tried to look away from illustration in terms of inspiration – perhaps too acutely aware of how influential the ‘look’ of work can have as you strive to develop your own visual language. In choosing to write about Ian Wright, it was more about the spirit of the work than its form, and knowing him personally it was more about the conversations stimulated by his work and practice.

Ian Wright is an illustrator who has not been afraid to let go of the past and to keep his practice alive and developing. Perhaps best known for his portraits of musicians such as Ian Brown on Golden Greats, the cover artwork for Tony Bennett’s Duets, and torn paper collage of Paper Trail by T.I. More, recent work includes artwork for US series Homelands, a portrait of Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad for the New Yorker, and torn paper collages for NYC Recycles a commission for the New York Office of the Mayor.

Studying graphic design at London College of Printing, Ian Wright has always been comfortable in the company of both designers and illustrators; it has always been about the ideas and the conversation. He has a genuine fascination for people, an interest in character beyond just their representation. For many years teaching occupied much of his time, and there are many graduates from both Camberwell and Brighton who have been inspired by a dialogue with Ian. 

It was whilst a student himself that Ian began a dialogue with NTA Studios, the influential illustration team, comprising of George Hardie, Bush Hollyhead, Bob Lawrie and Malcolm Harrison, whose witty and eccentric work always had a conceptual edge. From writing fanmail to them, he found a commonality in what they were reading and looking at. That led to a working relationship with the studio, at first helping out here and there to eventually working on cover designs for the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, gaining a knowledge of how the business of Illustration worked. This communal aspect of working in a studio has always been important, and is how I got to know Ian myself at Studio 100 London.

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Duets, Tony Bennett

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Duets, Tony Bennett (detail)

Process driven – the conceptual depth of producing hundreds of badges that then form a pixelated portrait says much about Ian’s obsessive practice. He will sit for hours sourcing material and then intently producing one-inch button badges over the course of a commission to then fix together as artwork. The work has a physicality to it that at times is missed in print reproduction, and Ian has naturally moved more into installation work where the artwork has an environment, a context.

As a practitioner he seems always to be challenging and exploring the limits of his work, whether that is pushing technology or misusing it to create arresting images that linger in your memory. He has an inquiring mind that feeds off contemporary culture, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. These personal obsessions translate into his artwork. There is an ever-pervasive youthful inquisitiveness about his practice, akin to others who are considered ‘heroes’ within graphic design and illustration.


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Chuck Close

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Art Under Glass, Macys

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Imagine John Lennon

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Cover portrait, T.I. Paper Trail

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David Hillman

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Mr Ian Wright