The World of Dick
Read our interview and peep some exclusive artwork, below.
When did you first start getting into illustration?
I’ve been an artist my whole life; this project, in particular, began around last July. I had been doing a lot of screenprinting work and collage work and nothing was turning out the way I wanted. Like, I had made tons of good work before, but I was just in such a rut for months. And then, I forget what even triggered it in my brain, but I was like, ‘I wanna make a line drawing.’ So, I did. I went to photo school, so I had a ton of photo gels lying around my apartment. So, I thought, ‘I’m going to collage color onto this,’ and then I put the finished piece on Instagram, and people liked it. So, I just didn’t stop making them.
So, the idea for line drawings just kind of popped into your head and you were like ‘I’ll work with the materials I have on hand, let’s do this.’
Yeah! I honestly feel like I’ve been giving myself the idiot’s illustration degree over the last year.
We’ll call it ‘self-taught.’ I’m the same way with shoot production and other little
endeavors I’ve found myself involved in.
Exactly—it’s pretty easy to teach yourself these things. And hell, I’m already 200 grand in the hole from school—I don’t need to go back. So, over this last year-and-a-half or so, I’ve been collaging onto the illustrations, using my Copic markers that are crazy stupid expensive. I’ve also been teaching myself watercolors. Just trying to spread out—I very much like to be the kind of artist where it’s like, ‘Throw a medium at me, I will make something happen.’
The subject matter and the results are always so you—they definitely have your signature on them. Lots of nudes and lots of sexy dudes.
And I like to be a little funny with it.
Tell me about your process for choosing your subjects—are you just imagining these scenarios or working from models?
Well, obviously, I am my own best model. I take a lot of self portraits—sometimes it’s obvious that the subject is me and sometimes I change things around to make it not look like me. I take a lot of inspiration from amateur Tumblr—I love amateur Tumblr.
Sometimes, I’ll just just get a really specific idea and I will scour the internet for reference photos and just collage everything together to make this new image. So, yeah, I make use of a lot of reference imagery which I then draw. Sometimes drawings that I make are the product of six or seven different images that I just mashed together into this Frankenstein monster. For example, there’s that drawing I have on my Instagram right now of the gay witch with a dildo broom—that’s the product of about six different images that I sourced and the base image was drawn from a guy on a stripper pole. I try to find ways around making things as easy as possible for myself—like, I turned a stripper into a witch on a broom.
Are there certain details you look for across different reference materials? Like, a certain kind of dick or certain kind of model?
I get very specific ideas sometimes, so usually, I’m looking for [a certain reference] and just scrolling for hours for the right one, or I’m spending like two and half hours taking one. Also, for a while, I was taking submissions from my Instagram followers, which was really fun. It was a little nuts because I got a lot of them, but then it became a problem because it was all I was doing—I wanted to make people happy.
It’s pretty tough to say no if someone’s going to send you an amazing nude. I mean, you could, but then they’d be like ‘Oh…’
A friend of mine, CJ—he’s the guy with the palm trees—approached me a couple of months ago and requested that I make a drawing of him because he’s trans. He was like, ‘Will you draw me with a dick?’ which was such a sick idea, so cool. I wanted to make the work really special for him, so I really put the work in on it and it ended up being one of the best portraits I’ve done. Not to say that I don’t treat everything with full energy, but you know—it was extra care.
How did he respond to seeing that vision of himself rendered so well?
He told me he cried, though I wasn’t with him when I sent it over to him. I don’t know if it was a hyperbole internet cry or a literal one. But it was really nice picturing him getting it in his email and just being really happy about it. With submissions and portraits of people, it’s all about making them happy for me. If I can give a little bit when I get a little bit, that's best.
Is that one of your goals for your practice overall? To give people a vision of themselves that they can be happy about?
Absolutely. I’ve spent so much time not being happy with myself, so maybe if I can give a little bit of good energy to anyone in the world—I’m happy about that.
As gay people, we go through a lot. There’s homophobia, there’s general ignorance, there’s struggling with accepting yourself. Has making your work helped you on a personal level?
Oh yeah. I find that making my work is often very meditative. I have a lot going on up here [taps head] and when I work, I really just shut everything else off. I don’t want to phrase it this way, but I feel like it’s the only word I’ve got at the moment—it’s like I go into a trance. My brain shuts off and it’s just like automatic writing at a certain point. Like, once I get there, the work just pours out. So, artwork helps me in that sense, where I chill out for a second, and when it’s all over I wake up and realize what I just made.
Do you think it’s important for queer people to celebrate who we are and make art about it?
Of course. Without getting too ‘identity politic-y,’ because that’s not what’s really important at the end of the day, but queer people do need representation. It’s so important. But it’s also like, do whatever the hell you want.
I feel that—if you don’t need representation as a queer person to get out of bed in the morning then amazing, that’s great for you. I personally can’t get enough of it. And as gay men in particular, a lot of people feel like our battles are being won in a certain way, or that we benefit from having the most visibility.
But that doesn’t mean everyone else’s battle is won.
Exactly. I also think there are many gay men who still don’t see themselves represented in the world—there’s a certain archetype of gay male who is visible in mainstream culture, but it’s very limited.
Across the entire spectrum there are still many fights left to fight. Even the heteronormative, white, straight-acting gay male type—I don’t think they realize that their fight isn’t even over. You can be the most acceptable version of anything but still oppressed in certain ways.
Have there been aspects of our current culture, outside of your own art practice, that have helped you stay mentally afloat during the last couple of years?
I haven’t seen her new show yet but Sarah Lucas was so important to me when I found her. She has her retrospective up at the New Museum right now. She came up during the young British artist era and she’s just fabulous. She strikes a really amazing chord between crass and hilarious. I’ve tried to stay away from certain popular queer media I guess—like, I still haven’t seen Call Me By Your Name. And there are all these conversion therapy movies coming out right now and I’m just like what the hell is that about? We have But I’m A Cheerleader—let that be.
I did see The Miseducation of Cameron Post for Sasha Lane, and I’m probably going to see Boy Erased for gay reasons— I need to see Nicole Kidman doing her thing.
Also Troye Sivan is in it. Troye, if you’re reading this—call me!
Any TV series or films you’ve watched lately that felt like a queer step forward?
There’s The Haunting Of Hill House—Theodora is a brilliantly written lesbian character. I loved that her sexuality wasn’t the only facet to her personality—it’s a footnote to who she is overall and generally, people that exist in the world, our sexualities are often a footnote to our lives. It shouldn't have to be our entire lives or what we focus on exclusively. It’s a huge part of who we are but like, you know—I’m not a flaming faggot every moment of the day. It’s not the most important thing at all times.
What else? I don’t know. It’s hard to find good queer representation in the mainstream. I’ve always been a big Adventure Time fan and they finally confirmed the Princess Bubblegum and Marceline relationship. That was another footnote-y moment for who the characters are—it wasn’t the climax of the episode. That was so nice, especially on a children’s show. They’re not the first to do it and they didn’t necessarily sneak it into the narrative, but it was just subtle and handled without drawing crazy unnecessary amounts of tension around it—they just did it how it happens in life.
Your work is very sexually-charged. Talk to me about why you weave a healthy amount of sex into your work?
I have a lot of work that I don’t share with people—like, I do a lot of flowers, as well. I always have. But around my sophomore year of college, I was in school for photography, and I had this professor who trapped me a little bit in a project that I just hated. Photo school is all about working in series and—this is so art school—one of our first assignments was to go out and photograph around a neighborhood that was unfamiliar to us. I came away from that assignment with a really strong picture of the Manhattan Bridge, and so for the rest of the semester I was stuck making bridge photos. I wanted to die—I absolutely hated the project. The only good photo that came of that was the first one, because it was the only one I actually felt like taking. Right after that, I did a complete 180 and started taking these nude self-portrait collages that were absolutely insane. That’s sort of where the sex and sexuality entered my work - ever since then, it has just not let go of me.
Up until recently, in my life sex has always been the issue—my sexuality has always been something that I never thought about much, but the world around me has had a lot to say about it. I moved when I was in the fourth grade and immediately I was being called gay and told that I talk like a girl—all of this nonsense, which now I look back at it and I’m like, ‘What's wrong with talking like a girl? Do you hate women?’ My sexuality has always been something that everyone else has something to say about and once I actually started fucking a dude and came out, I was still very much uncomfortable in my skin. Actually, really right around the time I started making the collage work I mentioned before is when I really dove headfirst into authentically being myself. I’m also just a horny fuck.
You’re perfectly able to channel that in an expressively unique way.
I approach the subject in a lot of different ways—I try to make it a joke in a way, and keep it lighthearted. Although it can make people a little uncomfortable. For a while I was collaging dicks from old porno mags onto pices of furniture, so I have a chair in my apartment that I’ve shown a couple of times and the entire seat is just covered in dicks and you have to sit on dicks. Some people are really excited to do it and other people are like, ‘Uhhhhh.’
It’s good that you’re uncompromising with that part of yourself and able to channel it into your work.
Someday, when I get a backer or something, I want to do a homewares line. For years, I’ve had a suction cup dildo in my bathroom as my toilet paper holder and whenever anyone uses that bathroom they pop out and are like, ‘Your toilet paper holder is really funny!’ and close the door again.
Do you think you’ll ever jump back into photography or any other medium you’ve worked in heavily before?
I’ve been thinking about a photo project lately, so maybe. I don’t know, we’ll see—I haven't done it in so long. I was using sort of toy cameras for the whole end of me taking photos, so I don’t know if my technical skills are still there. Like I said at the beginning of our conversation, I want to be the kind of artist where you can throw anything at me and I’ll be able to deal. I just have so many fucking ideas going on at all times. I’ve done a lot of screenprinting work and am absolutely desperate to get back into that. I’ve also made a bunch of videos in the past, but not really done anything with them, just because I’m never happy with the results of my video work. It’d be nice to get into performance just because I’m a theater kid. I feel like there’s this whole mentality where the entire room rolls their eyes when they realize performance art is about to happen. But I personally love it. I also secretly do a lot of writing that I don’t show anybody. Maybe one day if something is good enough I will put it out into the world.
Are we talking fiction writing or stuff from your real life?
We’re talking poetry—I’m not sitting around writing essays on theory. As a kid, I was always a little bit above my reading level and started writing poems when I was around 11 or something. It’s always been something I’ve done, I just don’t know how people would receive it because I don’t show anyone.
Maybe you can make a zine out of the writings. That’s the best part about doing indie print—the whole thing might cost you like $10 to make and it doesn’t have to be polished or fully realized.
I’ve been wanting to make a zine forever now—like, I have so many books of collage work that I’ve made that are ready to go. I just need to xerox them. Also, my drawings lend themselves so well to a coloring book. The way I present the final product with that work kind of has a coloring book feel to it because I just don’t follow any kind of color theory or anything like that at all. I’m working on a large-scale drawing right now similar to the group shots I shared with you here but that’s a total undertaking. I’m working with the lighting gels I mentioned before and cutting all the shapes out for it is a process.
How long do those panoramic-style works usually take you?
The first one I banged out in probably just two or three hours. The others I’ve needed to take much more time with to really get them right. The larger one I just mentioned is almost four feet long and I’ve just been staring at it—it’s such a big undertaking I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m ready for this!’
I have a couple of works in progress that are both the collaged gel and marker. Eventually, I think the one that’s four feet long is just going to be like a mish-mash of four different mediums. I’m really just gonna go a little cuckoo with it. [...] I mean, seriously, the world’s gonna end by 2020, so make the fuckin’ work.
If you were going to have an exhibition of your work would you want to show all the different mediums you work in or have it dedicated to a single aspect? And what would you title the show?
When I’ve had shows in the past it’s been a lot of different things going on just because I make a lot of different things. Maybe if a professional gallerist were to go through my work, they would have different ideas about that, but I feel like because there are so many different facets that I work in it would be a detriment to not give a rounded view. And to that end, let's call the show ‘A Rounded View.’ I’m all about a pun.
View more of Dick Wagner's work here.