Entering the Wretched Beast’s studio, an atmosphere is set from dimly lit holiday lights juxtaposed with the neons of 70’s psychadelia. Day-Glo grim reapers hang alongside pamphlets proselytizing our imminent demise into a fiery hell. For the artist, his studio walls are a living collage of his influences. Books ranging from Gary Panter and Greg Irons to Surrealists like Salvador Dalí. Vinyl records, action figures, and zines line many of the additional shelves, demonstrating not only themes, but also an obsession with collecting imagery. For his influences, the artist says that, “in every generation there’s someone doing weird shit and that’s what I’m trying to find.” By the end of our meeting piles of books covered the desk as he rattled of his collection of obscure interests.
Image via Wretched Beast / Reaper, Ink (2013)
Within his body of work, the futility of daily life is a central theme, which seeps into even the chosen name of “Wretched Beast.” The gnarled phrase counteracts years of the “Stepford Effect” that comes with upstate living. On these impulses, he says that, “I just grew up drawing monsters and never found a reason why not to.” In grade school, when other children were painting scenes of happy families, for example, his was adorned with a man fending off newly risen zombies. Since this young age, the dark and grim have populated the pages of his sketchbooks. The inspiration for drawings, such as Reaper, comes from a love of 1970’s fluorescent posters. Black Sabbath, aliens, and grim reapers riding motorcycles can be seen lining the walls of the studio. For the artist, these pieces represent not only a unique part of American culture, but also the technically good skills of artists creating outside of traditional fine art media. Wretched Beast is quick to point out expressive build up of lines and stippling in several of the posters.
Where others see the weird or bizarre themes in Outsider Art, Wretched Beast sees craftsmanship. The depths of his knowledge in specific genres of illustration to traditional art history reflect dedication to his craft. In his drawings, the varied interests manifest in not only the subject matter, but also the detailed line work. Repeating mandala motifs, slime, and darkened orifices add a complex depth that engages viewers regardless of their knowledge of art’s history. Although the artist may possess an encyclopedic knowledge of his creative interests, Wretched Beast says he strives to create pieces that can communicate solely through visuals rather than a required knowledge of its historical references. Striving towards accessibility in his artwork can also be traced back to his youth, where the artist was late in learning to read and, instead, spent time pouring over picture books. In later years, this passion for imagery evolved into a love of comic books, combining his interests in the precise rendering of lines and visual storytelling.
Image via Wretched Beast / Slime, Ink (2013)
In the past few months, the artist has been steadily creating work at venues including a gallery in Chelsea, Fountain Art Fair, and the notorious illegal exhibition Surplus Candy. With each of these forays, Wretched Beast has remained faithful to his roots in terms of both thematic elements and craftsmanship. The steady hand seen when inking works on paper is just as precise when taking a paintbrush to a crumbling wall. While delving into exhibitions like Surplus Candy, grim reapers and monochrome are still at the forefront of his mind. When asked about these overarching elements, Wretched Beast simply stated, “there needs to more stuff that isn’t nice.”
Image via Wretched Beast, Untitled / Ink (2012)