Interview with Jack Wheatley, by Marcia Milner-Brage
During the summer of 2014, having recently graduated with a degree in Illustration from Camberwell College of the Arts in London, Jack Wheatley did a three month Topolski Residency at the Topolski Studio in London. The focus was to “produce, distribute and exhibit” a set of reportage drawings “chronicling contemporary issues of the twenty-first century”. The inspiration for these residencies is the twentieth century reportage drawings of Feliks Topolski.
How did you chose the subject for your residency?
I had a free place to stay in Oxford in my sister’s student house so I commuted back and forth to London twice a week over the summer to attend the classes for the residency. So I spent most of my time in Oxford, which I explored on my bike. One thing that struck me was the large number of homeless people living in Oxford, many who looked like they had an interesting story to tell. I decided to make drawings and interviews of some homeless people the subject of my final drawings for the residency show.
How did you get started? What did you do to gain access and trust from these individuals? Was it difficult for them to agree to being drawn?
|The first person I drew.|
Tell me how the words came about on the page.
I recorded the conversations I was having on my iPhone and later transcribed the recording onto the drawing. I had to pick and choose sections of the interview to write down.
I had transcribed down more conversations but on separate pieces of paper, which have been lost whilst moving around. Even without words, this is one of my favorite drawings. I like the unusual angle I have drawn from, as I was sitting further up some steps. The man on the left I had met and drawn before. He told me how his friend on the right had tried to kill himself numerous times by overdosing and he had saved him every time.
This lady was very friendly and we talked for a couple of hours about many things. Her dog, that helped her if she had an epileptic fit, had died recently, so she was in Oxford where she knew people on the street who could look out for her. When I was talking to someone else later they rolled their eyes and mentioned that she talked a great deal.
Over what period of time did you do the drawings? How much time did you spend on a drawing? What size are they? Materials?
I spent about three weeks on all the drawings. I can’t say how long I spent on each drawing exactly but around the twenty minute mark. I drew in an A3 sketchpad with a solid graphite pencil, which was great for using on its side to put down large areas of tone quickly.
|The man on the left had a dog called Freddie who was a great shaggy hound and was well known in Oxford.|
I did not go into this project with the idea of helping anyone but more just to record stories and give people a voice that may not always be listened to through a form that was engaging: drawing. If the project resulted in someone being better off from it I would be delighted but I thought I would let that come naturally.
This drawing is intriguing to me. What are the numbers at the top of the page? What’s SNOWY? What is a code man?
I don’t really know the full story as he didn’t talk, but some of the others told me that he was a code breaker in the war and enjoyed code puzzles. He gave me the number so I could work out his name. Each number represents the position of a letter in the alphabet. His name was Snowy.
What is the takeaway that you have from this experience? What was most compelling for you about this project?
I found everything about the drawing and interviewing process very interesting as I had insight into a different world which most people don’t get to see. I was able to do this through drawing which broke down barriers which may have existed if I had been simply interviewing people or photographing people.
Is there anything that you’d do differently?
I was limited for time so couldn’t create a really in depth investigation. Next time I do a project like this I will do more drawings of the same person so I have more pages to put text and get a more rounded story. There was a lot more I could have done, like put on a show in Oxford, but I was tight on time as I had to go back to Wales.
What came after your Topolski Residency and the Homeless in Oxford project? What are your plans for the future?
|Gouache painting of the cliffs of Pembrokeshire in Wales|
I am working in a hotel to save money for travelling. I plan on travelling for a long period of time; though I do not know exactly where I am going, I will start off in Nepal in September. I plan to make a blog specifically for my travel drawings. I hope to interview people as best I can.
I don't have a photograph of myself. Here's a self-portrait.