One of the bestselling children’s books over the past two decades has been Tarō Gomi’s “Everyone Poops.” It’s beloved because of its title and because it helps timid kids feel unashamed about going to the bathroom. But local artist – Jay Wilkinson – has co-opted the name for his first solo exhibition at Fort Worth’s Fort Works Art. Despite the funny name, the show deals with family dynamics and loss.
Jay Wilkinson has a reputation in Fort Worth for being an artist who’s always up to something.
He helped start two artist collectives – Bobby on Drums and Art Tooth – and he jumps at pretty much every creative opportunity: he’s painted murals, built sculptures, crafted installations and curated art shows.
““I think the reason that I wanted to move so fast and so hard is because there’s so many avenues,” says Wilkinson. “Fort Worth is just so graciously open.”
His current solo show features more than 20 oil paintings, which he describes as a series of “indirect portraits.” Wilkinson chose the show’s name because everyone messes up in life and those were moments he was trying to capture.
“I really wanted something that kind of made everyone feel as if this could be their family, this could be their life, this could be their art show. It’s not something ceremonial. It’s as if it’s for everyone,” says Wilkinson.
The exhibition is inspired by hauntingly tragic personal events, from the fallout of his parents’ divorce to witnessing the death of a close friend. But Wilkinson wants these works to resonate with visitors. So he obscures his subject’s faces with party masks and animal noses.
“The idea is to create implied lines in that their emotions and expressions can exist somewhere for you, and you’re allowed take them.”
The show allows Wilkinson to show off his abilities as a painter and to work through personal issues.
For the audience, the painting feel like finding a pile of photos at a resale shop. Both evoke nostalgia and a little sadness, even though you don’t know the story behind them.
Listen to the extended interview with Jay Wilkinson about “Everyone Poops,” his artistic ventures and what’s next in his career in the player above.
On titling the show “Everyone Poops”
“The show is mostly based around the concept of family and how inside of every connection, there are these joyful moments and simultaneously, there’s moments of pain and difficulty. I liked the idea that that’s the line for most people. Someone who’ll clean up after you, clean up your poop or your puke — emotionally and metaphorically — that’s family … You see in these images this time before time. This other place. There were seeds of that happening then, so hopefully, there’s this soft darkness and real joy inside the paintings.”
On obscuring faces
“First off, it was a tactic for indirect portraiture so that whenever you’re looking at it, you’re allowed to put yourself into it … The idea is to create implied lines in that their emotions and their expressions can exist somewhere for you to take them.”
On sharing intimate experiences in his work
“I really didn’t understand how much it was going to affect me. I kind of planned on these images, and I planned on trying to approach them as, instead of painting my father, painting a father. I was going to have this objective approach to family life, and during the process, that all fell apart on me. I started getting more and more emotional … It was great that different moments and different images would spark these feelings … There’s a couple of pieces that are hyper-emotional for me, and I don’t even like going to that part of the gallery. I knew that the only chance for me to make something that was important was to be honest.”
On capturing the loss of a close friend
“There’s a very small and subtle painting that’s in the middle of the gallery, positioned on this black velvet wall. The painting is actually of a friend of mine, who about seven years ago, we were rafting on the Brazos … We came around a corner and I flipped him over in his raft, and … he never came back up.
It was this hard, strange, traumatic, accidental moment in my life, and I just knew that I needed to express it. He was a close friend of mine, but there were people — family and best friends and cousins — who were much closer to him — and it was a strange thing to paint somebody who I may have removed from the world. That was a really hard moment. I really wanted to give him his opportunity to be there and be seen as a small child in a moment of innocence.”
On what’s next
“I’ll always love painting. Painting is where I started and probably where I’ll die. I’ll continue that forever … I don’t know. I want to do a lot more. I really want to get back into installation and how that fits into my painting. That’s the big thing — figuring out how to connect all the worlds into a simultaneous world.”