You can say that Mark Wigan was born into club culture. His family owned a discotheque, and Wigan started drawing based on what he had seen. Now, the British artist is considered to be one of the pioneers of urban street art in the '80s. His journey began in 1986, when the then 20-year-old drew a multi-storey mural in The Limelight club in London, attracting the attention of one particular patron: Andy Warhol. Warhol recommended the nightclub owners to send Wigan to do the same in New York — thus beginning his steady climb in the scene. Now, the artist, published author and lecturer doesn't just do murals in clubs — he also collaborates beyond his regular medium and into the hands (or feet, if you will) of Dr. Martens.
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In town over a week ago to introduce the Dr. Martens x Mark Wigan collection at the brand's Capitol Piazza outlet, the artist sat down with us for a break from illustrating a mural for the storefront. You'd expect a man of the clubs to be typically outspoken and brash, but his humility and politeness won us over as much as his designs did. As a well-established artist, he's no stranger to interviews — in fact, he's done his fair share of them from the other end of the spectrum as the former roving reporter and illustrator for i-D Magazine.
How did the collaboration with Dr. Marten's come about?
I've known the creative director of Dr. Martens for a long time and they contacted me for this collection. It kind of goes hand in hand with the Buffalo collection as well, which goes hand in hand with the '80s nightclub scene.
Your art work for Dr Marten's gravitates towards shapes and characters. What was your inspiration for that?
I describe the collection as new wave Aztec. A mixture of Aztec and Celtic motifs, but it's also inspired by cities that I've travelled to like Tokyo — so more of a saturation of the neon Shinjuku kind of comes through. It's also based on drawings that I used to do for i-D Magazine back in the '80s, documenting the underground club scene.
When did you realise that you had developed a signature or voice in your art work?
I've been drawing since about three, so I've always been quite a compulsive drawer — so all the work stems from drawing and later on, painting. It's very much about the power of lines and also the power of the imagination, because that leaves space for spontaneity.
Lets talk about that time you met Andy Warhol.
I met Warhol in 1986 and I'd just painted a three-storey mural in The Limelight club in London. He saw the work and said it was hot, and recommended to the owner of the nightclub that I head to New York to paint The Limelight club there. So I went to New York and painted. Through Warhol, I was introduced to Keith Haring, another iconic graffiti artist in New York. It was a great break for me at that time, that he recognised my work.
We want to know: Who's an artist's favourite artists?
Artists that have a satirical wit in their work, like George Grosz, who's known for his paintings of life in '20s Berlin. And also for colour: I like artists like Miro, I like Picasso's and Matisse's use of line. Paul Klee and Kandinsky as well, for taking inspiration from folk art in their work.
You're known as the pioneer of the urban art scene in '80s New York. How do you think urban art has evolved in New York since then?
I was one of the pioneers of the urban art scene or happened to be around at that time. When I went to New York in 1986, it was a time when graffiti artists were showing in galleries or nightclubs and it was a cross over between the downtown arts scene in the East Village and the graffiti scene. That was the beginning of the urban arts phenomenon. Gradually, it's built up more. Actually, a lot of contemporary fine art galleries now show urban art, whereas in the past they didn't and kept it very secular.
You founded the Museum of Club Culture in the UK. How did that come about?
We set it up six years ago with the aim of chronicling and celebrating club culture and its associated music and fashion through the years since the '20s. Because I'm a hoarder, I have lots of club flyers, memorabilia and photography and drawings based on nightclubs. Besides a permanent collection, we also have guest artists exhibiting films, video and photography as well.
Nice. Any plans for a global expansion?
It's situated in Hull, Yorkshire, which will be the United Kingdom's city of culture in 2017 — so we expect to have lots of visitors to the museum. I think the concept has potential, because every city around the world has a club culture and heritage.
Are there any projects that we can look forward to in the near future?
I'll continue to paint in my studio, and after six months of painting and screen-printing, I'll get a body of work together and will exhibit that internationally. My next national exhibition is going to be in Paris, which is coming up in October. Other projects include a mural project for Dr. Martens. I'm going to Seattle and Vancouver very soon to do more painting for them. But with my own work, it's very much a case of working away in my own studio and then having exhibitions. It's a much longer process.
Tell us one thing that few would know about you.
I collect northern soul records, which is rare '60s soul music. I play a lot of that music when I'm painting. I have a vinyl player in my studio and I play them while I work.
Lastly, could you draw something for us?
The Dr. Martens x Mark Wigan collection is available at Dr. Martens stores in Singapore.