Every artist is influenced by their environment – and when the world around them involves being in hospitals late at night on their own, it can lead to exploring melancholy themes. This is clearly the case with part-time illustrator, part-time TV support technician George Wylesol - whose work feels like being inside a Douglas Coupland novel: probably Girlfriend In A Coma.
That novel was published 20 years ago – and George's work feels part of an older age of technology too. Push-button phones and CD-Rs feature, not iPhones. His simple vector linework is fuzzy and the block colours have grungy digital patterns within them – as if they've been printed on a cheap old inkjet printer that's running out of ink. The work draws on failures of commercial printing too - registration errors where coloured plates aren't aligned correctly and colours are out of place - which, when layered over with duotones, reminds you of the cheap comics of the past.
The resulting work is unashamedly crude, but reflecting a world that's equally vulgar. It's also a largely suburban world sparsely populated with people and things that don't quite connect with each other. And it's one where something is definitely going on - even his more asbtract pieces have a sense of a hidden narrative, just out of reach.
George lives in Baltimore, Maryland in the US – best known as where The Wire's based – so I caught up with him over email to find out more about him and his work.
Neil Bennett: What's your background?
George Wylesol: "I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I studied illustration at the University of the Arts, and I moved to Baltimore in 2014 to pursue an MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Illustration Practice. I do freelance illustration and design, and I teach illustration at Towson University. I also have a day job; for the past nine years I’ve been working television tech support for hospitals.
NB: What are your biggest influences?
GW: "I think my life experiences influence my work the most. Places I’ve worked, people I interacted with, and neighbourhoods I lived in find their way into my work a lot. Music is really influential too."
NB: What makes your artwork innately 'yours'?
GW: "I think my process is pretty unique. I do a tight vector drawing, then print it and scan it back in. From there, I tweak colours and textures in Photoshop. I basically do everything the “wrong” way, but it all comes together to create some pretty original-looking work (I hope)."
NB: What kind of emotions do you like to stir up in those viewing your works?
GW: "Lately I’ve been focusing on the feeling of longing or nostalgia, like the feeling of remembering people and places you don’t see anymore, and the way emotion distorts memory over time.
"I recently finished a comic, Ghosts, that I was really trying to instil the feeling of 'paranoid loneliness' that I often feel when working alone at night at the hospital."
NB: Tell us about the collection that Ghosts is from: Ghosts, Etc
GW: "Ghosts, Etc is a collection of comics that will be published via Avery Hill Publishing this spring. There are three comics in it: Ghosts, The Rabbit, and Worthless. They’re all a bit different. Ghosts (shown here) is a quiet, eerie comic about working late nights in the hospital. The Rabbit is a sad comic about loss and grief. And Worthless is a trippy, psychedelic, stream-of-consciousness comic about a journey between heaven, hell, and the cosmos.
"This is my first published book so I’m really excited about it."
(You can pre-order Ghosts Etc from Amazon here).
NB: What's your favourite of your works to date?
GW: "I’m really fond of my personal project Diptych, a series of pairs of pieces that I made for my MFA thesis installation. During that project, I tightened up my process and I got a lot more abstract than I used to. I think it was an important turning point for my personal work.
"As for professional projects, I think my packaging for [compilation vinyl subscription service] Vinyl Moon’s 14th record is one of my favourites.
"I had a lot of creative control and was able to conceptualise and design everything from the album packaging to the record itself. It really was a dream project and I was very happy to hear it received a silver medal from the Society of Illustrators."
NB: What are you listening to when you're working?
GW: "Everything! Music is really important to my process and I have to have music on to concentrate. I guess I mainly listen to punk and hip hop. Right now I’ve been listening to New Order, the Pharcyde, Nothing, and Run the Jewels a lot."
NB: What's next?
GW: "I’m almost finished a new zine for Tan and Loose Press, a risograph press based out of Chicago. They make excellent work and I’ve been a fan for a long time, so I’m really excited to be working with them.
"I’m also starting a weekly webcomic on Instagram called I Think I’m In Trouble. It’s an outlet to experiment with weirder, more abstract imagery and narrative – and wild vector colours and shapes."