Andre Woolery is a mixed media artist formerly based in New York City who recently built a studio in St. Ann, Jamaica. As a black man in the United States he decided to turn his attention and focus towards challenging the traditions of popular culture while celebrating black culture and the black experience at the same time. A visual storyteller at heart, Andre has experimented broadly working with oil paints, colored pushpins, wheat paste posters, and the patterns of fingerprints on iPads while using different apps. Most recently, he has focused on depicting the unique culture of Jamaican dancehall with the Freedom of Expression series. Woolery held his first solo exhibition, Bruised Thumbs, at Frontrunner Gallery in 2012 and has been a friend of ours ever since.
Tell me about your art practice. What inspires you and what is your process for choosing a medium?
I’ve focused the majority of my work on black culture and experience. I started creating later in life but the primary inspiration was finding art that seemed to reflect my own existence. I was constantly drawn to be an artist that created the missing art in the world that focused on subjects of color.
In terms of medium, I typically lead by concept. I love to experiment but the concept helps me create boundaries for what tools are best suited for my vision. Through that approach I stumbled upon pushpins which is what propelled me into getting exposure of my work. Over the last 2 years I’ve focused on various ways to expand the execution of pushpins which has come out in my Bruised Thumbs collection, Patterns of Beauty collection, and some new work I’m creating now.
Your work seems to balance the iconic and complex portraying modern day celebrity but using common materials such as thumbtacks.
It’s a way to reframe an icon that you’ve seen over and over again. Their imagery is proliferated but by deviating from the standard format I can capture the attention of people’s eyes. The familiar blended with an unfamiliar element. It has allowed me to shine a light on the pop culture component of black culture.
It’s been about 2 1/2 years or so since the Bruised Thumbs show at the gallery. Tell me the highlights of that experience for you. How do you see your work evolving?
That was an incredible experience that I will always be grateful to Frontrunner for allowing me to do. It provided a stage for my work to connect with people beyond my digital presence. When I looked at the crowd that night, the biggest sense of pride was the diversity of people coming to experience art.
Since then I’ve embarked on many new things. I experimented with digital art through my Invisible Hieroglyphics collaboration. I created a few public commissions across New York City. I evolved my execution of pushpins into different directions. Most recently I made a decision to move to Jamaica to gain more focus on leading a creative lifestyle.
In this past year of transition, I moved from someone figuring it out as I go to strategically focusing on developing certain skills to push to a higher level. I’ve become an artist that knows more of what is required to do this professionally. My work is getting more focused everyday as I go through an iterative process of discovering what motivates me. I have already mapped out a roadmap of future projects that I am pursuing.
Now that I have a roadmap of 10 potential collections, I have a perspective on my work that no one can see. I am building skills along the way so when I work on something in 2 years my skills are mature enough to deliver. I’ve gotten more strategic about the long term view of my artistic life. I’m constantly excited about what’s on the horizon of moving from vision to reality.
Looking forward, what do you have planned?
I am working on projects that are collaborative, photographic, pushpin oriented, technology-driven and rooted in oil painting. I’m letting my energy flow in a certain direction to see what works. The work is my focus but beyond that I want to keep pushing myself to create a personal model for how to operating as an artist. I have a strong digital presence that pushes against any geographic confines and allows for a collective approach. The further you look out into my career the more you are going to see me working with more people whether that is other artists, multidisciplinary folks, brands, and disadvantaged youth.
I know that Jamaica is an influence for you. Describe your history and philosophy on finding influences in travel and drawing from different cultures.
For me it’s about uncovering a thread between all culture of the African diaspora. We are disconnected by geography, language and economics but I think culture is a connecting point. There are commonalities and parallels that can be displayed to bring us together as a larger identity system. I think travel helps to break you away from what you think is normal while simultaneously bringing you closer to what is universal.