Making Meaning with Ashley Wood May 25 2023

Ashley Wood is an award-winning Australian multi-media artist, illustrator, art director, and internationally renown toy designer. Ashley Wood has been pushing the boundaries of comic books and collectible figures for over 30 years. Getting his start at the UK’s infamous serial 2000AD working on the iconic Judge Dredd series, eventually jumping to the Big Two publishers - Marvel and DC Comics doing both cover and interior work. His avant-garde approach caught the eye of Todd McFarlane and Image Comics, which led to his breakout work co-creating and illustrating the Hellspawn series.

In 2008 Wood co-founded 3A, a designer toy company based in Hong Kong, where he designed, art directed, and produced hundreds of original vinyl toys, action figures, fashion dolls, and couture streetwear, in-addition to producing high-end collectible figures for some of the world’s most well known brands. During this era he curated the Venture art exhibitions taking place in Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, and San Diego. Each exhibition blended fine art, pop art, and toys and provided an outlet for established and up-and-coming artists to be seen by new audiences and expose the toy scene to something they’ve never seen before.

In 2019 Ashley Wood  founded his own entertainment and collectible brand, Underverse, where he continues his legacy of producing high-end designer figures from his original series. He has also recently returned to Image Comics, creating new comics, republishing past work, and co-curating new independent series by other writers and artists around the world.

In the midst of all of this – Wood still finds the time to produce personal work for himself and for gallery shows across the globe.

Ashley Wood's show The Triumph of Bedroom Based Space Exploration opens June 2.

Interview by Alyce Bell. Images supplied by Ashley Wood.

Hi Ash, nice to e-meet you! The last time we had you exhibit here was back in 2018. Safe to say a lot has happened since then, how are you feeling about showing with us again and how have the last few years impacted your creative process?

Well, I have been part of a few group shows over the years so I have always felt in the mix with the illustrious Outré. The past few years took some getting used to in all facets of life - essentially though, most artists work somewhat alone and spend most of the time at the easel or computer, so really it’s similar, but with a meta-umbrella of stress…. But here we are :)

I love the title you’ve chosen for this show. I can already imagine it having so many different connotations - what exactly does it mean to you?

The title is essentially how the arts (in this case paintings and drawings) can transport us all to places not accessible through normal means, a spiritual-psychic journey, if you will, ignited in the comfort of your own bedroom.

How clear was your plan for this show from the outset - do you often have to change the direction of a piece or collection as it becomes revealed by the process?

Any plans are totally blown the second day in. This show is a selection from the last three years right up ’til last week, I wanted to explore the notion of relationships concerning Eros and Thanatos (an ongoing theme that ties into the title), plus the whimsical Ashtro Lad, which I think is a good sum-up of my work.

You’ll be showing alongside Phil Noto and Martin Ontivereros, does the juxtaposition of your work amongst other artists often influence your content or the way you plan for a show?

I’m more than happy! I have known Phil for many years and have always enjoyed his work, and Martin’s work is great too. I think we all have a touch of modern myth makers about us, approached from diverse positions, it’s gonna be great!

I read your interview with Jeremy Geddes back in 2012; you described yourself in that process as a ‘sucker for the struggle’ which I’m sure a lot of artists can empathize with. How do you think that ‘struggle’ has developed in your works now?

Well, painting is fucking hard, it’s always a struggle and never easy. If it was a case of just making pretty pictures that would easy, but having a reason, having a notion outside of just technique is the real art, and therefore a struggle... and I'm a sucker for it, damn it…

There’s an unavoidable urge to compare all artists' work to those that already exist - which comparison have you been the most surprised or honoured by?

Always nice to have the Klimt or Schiele comparisons, if somewhat superficial, but I mean, who wouldn’t take that :)

I get complimentary and "fuck you Ash" comparisons all the time, I just get on and get beaten blue by the eternal struggle… as I’m a sucker as previously mentioned. 

Although technically accurate, the term ‘comic book artist’ is particularly broad; encompassing everything from lasagna loving felines to post-apocalyptic teenage biker gangs. If you could coin a more specific label with which to describe your place on the comic art spectrum, what would it be?

I would call myself a Post-Surrealist if I was pushed to describe (but that’s probably just a convenient label to side-step the question). But if I must, it’s not in the simple obvious way (as in a fucker who did shit after Dali), but in the way I tell the story, how characters present, the art style, etc. My art is never meant to be taken on surface value or simply what is apparently there. I want to let the audience’s inner story-teller (the subconscious, the dreamer) be a part of the process. I see comics and art as the same, it’s minds creating multiple meanings and experiences, a never-ending process where dreams and reality hug it out…

Are there any artists on your radar at the moment that are relatively underground or undiscovered talents?

The nameless 14 year old making work that destroys us all in their bedroom; the dawn that art always needs.

One of my personal favourite comic book tropes is the same-outfit-every-day design, what would be your go-to comic attire?

Yea, that’s a good one, mine would be jeans and a hoodie… yup, not gonna win any fashion awards there…

Although I dread to ask yet another comic book question - which mundane characters in your day-to-day life do you think have the best comic-book potential?

Everyone, I mean the potential is always there, it’s just how you tilt the camera. The mundane is the playground for all great stories, it’s where our empathy lies, and it’s that connection to the audience!

Finally (and I hope everyone understands this one…) who shot first?

Han did! Fucking up that shit-talking swine Greedo! But damn, I love Greedo, especially that candid shot where the Greedo is in heels, epic stuff, and the way Greedo holds the blaster, the long ass fingers all bent around like a demented surgeon… Yup he is special, but didn’t shoot first!

Thanks for some great answers there Ash! Can't wait to see what you've got in store for us next.