Love is like a Butterfly: interview with artist Wildcat Will

Well, I’m back from Seoul; but I had to book an emergency flight back precisely 32 hours after we walked into our lovely Air BnB flat.  This meant I only got to do one of the things I had on my Korean bucketlist (luckily, it was the sheep cafe) so needless to say, I am down in the dumps. My fantastic pals know how to cheer me up though. I’ve been to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition with Anni, the Saatchi Gallery with Donna and am off to the Imperial War Museum on Sunday with Holly – posts are on their way!

One of the shows I’m really looking forward to visiting is Love Is Like A Butterfly, the Wildcat Will exhibit at Beautiful Crimes. The musician, scenester, artist and all-round Renaissance man has chosen an unusual subject matter for his multimedia pop art –  the women of the Folies-Bergère. Having lived the life of a musician, he identifies with their jet-set ‘half-world’, their hedonism and rejection of traditional bourgeois values.

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His work in the show is charged by the artistic, libertine spirit of the Folies- Bergère, a Parisian music hall famed for the titillating world of topless dancers. He explains, “The women of the Folies- Bergère existed in a twilight zone; a demimonde who existed glamorously on the fringes of society. They become celebrities of their time but many died in poverty. In a way, becoming a drummer is the modern day equivalent of joining the circus, a fantasy removed from normal life. The Belle Epoque period was the rock ‘n’ roll of its time. I wanted to produce work that had a correlation to the kind of duality that I have experienced.”

Describing himself as more of a rock artist than a pop artist, WW would sometimes take a break from grueling world tours and occasionally, out of boredom, would often find work on building sites. During one of those periods, he formed a friendship with a co-worker, the now-internationally famous street artist Ben Eine, who was daubing illegally on the streets of London. Drawn into the sub-culture of artistic language has been his focus. He explains, “My art is full of my influences, it’s a language that is personal to me.” As a non- conformist artist, his signature has become a meddling of images and assemblages. Combining surrealism with pop culture, WW’s nudes are suspended in canvases adorned with butterflies, a recurring motif that appears in his work.

I caught up with the man himself to learn more about his inclination towards the Belle Epoque and Folies-Bergère.

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What is it about the legendary Folies-Bergère that drew you in?

It was a demimonde of hedonistic surrealistic characters, artists, models; free-spirited women that had a timeless appeal and disregarded the socially and morally acceptable “rules” of that time. In fact, they were absoloute rulebreakers in such a subtle way. And then there’s the musicians of that time – they gave birth to rock and roll.

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Why do you think it has been a source of artistic inspiration since its conception?

For me, it was the characters it inspired and the artists who inhabited it. An atmosphere of louche libertines and decadence where rules were made to be broken and anything goes. Prostitutes, pimps, poets, artists, freaks, poufs and pigmies combined!

Have you found any modern day equivalents, or anything that links closely with the Folies-Bergère scene?

The closest thing right now is a night at the Mayan theatre in Los Angeles called Lucha Vavoom which is a mental night of burlesque and Mexican wrestling! It’s not far off The Box (in London’s Soho and New York) mixed with Punchdrunk. It’s circus-meets-theatre along with striptease, burlesque and comedy all thrown together. If the women of the Folies-Bergeré were around now, they would probably be involved in Lucha Vavoom.

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The idea of famous, celebrated and crowd-pulling women fading into obscurity and dying into poverty is beautifully tragic; how does this feature in your new body of work?

Although distant ghosts now, these women were possibly some of the greatest beauties of their day. Whether they posed nude for male artists or were their muses, or were prostitutes or good-time-girls, beauty is transient and just as fragile as a butterfly’s wings.

Has your musical background had any implication on this Folies-Bergère theme?

Joining a band and going on tour was like the equivalent of running away and joining the circus, plus running several nightclubs, back in the late 80s and early 90s. After 30 years of clubbing, DJing and gigging, my life was like that of a vampire living underground in a perpetual nighttime underworld, meeting every freak imaginable, permanently hallucinating on a never-ending Absinthe binge. It’s now possible to look back through the looking glass on the weird side of life.

Love is Like a Butterfly continues until 31st July 2015 at Beautiful Crime Gallery, London, EC2A 4NT. Visit on weekdays between 11am and 6:30pm, or on Saturday between 11am and 5pm.

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