Polka Dot Universe | Interview: Jerico Woggon

Citizen LA | Citizen LA

Jerico Woggon thinks art should be like a good cocktail party: it should be fun, it should include your friends and it should be at least mildly intoxicating. It was more than that at the Regent Gallery recently when someone broke in after hours and consumed the rum, whiskey and vodka that were vital elements in a series of Cornell-like displays Jerico created out of glass-fronted fire extinguisher cases.Each one featured a racy novel with a lurid cover, a bottle of liquor and a pack of cigarettes set against an appropriate backdrop, inviting the viewer to a frolicsome read. The displays were trashed, but what bothered Jerico the most was that the vandals left the books behind. “They missed the whole point,” he complained.

Jerico works in a variety of media: paint, furniture design, fashion design (painted fabric), installation and event design. Like many LA artists whose work tends to ignore traditional boundaries, Jerico is just as comfortable painting a dress or a surfboard as he is a canvas. He also frequently explores black light in installations that almost always feature his trademark dots. “I really like dots,” he says. He is inspired by his grandfather, the cartoonist Bill Woggon, whose most enduring creation, Katy Keene, starred in a series of comic books in the ‘50s. They featured the interactive device of clothing designs suggested by readers. (Katy Keene is still a minor deity in graying corners of the gay community.) Another inspiration is his experience working on classic theme cars, such as the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. “Those guys were real artists,” Jerico says of the designers and engineers who created the Weinermobile. “They were my true art teachers.” We sat down with Jerico recently in an installation he put together for M.J. Higgins Gallery. In the Ratpack-inspired blacklit tableaux, mannequins pose in mid-gyration and cherries and olives glow in the background.

Citizen X: You are into a wide variety of media. How would you describe your work?

Jerrico: Most recently, I’m focusing on fine art, furniture, a bit of fashion design with my paintings on dresses, men’s ties, suits and dress shirts. Pretty much anything that’ll accept paint—I’ll paint on it.

Citizen X: This is sort of like creating whole environments.

Jerrico: Yeah. Basically, on the other end of the spectrum is my large-scale black-light art installation, like out at Coachella Music Festival, Electric Daisy Carnival and last summers’ LAartFest. That sort of grew out of necessity. My friends and I started a Halloween party in Santa Barbara, which I did for 13 years. I became the head guy when everyone else burned out. I took it on solo for seven years.

Citizen X: So this installation we’re sitting in now has, to some degree, a Halloween party in its heritage. We’re in a dark bar with classically posed mannequins and your trademark dot paintings on the walls, all in black light. What is going on here? Are you trying to project a sensibility? Is there some formal arrangement of objects and shapes and colors you are exploring?

Jerrico: Yeah, when I bring people to a party or an environment I create, it sets a tone. It makes them feel right away: “This is a place where I’m going to have fun.” That’s what I am all about—really—putting people in an environment [that] makes them happy. That’s my goal.

The black light paint just comes in the primary colors. Without the black light, it’s very bright, but with the black light, it just turns itself totally on. I worked my way through the basic shapes: I did a party with a flame theme back in 2000. Then I did a Thanksgiving Eve party where I did diamonds. Then I did a party that was themed the ‘70s versus the ‘80s, where I did all checkerboard. Then in 2001, I did a New Year’s party. “A Space Odyssey,” I called it, inspired by Stanley Kubrick and his film. I really studied that work and that time.

At that point I was 30 years old, so I felt compelled to create something with some real foundation. All those artists who came before me—those science fiction writers and poets and filmmakers had been envisioning this year for so long—here I was, a young artist put in that moment, to celebrate that moment, of 2001. So I created “The Year of The Snake,” which is a 138-foot-long black-light painting. It’s 12 canvases, each 9-by-12-feet. I was working with 25 volunteers helping me paint the dots. One of the volunteers was a young woman who was pregnant. We came up with the concept of leaving just one dot that was pure white. That was the egg and that was in the center of the piece, so in essence, it was like the creation, the beginning of life in this piece.

Citizen X: The snake is composed of your trademark dots…

Jerrico: Yeah, the dots represent a polka-dot universe. Within that universe, there are two snakes coming together, meeting at that egg in the center. At the very end, there are two snakes going away. So, it has some humor in it. There is a pink snake at one end and a green snake at the other. I like to have a bit of humor in my work. I pulled it off and we had a great New Year’s party celebrating the beginning of 2001. After painting a piece that’s 138 feet long, I was at a time in my life when I thought, “How am I going to top myself? Where do I go from here?” It really got me. So I took a time out. [I] went to Colorado in 2002 and restored a Victorian house with my father. I immersed myself in carpentry. That was a really good experience. I came back with an inspired gusto, with the sole intention of giving it [art] my all.

Citizen X: What was your next big project?

Jerrico: The Coachella Music Festival. They asked me, “What’s it gonna take for you to be here and do this festival, because we like what we’re seeing?” And at that point, I said, “I just need camping passes and event passes to do this festival.” So I did that and it was very well received. The following year, Coachella asked me to make a piece 400 feet long. I was like, “Four hundred feet long? What are you thinking? That’s crazy!” So what I did, I used black plastic mounted on a fence, wood dots that I had used in previous years and [I] painted more wood dots. So, I had maybe 300 dots on wood of various sizes. I went up with a crew of about 15 people to help put the dots up for the weekend and light them up with black lights. They created this really interesting meadow enclosure. So I pulled it off, on time, on budget, delivering the goods.