“You won’t pick up any Wi-Fi,” says Julian Wild, “but there are plenty of woodpigeons.” Time to put away our smartphones: Wild has swapped London for Danehill, a village in the East Sussex countryside where IT has yet to make much impact. He lives and works on a fully functioning farm, an unusual location for an artist’s studio, filled as it is with horses, chickens and sporadic wafts of dung. There are pockets of activity all over the place: topless men are welding, Minnie the dog is chasing her tail, bees are buzzing. Amid it all, Wild is cool and composed.
After studying fine-art sculpture at Kingston University, he spent four years as a prop-maker for television and theatre. “It gave me a great vocabulary of materials,” he says, “and taught me not to be afraid of scale.” In 2000, aged 27, he went to work as an assistant to Damien Hirst: “I was the guy spraying the pills.” A high point was meeting Banksy in New York, before he was famous. “I went with him to graffiti a billboard one night and we ended up spending ten hours together in a police cell.” He laughs.
But Wild duly shrugged off his wildness to focus on his own practice. In 2009 he was awarded a bursary from the Chelsea Arts Club Trust; with it came a smart, purpose-built 1960s studio that once belonged to Elisabeth Frink. “It was beautiful, with lots of natural light and warmth, but it wasn’t as practical as this place. I love it here—ideas come quicker.” Tucked away next to the stables, his studio is more of an artisan’s shed than a slick atelier, bursting with macho tools and rusty bits of machinery. It is basic, but alive.
Wild likes to use “low-tech” materials—hardwood, copper tubing, steel beams, scrap metal—and refers to his sculptures as “doodles in 3D”. His larger pieces tend to be geometric; they start with a straight line and go “off-course”, before coming back to their “linear” starting point. “Deadly Nightshade” (above) is a powder-coated stainless-steel structure that creeps organically around the studio like a bramble. The zingy colours are a nod to modernist sculptors, Anthony Caro in particular, while the title comes from Wild’s love of the colloquial English names for garden weeds. Since we met, the piece has been fixed onto the side of an office block in front of the NatWest tower in the City of London.
He has other projects on the go: commissions from Fidelity Investments, the Cass Sculpture Foundation and Radley College, near Oxford. Last year Wild hosted “Making the Connection at Night”, a project sponsored by Culture 24 at the Enginuity Museum in Ironbridge, Shropshire, whereby local residents transformed 500 metres of glow-in-the-dark piping into a lively work of art. On top of that, he runs FORUM, a network that allows more than 300 artists to exchange creative ideas and information. “I like getting involved,” he says, looking down, “it makes me think about my own practice and it keeps me on my toes."
Wild spends most of his time in grubby work overalls with little chance to dress up. “There’s the occasional wedding or funeral,” he says, “but the last suit I bought was for the opening of a show I had on in Spitalfields.” That was two years ago. To shake things up, we put him in this citrus two-piece from Richard James. The colour lit up the studio, and was a near-perfect match with the paint of “Deadly Nightshade”. “I welled up when I saw it,” he admits. “And it definitely appeals to my more gregarious side.” Should you see a tall man in a lime suit at the Chelsea Arts Club this summer, you’ll know who you’re looking at.
Suit, £765, Richard James; shirt, £100, by Paul Smith Jeans; tie, £90, by Marni; pocket square, £40, by E. Marinella; socks, £17, by Paul Smith; loafers, £391, by Louis Leeman Paris; Tank MC watch in steel, £4,590, by Cartier