Christopher Wright is an illustrator originally from Kent who has been living in Bristol for the past ten years or so. His style of illustration is an oddball blend of 90s nostalgia, puns and a vibrant passion for music – always equal parts amusing and intriguing. Over the Easter weekend he announced the arrival of his new Turbo Island brand, a place for him to continue breathing new life into music merchandise with the use cartoons, quips and parody.
Following on from this welcome news, we exchanged some words with Wright about Turbo Island, his – Jamie Oliver approved – Sports Cheese project, Heatsick and Ian Wright…
Turbo Island is named after a central reservation in Bristol – for those who aren’t familiar, give us a little background?
Yeah it’s a tiny scrap of grass that sits outside my studio. It has one tropical plant, one yellow bin and some replica Easter Island heads on it, that’s all. Peeps from the homeless hostel party down there every day. I guess it’s the closest thing that I’ve got to a garden these days.
The launch for Turbo Island happened in Bristol last weekend, how did that go?
It was a lively night. I had visions of it being something between an art exhibition and a club night but it turned out to be mostly the latter. Andras Fox headlined, he was awesome, got to hang with him a bit too and hear some of his weird Aussie pop records from 1990 (his favourite year.) People got drunk on Aperol Spritz and bought tees. Success.
You’ve been drawing for years, why is this the right time to launch a brand?
I’ve always been a fan of the band t-shirt. Still wear my Dinosaur Jr and Butthole Surfers ones that I bought at Reading Festival 10-15 years ago. My music taste has naturally shifted a bit since but I don’t think my attitude to music and music memorabilia has changed. I basically wanted to make t-shirts for the musicians that you could seldom find a t-shirt for. It started with the Arthur Russell one I did a couple of years back. I wanted a label to release such designs on, that’s what Turbo Island is. I also feel that so many music tees you see are wasted opportunities for creativity to flourish. Just the name of a musician or a rip of an album cover isn’t enough for me. I guess I like to try to give things a new lease of life, via a pun, a cartoon a parody or whatever…
There’s 5 designs out so far, can fans of the series expect more to follow soon?
Certainly. I want this to carry on indefinitely. I have a few more designs in mind. I won’t do any for the sake of it, there must be an idea there. The next one will probably be a band, but a dancefloor friendly one, B-52’s, Yello, Orange Juice, Yellow Magic Orchestra, that ball park.
You’ve spoken of not being able to find ‘cool enough’ musical t-shirts as being one of the inspirations behind starting Turbo Island. Can you name some of those 90s rarities that are going for a fortune on eBay?
Ha. I think I was referring to some real rare Meat Puppets ones that always seem to be like “buy it now for £92.01” from the States. I’m also permanently on the look out for a Shimmy Disc (my favourite label) tee that has a massive hologram on the back. I know it exists.
We’re sure you get asked about influences a lot but could you list 8 of your main influences as an artist…
Ken Reid’s World-Wide-Weirdies
Meet Mr Product (book)
Ryan Travis Christian
You share a studio with the Frenchman who runs African Apparel, do you influence each others work much?
Yeah for sure. We like most the same weirdo art so we must inspire each other. Cedric is a bit more psychedelic and spiritual than me. He’ll eat a bag of radishes for a snack, I eat crisps. I think we both admire most of what each other does. We like to sit high up in our studio tower and laugh at the world with our arms crossed from time to time. I’d like to hang out in his allotment more this summer.
Have you ever got in trouble for using a certain brand or artists likeness in your work?
Nope. If someone doesn’t like something then they can chat to me about it. I’m an approachable chap. If I get an email about the Billy Onyeabor tee then I have my response at the ready….. Who Is William Onyeabor? Hopefully what I do and the way I do it works in sweet harmony with the subject matter. It’d be a sad sad day when Mr Reebok asks me to throw all my bRiebok t-shirts in the bin.
We know you’ve been doing the doodle for many a year now but it definitely felt like the Sports Cheese project raised your profile?
For a week or so perhaps, thanks to Jamie Oliver holding aloft the bRiebok. He doesn’t look a picture of health in that picture. Maybe I need a twitter account.
What’s next for the Williams Sisters?
It’s still very much a gimmicky little pastime but we have a cheese coloured polo shirt out soon, I won’t reveal the cheese. The other half of the operation, Richie Moment, has a boob-tube in the pipeline too. The puns naturally had to dry up but we still have some ideas bobbing about. Bobbing about in a cheese fondue. I’d genuinely like to get Chris Akabussi involved.
Who’s your favourite DJ at the moment, Chris?
The last live set that really really grabbed me was Lovefingers last year. That was exciting. All the DJ’s that my pals Dirtytalk put on in Bristol usually get me flailing about the dancefloor, Mark Seven being the most memorable. I’m mostly into the crate-digger DJ’s, i’m not really a pure House and Techno addict. Big fan of Optimo, Young Marco and I religiously listen to the mixes on the Noise In My Head website, they are right up my street. Not seen him DJ but Heatsick’s live show gets better and better and longer and longer every time I witness it. Might make the trip to the smoke to see him tap his casio for six hours on May bank holiday.
What do you think about Moyes getting sacked?
Well if you change your back four every single match then you’re bound to do shit. Viva La Giggs revolution! It wouldn’t surprise me to see all of this season’s Man United donuts smash it at the World Cup this summer. I can’t wait for the World Cup, keep your eyes peeled for Bobbi Soccer’s World Cup Maxi Mix in June.
And finally: who’s your favourite Arsenal player of all time and why…
I’d love to surprise you here but I’d be lying. It’s my namesake, Uncle Ian. He’s the reason I supported Arsenal and I had both his name and mine on the back of every Arsenal shirt I owned. Those who aren’t keen on the fella need to watch that itv documentary about him, specifically the bit about his evil Dad buying him some trousers. The man used to win the Golden Boot in a team that won 1-0 every game, we badly need an Ian Wright Wright Wright right now. He likes big ladies that play saxophone too.
Check out all things Turbo Island here.
Words: Josh Thomas