A conversation with Thea Wolfe is an invigorating experience. Simply stated, Wolfe is an artist that embraces life in its complete beauty. She seems to radiate passion and a zest for living, and whether it be in the form of art, music, food, or events, Wolfe lives to create and creates to live. Switching between intricately and surrealistically illustrated pieces colored with marker and realistic, colorful portrayals of musicians, Wolfe is a talented individual with mastery over numerous artforms.
Read on as she expounds on her infinite love for Ween, the ideas behind her work, and the many exciting projects she has in the works.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a 26 year old Aquarius with a Libra rising. I work really, really hard. I’m extremely happily married to a dude I really like and love (Lars). He is my ultimate other half/super best-friend and supports me in ways you cannot possibly imagine. We do everything together and never get sick of hanging out (and not just cause it’s super-new; it’s been 6 years). With him, I have a life where I can be even more real and free than I was before — bueno!
Ween is my favorite band. When I say favorite band, I mean that they are a force in my life on par with art, love, the cosmos, etc… They’re not a band, they’re a fucking force of nature in my world. I’ve followed them around the planet. I always stand in front where i can see their faces. I am fascinated by faces and over time have discovered i can tell more than I need to know about a person by looking at the midsection of their face.
I used to be a bodybuilder. I am totally un-self-conscious about my dancing (which I’m not very good at), but quite shy about singing. I am 100% self-promoted and throw rad parties and shows out of my house, [which is] affectionately called the Rainbow Hole. My art-making is extremely sacred to me and I live for the sacred. My non-art passion is my children — an ever growing group of beautiful, rare artists, dreamers, and musicians who I feel cosmically compelled to love, support, and fill with booze and cupcakes. My baking is another big part of my life… it’s a hobby, but it’s a little more than that, too. We have a cupcake fund at my house for our open mic nights, and I do occasionally make commissioned treats. I’m best known for my pies and cheesecakes.
What inspires you artistically?
Life. THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE! Real life and its inherent love, challenges, deaths, magic and feelings. My art isn’t “conceptual”; it’s just meant to be emotional and real. There’s no statement. It’s not meant to function on those terms.
Are you technically trained?
I did go to art school (Cornish — graduated ’07), but within a short time, most of my teachers accepted my preference to work at home. I was also lucky in terms of having teachers (for the most part) who allowed me a LOT of freedom to create my own path, rather than trying to force the technical processes. Art school was more like a rolling critique for me, which I benefited much more from than I would have from technical knowledge. I’m not a good learner via teaching. I learn by doing. Art is something I’ve always had an innate technical ability to render…. the real gift from art school was teachers and peers with insight and feedback that helped me make my process much more soulful and therefore, more meaningful. In terms of technical training, I do have a degree, but I would be totally unprepared to teach anyone a damn thing about the technicalities of painting or sculpture (which were my majors). I don’t do anything by the book. When I do, things don’t work out too well.
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The majority of your recent pieces rotate between very colorful but technical paintings of musicians and surrealistic dream-like marker, pen, and paper illustrations. Is it a conscious decision to pursue two different styles so that you can make yourself more technically proficient? Or are the themes what interest you?
The content of the recent works are definitely theme-based. All the pieces in the “new work” section [on my website] are from 2008. I think I made about 100 pieces last year. About 80 or so of those are online, I think. Last year was mindfuckingly huge for me. It was Year of the Wrong. I promised to Ride the Wrong all year, and I did. (Editor’s Note: “Riding the Wrong” essentially means that Wolfe did everything in her heart, regardless of how ridiculous, impractical, or difficult it was.)
These pieces are all sincerely and, quite literally, inspired by the emotional experience of riding the wrong throughout all of 2008. The fact is, I spent most of 2008 following Ween around the world. They’ve always been a HUGE force in my life, and the fact of literally structuring my life around their tour definitely informed a lot of my work and put me in touch with a lot of parts of myself I’d never seen, used, or known.
I wish there were some way to describe the kind of experience I have with Ween, but there isn’t. All I can say is that they have both taken me into myself and drawn me out into the world in ways I never knew possible. The most recent paintings of musicians you refer to are of Dean and Gene Ween. Initially, I just meant to do a series from their “Secret MySpace Show” in Ft. Collins, which was literally the most beautiful night of my life. They played for four fucking hours, and the show was absolutely tiny and filled to capacity. My heart is exploding just talking about it. It was totally worth the two 19 hour drives. Totally worth sleeping in the Camry at truck stops in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, the series started as just that — a small body [of work] inspired by Ft. Collins.
Can you explain the difference between styles and why/how they came about? What inspired them?
I kinda didn’t want to do [some of the] pieces because they sort of hurt [to do], but I knew I had to. Painting for me is like puking — if you’re sick, you’re just gonna have to do it to feel better. These final Ween-related pieces were some of the only painted pieces I did this year. I hadn’t really intended to go back to painting, but I knew these pieces needed to be done that way. For me, painting is a much more visceral and emotional process than drawing is.
The drawings are just as sincere [however], but they’re intended to be more cerebral — both in my process of creation and in the way they express themselves. While they seem surrealistic, they’re intended more as metaphoric expressions of literal events in my life and soul. To some they seem abstract and dissonant, but for me they are so fucking personal I feel like I’m tacking my diary on the wall for anyone to read. This is true of all my work, actually. It’s a very vulnerable feeling to show it, and I usually avoid talking to people about it.
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How do you think your work has changed through the years?
Well, I’ve always had a natural visual ability, so my parents really encouraged me towards the arts at a very young age. I, however, was completely disinterested. I wanted to be a singer. Whitney Houston was my absolute hero. I spent a lot of time with her music, particularly her best record, I’m Your Baby Tonight. Fuck yeah. I really didn’t get into visual arts until I started apprenticing as a tattoo artist at 19. I kinda just fell into the job accidentally cause the master tattooist was struggling with a drawing. He asked me for help and was so stoked on me that he talked to the owner and they took me on as an apprentice that day. It was very fortunate and unexpected. I’d been a tattoo collector for years, already, but had never considered doing it. So for a few years (back when I lived in Boston), that was my life — working at the tattoo shop and working on my music in two bands. My music was the whole reason I moved to Boston in the first place. I was running life very full-time.
What is the first kind of art you remember doing or being interested in?
Music and language were first for me. I remember writing songs as young as seven, and I started playing guitar at 13. From that point forward, I was super focused on writing and playing music. I was really into writing poetry and stories, also. I started playing occasional gigs around 16 and really started playing regularly about 18 throughout the Northeast.
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Tell me about your Ween Coloring Book. How did it feel to get it published, and why did you decide to do it?
The Ween Coloring Book happened very organically. It was very shortly after my profession that 2008 would be Year of the Wrong that I came up with the idea. Lars had surprised me by taking me to South Carolina to see Ween (again). It was my birthday present. He knows seeing Ween is my favorite thing ever and their show in South Carolina was four days after my birthday in January. I don’t know what to say other than that Ween ruined my life that night (not at all for the first time, but in a different, more magnificent way). It was a sold out show of about 3,000 people, and we’d gotten the special early access passes for an extra 20 bucks, but I STILL had to RUN (literally, RUN) to be in front. I got my spot, though. I was right in front, centered dead-Deaner. Long story long, I left that show with a brain so full I went home and dumped it out into a Coloring Book. It was meant as an over-the-top (but 100% sincere) love letter. We flew out to Hawaii a few weeks later and gave it to them via their in house engineer, Kirk Miller (who wound up becoming one of my very close friends). Ween ruined my life even HARDER that night and I ended up spending my life savings following them around the world up through their final show in Brooklyn — which was the ultimate brown life-ruiner… in both the good and the bad way.
How did it feel to get it published?
Like sex with the gods, followed by a free breakfast. I cried with awe and happiness.
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You are also a musician. What kind of musician do you make, and how does music and art interplay with each other in your life?
You know, the music thing is something I kinda left when I turned my focus to art. My music is exactly the same as my art. Not cerebral, but visceral, real, cathartic, and sometimes scary in terms of how vulnerable it makes me feel. I don’t know if it was good in terms of “music,” but it was good in terms of sincere process. If you want to see a little bit there are a couple songs posted in my “unnecessary crap” section [on my website]. I’m gonna be putting a few more up soon. It’s funny, I’ve had the same group of friends since I moved back to Seattle six years ago, but none of them really knew I was a musician until recently when I posted those videos. Now we have regular open mic nights at my place and I’ve started to play again. These nights have been pretty magical (I’m friends with the all best local musicians, I swear). We’ve had some really accomplished musicians show up, and the night always runs long (til’ like 3am, despite the fact that we do it on Wednesdays and everyone has to work). So yeah, music will always be a huge part of my world, whether I’m playing it myself or not. I’d like to get back into performing, but a lot of that will depend on what nature throws my way. I don’t wanna play with just anyone. Playing with another person is like dancing or fucking. You don’t do it with just anyone. Not if you care about it, anyway.
Tell me about your upcoming book, Year of the Wrong.
Year of the Wrong is basically me sewing these [diary pages] together into a hardcover book and selling it just about at cost, as a “thank you” to everyone who’s been supporting me and as a way of making my work accessible for cheap(er). I’m really excited about this — I’m putting a lot into it. One my children, Jake Jake, wrote the forward.
What do you aim to accomplish for your art or music in the near future?
This year is gonna be about taking my art on the road and just generally expanding my work and life. [An art show] I just did in California was the first time I’ve ever tried to do anything out of state… I have a bunch of little local things planned, but I am primarily focused on hooking up with like-minded people who will offer alternative spaces for me to show in. The next big thing I have planned is a Memorial Day weekend party in Birmingham, Alabama. I’m SOOO excited about this. The woman hosting me is opening up her house and hookin’ it the fuck up. All I know is that it’s gonna be a sweet night full of coconuts and kiddie pools. I’m working on a whole new body of art to debut at her place. We may even do two totally separate rotations of work. I’m also gonna be playing my first public gig at this party in over six years. I need to update my shows section with that info… I’ll be doing a major website overhaul in the next few days with more details.
So yeah, my aim is to meet more people who feel what I’m doing and wanna dance. [My recent show at Berkeley’s] Firehouse Collective donated the space for an evening in exchange for an art piece (The Richard Colmanicorn). I brought cookies and booze. I’m just looking to doing that in every location that’ll have me.