Up Close & Personal with Artist Corey Wash
06.23 / MISSBISH Artist Series
Perched high in her downtown loft, Corey Wash is living the LA artist life and loving every chill minute of it. It’s here that she spends her days cooking, listening to jazz with her boyfriend MeLo-X, (Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck are a couple of their faves), catching up on self-help books to keep herself in check, and focusing on her art. Willoughby, Wash’s say-anything cartoon character, has been around for a few years but only hit Instagram in the last year. Since then, Willoughby has made an impression by calling society out on itself, and putting a spotlight on the serious matters at hand. Wash herself is unafraid to speak up about what’s real and important, but her illustrations are a form of translation that allows her to voice her opinions while stretching her creative vision. Every piece is freehanded and made from cardstock and sharpies–the simplest of supplies doing their part in delivering a strong message.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Wash moved to NYC at 18. It was there where she modeled, spent time as a photographer, and basically focused on the big-city experience, as every young adult should. Last June, Wash made the move to L.A. and admits she enjoys the slower pace of life as opposed to the hustle of the East Coast. “I love that I can be here, and I can be in the house for six days and work, and it’s completely acceptable. I’m just here working, and looking out the window, and drawing.” If she heads outside, it’s usually to go for a hike to gain inspiration from nature. Since moving to the West Coast, Wash has also seen a shift in her work. “I definitely create and draw a lot more, and it’s progressing at a quicker rate. There’s more time to focus here. There are less distractions.” Though Wash is dedicated to her art, she’s still game to help friends with creative consulting for shoots, lookbooks, music videos, and websites.
We spent an afternoon with the 24-year-old artist and discovered the inner workings of Willoughby, and how Wash is helping to change the world through fearless illustrations, connecting with her community, and being one with nature.
What did some of your early work look like? What was the vibe? Do you still have some of the pieces?
Yes, I still have "Grow." I still have most of my old pieces from before Willoughby and the characters came into play. I hold on to that. I love it. It’s kind of what shaped me. It looked like a lot of plants, a lot of abstraction. There weren’t comics and boxes, everything was kind of abstract and all over the place.
How did Willoughby come to be a normal, steadfast person that was in your pieces?
I guess in drawing these plants and abstractions, I started to put characters into place and kind of test it out and experiment with that. It just became this consistent thing that kind of blew up and turned into its own being.
How’d the name come about?
There’s this episode of "Twilight Zone" - I used to watch this all the time - called "A Stop at Willoughby." It’s one of my favorites. This guy falls asleep on the train every day and in his dream, he wakes up at this stop called Willoughby Way. It's like paradise and everybody’s so nice there. That's where I got the name from.
And what’s the bravest thing Willoughby has ever said, whether it’s your own thoughts or just something they’ve done on their own?
Who was he talking to?
“... I want it to be super personal and I want people to draw from these real experiences. I guess the only struggle is convincing myself to get it on down on paper."
And where is Willoughby most at home?
Most at home would either be in a greenhouse or in his art studio. Willoughby likes to paint a lot.
How old is Willoughby?
Willoughby is ageless! Willoughby is just kind of about, but he’s always been there.
So, your art depicts your thoughts and emotions, how does it heal you?
Just talking about it, and just seeing it actually… looking back the next day after I was feeling some type of way about something, I can look and reflect and be like “Oh, wow! I was feeling this way because this person said this to me." You know, I can look back and the imagery is right in my face and it helps me understand things better.
Has there ever been anything that’s happened to you, or anything that’s happening socially, where you felt you didn’t even know where to begin to explain how you felt though art.
I think it’s hard when things are super personal, and it’s a matter of being too vulnerable or not. At first, maybe you’re nervous and you’re thinking, “will these people think 'Oh, that's about her, so is she going though something?" But at the end of the day, that’s why I do it, because I want it to be super personal and I want people to draw from these real experiences. I guess the only struggle is convincing myself to get it on down on paper.
My brother has this saying, “Willoughby will say it”. My family, they're like, "Corey is bold and she says it like it is," but that’s not always the case. Sometimes I’m thinking about people’s feelings. But my brother is always like, “Well, Willoughby will say it. Willoughby says anything, he doesn’t have a censor. He doesn’t hold back.”
How do you decide what you post on your Instagram?
The stuff that I like the most, I’ll post. Sometimes I really don’t like something but I’ll post it anyway because I feel like people like the pieces that I hate the most. Even some of the pieces that I’ve sold, I’m like “Thank you for buying this! I don’t want to look at it." (Laughs)
Do Willoughby’s friends and crew have their own personalities and characteristics? How do you decide which character says what?
Yeah, definitely. Willoughby is of course the main character, and he is this crazy, outgoing, artistic person who is very outspoken and says it like it is. But he isn’t always wise. He still makes a lot of mistakes. Edmund is the wise one. He's older and he's always giving advice, like “Guys we should relax,” or “Stop taking things serious.” Edgar is the crazy best friend who is down to do anything. I just make little appearances and sometimes I have a character, Monty, who comes in. Monty is always trying to avoid conflict or stressful situations, but still ends up getting into those situations. They all have their own personalities.
You love nature. What are some of your favorite outdoor spots in California?
Griffith Park. I like to go to the Observatory as well. I like to just be outside and hike. Central Park is cool for a New York type of thing, but I like hiking and getting lost. I like to get to that point where you hear crickets.
How can you help save the world?
I can help save the world by teaching the children of tomorrow how to live for themselves and how to give back to their community. And how to work for themselves. Right now everybody is focused on, “Me, me, me, and let me just go party." Nobody is focused on giving back or lending a hand in the community. I think teaching people active ways to help progress and build the environment is how I can help save the world.
How are you helping to do that now?
A friend of mine and I are going to be doing a monthly workshop with kids, so it’s going to be an arts and crafts workshop. They’re also going to be learning things as well while they’re drawing and coloring. It's of course going to be kid appropriate. It’s going to be about teaching them about the environment - different types of plants and how they help the world, how staying organized can help you, and how being kind to somebody can take you far.
I’m thinking about things that I don’t necessarily think I would have thought about before. I’m like, “I can do something with this shelter here, or maybe I can do something with all shelters all across the world. Maybe I can travel and start my own shelter.” I’m just thinking about how I can help, how I can give back and how we have can have more people thinking it’s cool to recycle and read books.
What are a few of your favorite books and authors?
I really love "Mastery" by Robert Greene. He wrote "48 Laws of Power" and it's like, my third time reading it now. My brother gave it to me. There's a book called "The Secret Language" that's really, really good. It's about body language and how we speak without talking. I’m also listening to this audio book by Grant Cardone called "Be Obsessed or Be Average."
Going back to your first piece “Grow,” when you look at your early work do you see a different person? How have you grown?
It was only two years ago, but I definitely see a different person since then. I think I have more focus now, and I know how to channel more of what I want to say, and channel more of what I want to talk about. Before, I didn’t really know how to do that. Also, the proportions are looking better. Before, one arm would be over here, and one would be like (shows size difference with hands). I kind of still love that, too. There’s no rules as far as I'm concerned.
What do you want to do next with your work?
So much. I'm finishing up book ideas, and a book draft. Exhibits and installations. Everything is going to be later in the year, right now I'm just formulating the specifics.
What are your 3 hidden gems for the places you’ve lived–LA, NYC, and Baltimore?
LA - I would say The Last Bookstore. Because that’s where I spend most of my time.
NYC- My hidden gem is on the row boats in Central Park. There’s a tree, a Willow tree, and I love to go under it. The way the tree is, it comes out on the water, and the branches and leaves are just hanging over it. It’s like this curtain. That’s my favorite place to go.
Baltimore- My hidden gem is my dad’s house. If you get to meet my dad ever in life, you’re very lucky. He’s hilarious. You could show up with ten people at 2 am, which we’ve done before. He’s an artist and he paints, so it’s like walking into this gallery. I just love it there!
Who is your main MISSBISH?
My very very best friend in the whole world, Geordan Briscoe, who herself is a creative artist. She used to paint, she does creative direction, modeling and photography. That's my BISH! That’s my girl! She’ll be here soon.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH means a boss.
Before we head out, we asked Corey if there's anything else she'd love to share. She told us to always stay tuned into her Instagram, because she's always putting out something new!
Photography by: Christina Choi