Alumnus Jackson Wrede creates “pop collage” style paintings that mix images from popular culture, well-known works in art history, and graffiti lettering, among other fun elements. If you’re only viewing them online, it may take you a moment to realize each piece is, in fact, an oil painting, with colors so painstakingly and vividly produced that they mimic the opacity of printed images.
The colors are that vibrant. The lines are that clear.
Before painting one of these pop collage pieces, Wrede plans out each portion, carefully “placing” each image from a collection he has created over time. He then sketches the entire composition on a canvas before painting.
“That’s just my personality. I’m very drawn to organization and structure,” says Wrede.
The images he includes in his paintings would be familiar to anyone with a decent grasp of American pop culture in the last century. They include Sylvester Stalone as Rocky Balboa, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Betty Boop, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, an Angry Bird, the Pink Panther, Looney Tunes characters, Michael Jordan in mid-dunk, Rich Uncle Pennybags—you know, the little mustachioed Monopoly guy—perched on a pile of money bags, and many, many more.
These are mingled with fine art references, like Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup can and his Marilyn Monroe portrait. Wrede has even painted the statue of David in one piece. It captured his interest in an art history class and Wrede was “so drawn to it, I had to take a crack at it,” he says.
Wrede describes himself as a “collector” of images and his packed compositions make that clear. He is using density, in composition and in color, to make a point.
“We are constantly bombarded by images from popular culture that both encourage and forbid a multitude of different behaviors. Long gone are the old days where our role in the family, community, and religion paves our path to self-discovery. Instead, our pluralistic world of limitless screens and ultra pop saturation leaves its people with so many modes of representation that they seem to have lost their own identity. My work exposes this phenomenon by unmasking specific cultural obsessions and their influence in constructing how we think about the contemporary individual,” says Wrede in his artist statement.
But Wrede didn’t become an artist because he had these ideas about the world and wanted to express them through his work. He simply loved to draw and paint. He has been drawing since he was little, encouraged by his supportive parents while growing up in the Chicago suburbs.
The ideas expressed in his most recent work came naturally because they happened to be what he was thinking and learning about as he made art at Notre Dame and after he graduated.
“A lot of art in academia involves attaching ideas onto your work and having a statement behind it. And I never got into art to provide my commentary on the world, you know. I never thought that was my place. At first I was just like, ‘I like drawing,’ and I enjoyed it and that’s why I did it. But over time I've kind of realized the importance that artists have in crafting culture and I’m trying to take that responsibility more seriously,” says Wrede.
Much of Wrede’s undergraduate work focuses on gender roles, exploring their origins and “lifting the curtain on how these behaviors are reinforced and now performed in contemporary society,” he says.
Wrede got involved in the Gender Relations Center (GRC) at Notre Dame through his involvement in his residence hall, Knott Hall. As Knott’s representative to the GRC, he attended monthly meetings to discuss issues pertaining to gender relations on campus and organized events with other residence halls. Inevitably, the ideas he encountered became part of his mental landscape and worked their way into his art in various ways.
A well-rounded student, Wrede found other opportunities to get involved at Notre Dame. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, and naturally took advantage of the chance to play for Knott Hall's football team. He also joined the Men’s Boxing club and participated in Bengal Bouts for all of his four years at Notre Dame. During a summer break, he went to Bangladesh with his teammates to serve in the missions supported by the program. In his senior year, he was the Bengal Bouts Division Winner for his weight class.
The friends Wrede made while at Notre Dame still talk almost every day via group chat. They have Zoom get-togethers most Fridays.
“There's just an overwhelming sense of community [at Notre Dame], which I definitely valued," says Wrede. "I can remember showing up my first day on Welcome Weekend my freshman year and the sophomores were waiting to take my stuff up to my room. I bet at one point I could have named 170 of the 200 or so guys who lived in that hall. I don’t think I locked my door in four years." He adds, "People talk about how much your education costs, but what you get in return at Notre Dame in terms of the friendships and just everything beyond your academic education—I mean, you can’t trade that for the world.”
Wrede graduated from Notre Dame with a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art with a concentration in painting and is now pursuing a master of fine arts in painting at the Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has also signed with an art gallery in Los Gatos, California, and is learning to navigate the wider art world.
In addition to his studio practice, Wrede has completed some large public murals in the Chicago area and he’s hoping to do more of that kind of work. He is interested in art that helps build community. That’s a lesson he took with him from Notre Dame.
“A lot of times as an artist, art is a very individual endeavor. So you’re thinking a lot of the time about yourself and how you might be perceived or what you’re putting out into the world,” says Wrede. “But Notre Dame also instilled in me that idea of having a mission behind the work and encouraged me to see how I could use my work for the good of society.”
Read about other ND Makers:
Explore Art at Notre Dame:
- Learn about undergraduate art programs.
- View the virtual thesis exhibit for the Class of 2020.
- VIDEO: How Mary Cecilia Mitsch ’10 went from graphic design major to art gallery director
- Explore the Snite Museum of Art.