Brian Sewell described Wright’s paintings as “images of such eccentricity and even madness that they fit perfectly the English tradition of the odd man out: the Blake, Spencer, Cecil Collins line, and the largest of them should at once have been bought by the Tate”. The Evening Standard called him “A Hogarth for our Times”.
Wright painted a portrait of John Hurt following a chance meeting on Old Compton Street. Other celebrity subjects include the Duke of Edinburgh, bare chested with a blue bottle on his shoulder (it was rejected by the RSA who commissioned a portrait to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Prince Philip as their president). Diane Abbott – commissioned by House of Commons Art Committee. Abbott was uncompromisingly specific about how she wanted to appear. Wright later said ‘I think it’s actually a terrible painting. It’s one of the worst paintings I’ve ever made.’ Similarly, film director Mike Leigh invited Wright to paint him (for free) and submit the work to the National Portrait Gallery. Leigh later took offence when the work was submitted and accepted without his seeing and approving the final result – Wright believes Leigh saw himself as the director of the project, rather than the subject. The process was more successful with the author JK Rowling, who Wright rendered in the form of a three dimensional regency toy theatre with floating panels and a backlit window. Wright’s work has since developed to encompass film, including MAZE a project with Kiera Knightley, and an album of country and western classics.
Wright’s work is created from a removed perspective, he is an observer even when he is the subject, on the outside looking into the scene. He empathises with the viewer and puts himself in their place. Wright was conceived through artificial insemination with sperm from an anonymous donor, consequently he has never met and knows nothing about his father despite concerted attempts to find out about him. He experienced a complicated upbringing of step-fathers and an extended family of half-brothers and sisters. The chance discovery of a box of childhood photographs has provoked further examination of his early years – the resulting Heong Gallery exhibition “Halfboy” presents key moments from his upbringing – meeting new siblings and step-fathers; a new home; favourite toys (teddybear, Action Man, Boba Fett figure); walking home with a bleeding head after a playground accident; feeling nauseous while travelling in a yellow Ford Cortina, being given a Kit-Kat at a service station before being sick on the stairs at Debenhams.