Welcome to the world of Stephen Wright, the resting place for the discarded, the imperfect and the commemorated objects of the everyday.
Tucked away on a quiet East Dulwich street is Wright’s House of Dreams, a two storey house, the lower floor of which he has dedicated to his museum of everything, that is like no other we have seen.
Recently Wright was kind enough to take us around the House, a project he started in 1998 with his then partner Donald as a simple floor mosaic which gradually expanded into the nearby rooms to take on the form it currently has today – magical interiors where the walls and ceilings are covered with personal and found objects that commemorate life and death. When Donald passed away four years into the project, followed by the death of both of Wright’s parents, the House of Dreams took on greater significance and personal meaning.
As Wright took us through the rooms, he pointed to one of them which he said was complete. Every inch of the walls and ceilings was covered, and we couldn’t help but ask how he knew that the space was complete, and that he wouldn’t go back to a particular spot to change something. To which Wright said that there was nothing else he could add to it, it was finished, and that time being what it is, he had to move on to complete other parts of the house. This sense that there is always more to do and that we have limited time is something that the House of Dreams makes you think about. And by it’s very nature, where its existence is tied to its current location, we couldn’t help but get a strong awareness of the inevitability of change and mortality.
Wright who as an artist works with a wide range of materials from mosaics to fabrics, is strongly influenced by the folk art traditions of Mexico, South America and Asia. Feeling a strong connection to these cultures and especially their religious and spiritual iconography, his House of Dreams comes across not only as a representation of death and commemoration, but also a resting place where you are kept safely after you have fulfilled your purpose. While he sources most of the objects from markets and shops, he also has friends and visitors bringing him material to use. And sometimes this even happens to be belongings of a departed loved one.
Though death might be one of the obvious themes, the House is a colorful, celebratory environment, sprinkled with thought provoking passages from Wright’s notebooks, including one of the final passages he wrote after Donald’s passing. Reading these makes you realise how deeply personal this environment is to Wright.
Wright’s work is very much in line with French art environment builders Bodan Litnianski and Raymond Isidore who built La Maison Picassiette. And we couldn’t help but ask what his own living quarters upstairs were like. Are they as colourful and filled with objects as the House? Wright did reveal that he lives in a more regular environment, and he did move a lot of his work downstairs when he met his current partner Michael, an actor by profession who though not directly involved in Wright’s work completely understands the creativity and the passion he puts into the House.
The more we spoke with Wright, the more we got a sense that the House is his world, it is the London he exists in. The hustle and bustle of the big city is what he escapes and what he offers to people coming into the House. And with a lovely peaceful garden at the back, it is evident that Wright’s world is a paradox of busy colour but quiet contemplation.
When we asked about his inspiration, Wright revealed that the place he usually goes to a few times a year is the Great Dixter House & Gardens in East Sussex, which he finds very inspiring. And he also visits Paris where he has exhibited his work and where he often sources material for the House.
A definite must see if you’re exploring ideas of memory and death, the House of Dreams has been bequeathed to UK’s National Trust and Wright hopes it will continue to exist in its current form long after he is gone. It can be visited by appointment as well as on the next open day which is 7th September 2013.
We loved the House, Wright’s penchant for damaged dolls, his friendly and welcoming manner, and his honesty when he says he is still surprised that visitors come to visit the House from all across the world. But then no distance is too great for art aficionados to travel when they hear about an interesting project, and especially an environment as unique as the House of Dreams. They might be Wright’s dreams, but they are not so far from some of our own.