Sadly, Theo Wujcik passed away on March 29th, 2014, succumbing to cancer at the age of 78. He was a pillar of the city’s arts community and is dearly missed. This interview was conducted in March 2013.
Painter and printmaker Theo Wujcik is one of Tampa’s most acclaimed artists. A long-time inhabitant of Ybor City, he gives us a look inside his studio, talks about the nightlife, what it’s like not having a computer and swimming with Basquiat. Photographed at his studio and home in Ybor City.
Why Ybor City? I moved to Ybor in 1987 to be close to the clubs and not have to drive home drunk! We would hang out at Masquerade and El Goya. I still go out to the clubs, usually to The Castle and Czar. I know a lot of people here and I don’t pay for cover charges or drinks! Plus I have plenty of studio space and cheap rent.
What’s different about Ybor today? I still love the nightlife but the return on my investment in time isn’t as good. There used to be a lot more live music. I would go out to hear garage bands. Even if it was bad music it was still fun. When the bands would stop everyone would go outside and smoke pot. Now they all dance to DJ’s. You can be gone for a year and hear the same songs.
How does your space affect your work? The space includes all of Ybor City. The old punk scene in Ybor influenced my work but not the neighborhood itself. My studio is open to anyone, anytime. I am not one of those artists that likes to work in seclusion. But here’s a warning–in the summer I paint in my underwear.
How do you know when a painting is finished? When you start adding strokes of paint that take away from the painting.
What is your favorite object in your studio? My ex-wife Susan’s dad was a painter. I have his chair and some of his brushes. I say “Hi Bill” when I pick up his brushes.
How would you describe yourself? Dedicated.
If you could change one thing about the way you look what would it be? I’d get rid of these wrinkles. At heart I’m a young person but the camera doesn’t lie.
What’s it like not having a computer? I write letters and people write to me. I have a website but a friend maintains it for me. My gallery dealer thinks it’s funny.
What’s on your nightstand? I read every night before I go to sleep. I try to stay in touch with what’s happening in the art world. Art Forum is my favorite. Art in America has great illustrations and articles. I’m also reading about Chinese history.
Name five things that are always in your refrigerator. Cigarettes, fruit, turkey pot pie, Gatorade and Dutch apple pie. I have to have sweets with my coffee.
What is inspiring your work right now? I’m working on an Asian series. Is China going to replace the US as the center of art like the US replaced Europe in the 50s with the Abstract Expressionist movement?
Tell us about your journals. I have stacks of them! I got divorced from my first wife in 1979. It was the first time I was on my own. I started journaling to keep track of things – when I woke up, what I did, what I was working on. I still do it everyday. I just painted Swimming with Basquiat from a journal entry in 1986. Some friends in Tampa had bought two Basquiat paintings and were throwing a party for him. It was kind of boring so I stripped down and tapped on the kitchen window to get my girlfriend’s attention. Next thing I knew, she and Basquiat were outside naked swimming with me. The hostess, Maureen, brought out a magnum of champagne and white towels for us. A year later he overdosed and died.
You are a strong believer in fate. Things are meant to be. Things happen. In retrospect you can look through your journal and see it all worked out for the best.