“I am into anything that helps people; life can be hard, whether that is clinical or experiential, it doesn’t matter. Anything that can increase a sense of connectivity and understanding is, in my book, a good thing, but my experience has also shown me that sanity and well-being are not a single-shot thing; there is no magic pill, so one set of things will suit some and not others, whatever gets you (safely) through the night …”

– Hugo Wilson


For this month´s cover, I am so excited to share the work of the wonderful artist Hugo Wilson. My mother made the introduction after sitting next to him at a dinner, knowing we would instantly get along. And she was right!

Not only is Hugo extremely talented and charming, but he has also engaged with many of the topics I like to share on Funga. Furthermore, there is much talk about psychedelics and addiction, so it is extremely important to include a perspective from someone in recovery. It has been a conversation I have long wanted to share on my platform.

Hugo invited me to his very cool studio in London to meet and conduct our interview. You can read it below…


Hugo Wilson photographed at Nicodim Gallery by Lee Thompson / Flying Studio, in front of ‘Carnal Agreement 2, 2021’.


Can you tell me about your journey as an artist?

As I get older, I think I fall into the cliches of artistry far more, and I believe for the reason being that I sell more work and, as a result, I am more comfortable for things to play out and become more. When I was younger, I was on big scholarships at school because I had no money and had to make it work from 17. So in a way, I didn’t really allow, let’s say, the more esoteric or hippy side of being an artist to creep into my head. I would say, “Well, I do this, but this is a privilege, and it is going to have to be earned.” And I feel more now, not that I have earned it but that I am in a more comfortable position to reflect on what this is.

Courtesy the artist and Nicodim Gallery; Image: Lee Thompson / Flying Studio.


Hugo’s works on show at Nicodim Gallery, LA; Courtesy the artist and Nicodim. Image: Lee Thompson / Flying Studio.


Why are animals so present in your work? 

It is probably a British thing, but I find the context of animals within art wonderful. It has spawned some of the works of art that have drawn me the most. I also think the symbolism and the relationship that humans have with animals is a very interesting one. So the idea of The Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt by Rubens being completely lorded as one of the great works of art, and yet, when an American doctor posts himself on a hippo having shot it, he loses his job – quite rightly.

I used animals, to begin with, because I was actually interested in the idea of replacing well-trodden sets of symbolism, like works of Saint Jerome and the Lion, with different animals. It was a sort of game to get you to engage and empathize and then realize that you are empathizing on the lines that you are trying to create – your own structure and ideology.


The Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt painted by Peter Paul Rubens

Saint Jerome and the Lion painted by Rogier van der Weyden


Atlas (2016), oil on panel, Hugo Wilson

Hunt 3 (2014), oil on panel, Hugo Wilson


Your art has something very fantastical, almost psychedelic, about it… What is the inspiration behind that style? 

Well, I think because there is a collision of imagery. What I mean by that is layering, and the green and fleshy ones all have this sort of very basic approach. I am very interested in this idea of two realities running at once. So you have the real, which is eating, sleeping, sh**ing, fu**ing, and the imagined, which is government, money, power, and religion. And I liked the idea of colliding the building blocks of the real until something worshipable began to appear. So what I mean is I took flesh and jungle and kept layering them until something resembling some kind of object, symbol, or idol began to sort of appear out of this chaos. And I do that with digital collaging, to begin with, but the digital collage breaks down very quickly because you can’t recreate what you’re doing, and I like that, in a way, it starts to become very intuitive.


Carnal agreement 1 (2021), oil on panel, Hugo Wilson


You’ve been in recovery for 15 years. Did you experiment with psychedelics back in the day, and if so, what are your takeaways?

When I was using, I loathed psychedelics. I mean, I took acid when I was young, but then I took anything after a certain point in the night until I fell over. But I was never one of these people that was a psychedelic person. I was looking to switch off not turn on at all.

In a way, when I listen and read a little bit about psychedelics, I think my own mentality and view on life is kin to possibly what people are looking for from psychedelics anyway. And I am not saying I am on another level; I am just saying that I have always been very into spirituality and believed that there is a connectivity to things, and in fact, I often feel overwhelmed by that, hence why off, not on. I don’t need to go more. I am very oversensitive.

Courtesy the artist and Nicodim; Image: Lee Thompson / Flying Studio.


Do you wish you would be different? 

Now no. But it does make things very painful sometimes. And I have to be careful to check what is real and what isn’t. And I don’t mean in a sort of psychosis sense. For example, this morning, I have had four hours of sleep because I went to a dinner last night, which I really enjoyed, which meant I didn’t fall asleep until 4am because I was overstimulated like a child. I had to be very careful on an email today because one email yesterday is, “okay, that’s tricky, but it’s fine, let’s leave 24 hours.” This morning if I get it, it’s war. I am not special in this respect, but it has in the past made me so uncomfortable that I want to block it out. So learning to manage what is reality is the game I think and living in facts as much as possible rather than my hypersensitive giant ego approach to it.

Hoefnagel (2023), oil on panel, Hugo Wilson


Hugo’s work on show in Berlin; Courtesy the artist and Nicodim Gallery. Image: Lee Thompson / Flying Studio.


What do you do to ground yourself (apart from painting I am guessing)? 

Well, yes, although the act of being an artist in the art world is not relaxing. You’re constantly being judged and rejected and sometimes even accepted and celebrated. And none of those things are particularly good for you.

I meditate, and I run. I have to do those things on a daily basis. Just normal stuff, I think. Meditation is given a special place in society, but it should just be part of everyday life. Funnily enough, I teach my eldest daughter (7 years old), who is very much like me, and watching her is very sweet. I am not sure she knows how to utilize it yet, but she is beginning to understand that she also, like me, finds the off switch a very complicated one to find. She is hilarious, clever, and wonderful, but I can see that she has many of the attributes I have. She often says, “Papa is the one who really knows what I think.” And it’s funny because I can see that with my youngest one, I find her more confusing. I am in awe of her brain; it is very different to mine but I find totally enthralling. She is a bit like my wife actually, where I really don’t understand how she thinks, which is why I am still very in love with her ten years later. She is interesting all of the time.






Do you think someone in recovery can or should utilize the healing potential of psychedelics?

It is a big question. I feel that, in recovery, there are a set of suggestions and guidelines that have worked for 88 years. I suspect to start trying to blur the boundaries of that would be a bad idea because there is a general rule of thumb: unless you have been prescribed something, don’t take it. Now we are entering the really interesting grey area of whether this is going to be prescribed as a help to addiction. For me, offering opinions on things I don´t know about is a bad idea. I am interested to see what science says because I suspect there is some truth to what is being discussed. And I think a lot of very good research is going into it. I reserve judgment until there is more.

Personally, I don’t feel the need to do it. For me to be offered, any mood-altering substance is exactly what got me into trouble. The idea of an addict having a little bit of anything is pretty unrealistic. What I do know is that addiction is a very poorly understood condition by the medical profession. It is astounding and frightening how many people I meet (who are now clean) who tell me that doctors threw them onto medication which didn’t help. Of course there are moments when people might really need it, I am not being a doctor. If you’re schizophrenic, it’s way out of my jurisdiction, and I don’t know what that requires. But I have yet to see anything more effective than a twelve-step program for not only getting clean but also for becoming a happy member of society. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many other ways of achieving this, I am just speaking from my own experience.


Tormemt (2016), oil on panel, Hugo Wilson


Do you it is because of the community aspect?

I think it is a group therapy thing and is a synaptic rerouting through repetition. A lot is going on that is probably very similar to psilocybin. I am sure, in a way, whatever synapses or things are being stimulated, there are many other ways of prompting that synaptic rerouting. I think meditation is certainly one, and I also believe one should be careful of hoping for a magic bullet. Plenty of people can sell themselves that a certain therapy or drug is going to be their answer when actually 15 years of hard work is going to be their answer. I think, particularly with addicts that have an incredible ability to sell themselves rubbish, it opens a very dangerous door.


Rebel Rebel (2019), oil on panel, Hugo Wilson


How do you define consciousness? 

I think an ability to see yourself connected to all things and not better or worse than them, just part of it.




If you could choose to exist as a plant, which one would it be? 

We built a little house at the end of our garden here in London, and we have made a green roof with sedum in it. It is a type of grass that grows in very arid places like Arizona. It changes all the time, and things land in it, take root, and then aren’t there the next year. It also changes color every year. I’d like that because it seems to be the most adaptable thing I have ever seen in my life. You don’t have to water it; sometimes there are blue things in it or red things. It is very sweet because I can see the sedum from my daughter’s room. Every evening we look at it and ask ourselves, “What’s that?” It never gets boring. There are things rooted there now that have clearly just come with the wind. I love that.


Chelsea Flower Show 2012 Photographer Jason Ingram