Lives and works in New York.
Born in rural Kentucky, Wright moved to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and he lived and made art there for four formative years.
As a young, quickly maturing painter and printmaker, Wright was part of the hotbed of activity that spawned Chicago’s imagist movement. He was close friends with members of the group that called itself The False Image, especially Philip Hanson, Christina Ramberg, and Roger Brown. “A fellow student, Jimmy Wright, and I had become close friends,” Brown wrote later, reflecting on the mid ’60s. “We had a lot in common-both were southerners with the same religious background, and worked in the school storeroom. Through Jimmy I met my future cohorts in The False Image. We were all in Ray Yoshida’s painting class, but Jimmy was more socially inclined than I, and already knew more of our fellow students.”
Wright graduated with honors from SAIC in 1967 and he returned for a semester of grad school. With a travel fellowship from SAIC, he left on an overland journey through Europe into Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and finally Nepal and India, where he stayed for four months. Back in the States, in the autumn of 1969, Wright move from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, to attend graduate school at Southern Illinois University (MFA 1971). While in Carbondale, Wrights’ work began to change somewhat, growing a bit cooler and more reserved, never losing the gesture altogether, but gradually giving images a tighter, slicker finish. Indeed, he was doing this at the same time as his Chicago cohorts were following a similar trajectory, exchanging the spontaneity of expression for a refined, but often sarcastic, or ironic gloss. Some of Wright’s downstate works have just a smirk, like the gorgeous graphite drawing of a hooker headed into a room, Motel (1972), from which he made a smaller etching, and the vacant fast-food neon sign of Eat (1972).
A major catastrophe befell Wright in 1970 when his house burned down, taking with it all the paintings he’d made while in Chicago. Left were a scattered portfolio of drawings and prints and a brain full of remembered artworks. You can see singe-marks from this inferno around the edges of the handful of remaining Chicago-era pieces (Hog Killers), poignant reminders of the tenuousness of material existence. Wright stayed on at Carbondale for a few years, teaching, painting, and rebuilding. He made a few glorious large acrylics there, including Main Street (1972), a sweet, slightly somber landscape of a Midwest street on a rainy eve. Wright’s decision to settle in New York in 1974 was to prove an excellent one. He took to the city immediately, painting luminous night studies of the cityscape, and creating a portrait of the World Trade Center, even as the Twin Towers were being completed. Wright dove into New York’s nightlife with gusto, and his sketchbooks include uproarious images of disco club scenes; his etching Club 82 (1974) looks something like Studio 54 as it might have been rendered by Max Beckmann.
By the early ’80s, Wright was painting images that directly confronted the complexities of his southern childhood. Baptism at Rives, Baptism at Pilot Oak, Baptism at Obion River, and Snake Service (all 1980) deal slyly with the homoeroticism of certain religious rituals, while The Confession (1980), a major entry in his oeuvre, once again finds the influence of Ensor helping to shape a wickedly sharp group scene in which heads resembling Elvis and Jesus dot the crowd. Tiny pieces from this period, reverse-painted on glass, include The Doctor’s Exam (1985), a proctological study that recalls Chicago proto-imagist Seymour Rosofsky’s vicious 1960’s oil The Inspector. A special project at the beginning of the ’90s led to a group of softer, more emotionally vulnerable monoprints (some compiled into artist-books) exploring his grandmother’s small hometown in Tennessee.