Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Calder, Monet, Vuillard, Bonnard, van Gogh, Stuart Davis, and Hockney have all been very real influences to me. When I was a young child, my family would speak about these artists as examples of greatness in painting. I guess even then I took them seriously because these are the artists I ended up fashioning my studio practice after.
Lavish, vibrant and monumental in scale, Pink Plant with Shadows #2 is a quintessential Jonas Wood still life featuring the pottery of his wife, Japanese ceramicist Shio Kusaka. The leafy plant, resplendent in a coordinated palette of pink, purple and blue and adorned with staccato dashes reminiscent of Japanese boro stitching seen often in Kusaka’s designs, sprouts from a minimalist ceramic vessel, with both rendered in Wood’s iconic flattened perspective. Juxtaposed against the austere rectilinear grey pot, the constellation of vivaciously hued leaves manifest as multiple strategically, precisely placed ruptures to the plain grey colour fields, such that the plant appears suspended sublimely in mid-air like a hanging Calder mobile. The work embodies Wood's invocation of Pop Art through the techniques of modern masters such as Matisse and Picasso, and Kusaka’s minimalist pottery rooted in the Japanese aesthetic tradition.
Wood grew up in Boston and graduated with a BA in Psychology in upstate New York with a minor in studio art. He then moved to Seattle to pursue his MFA in painting and drawing. It was there that he met his wife Kusaka, and the two moved to Los Angeles in 2003. The two have shared the same studio space since then: Kusaka creates idiosyncratic pots influenced by Japanese earthenware, which are collected by Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman and graced the Whitney Biennial in 2014, while Wood’s vibrant portraits and still lifes are inspired by his daily life and immediate surroundings. When interviewed on the occasion of the couple's joint exhibition Blackwelder in 2015, Wood reflected on their reciprocal artistic relationship: “There’s a part of our work that overlaps in a major way. I make landscapes, portraits and interiors – works about pots and plants, and things you’d find in a still life, while she makes pots. The show [was] an opportunity to show how we feed off each other as artists” (When Two Arts Beat As One”, SCMP, 28 January 2015).
Over the past decade and a half Wood has carved out his own distinctive and critically lauded aesthetic that is embedded in a rich network of art-historical reference. His painterly style is a playful yet rigorous interrogation of the traditional representational challenge of capturing three-dimensional forms on the flat picture plane; by flattening shapes and exaggerating forms, he achieves gently unsettling yet highly stimulating canvases. The influence of Cubism is palpable in his work’s conflation of multiple perspectives, while his focus on the quotidian as well as the cheerful gaiety of his palette invokes the language of Pop Art, recalling in particular David Hockney’s domesticated landscapes and gardens. Wood has said: “Hockney was a big, big influence on me. He has that Renaissance ability to paint from life but he’s also an inventor,” says Wood. “But I love Picasso and Braque and Matisse and Vuillard. . . . And the thing about Hockney or Alex Katz or Lucian Freud or any of those people that I’m super into, they were into those modern painters, too. So I get to look at Matisse or Picasso through their work” (cited in Meredith Mendelsohn, “Jonas Wood--Mural”, Gagosian, 22 May 2017, n.p.).
The present work in particular is powerfully evocative of Matisse’s cut-outs, not only in motif but in its inducing of a ruptured sensory experience. In the last decade of Matisse’s life, the artist began cutting up gouache-painted paper into a wide range of shapes and re-arranging them into new compositions. Wood’s approach is similar: working from a personal archive of photographs and found imagery, he makes preliminary sketches and studies of his subjects and creates initial collages by cutting and pasting. In synthesizing various influences and methods from photography to collage to painting, Wood’s practice is in essence a synthesized perception of time and space; as a result, the final works throb with a vibrant rhythm and whimsical harmony. Roberta Smith asserts: “More than ever his works negotiate an uneasy truce among the abstract, the representational, the photographic […] Each painting presents a highly personal but impersonally observed reality” (Ibid.). Oscillating between representational still-life and abstraction, balancing at the nuanced threshold at which representation disintegrates into sheer pattern of form and colour, the present work is in line with the very best of Wood’s oeuvre.