Lot 48
  • 48

JONAS WOOD | The Speller

500,000 - 700,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jonas Wood
  • The Speller
  • signed twice, titled, and dated 2007 twice on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 78 by 98 in. 198.1 by 248.9 cm.


Blum and Poe Gallery, Los Angeles
Private Collection, Los Angeles
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Los Angeles, Blum and Poe Gallery, So Wrong, I'm Right, June - August 2007

Catalogue Note

Bold yet elusive, Jonas Wood’s alluring 2007 portrait The Speller exemplifies the artist’s idiosyncratic graphic style: a masterful fusion of Modernist aesthetics and intensely personal subject matter. A fascinating expression of the artist’s self-reflexive exploration of his place in art history, the present work evokes “the spirit and the imagery of the great European painters of the 20th century, from Picasso to Bonnard and Matisse,” while also depicting his close friend and contemporary, artist Mark Grotjahn. (Michael Glover, “Great Works,” The Independent: Radar, 23 January 2016, p. 54) Joined by its later sister painting Spiritual Warrior from 2016—which depicts Mark Grotjahn standing before one of his own paintings—The Speller emphasizes the significance of the artists’ relationship; members of the same Los Angeles poker group, Grotjahn purchased a painting from Wood’s first solo exhibition and introduced him to gallerist Anton Kern—an introduction that effectively launched Wood’s career. With its Cubist-like spatial distortion and playful planes of unmodulated color, The Speller luxuriates in its admixture of figuration and abstraction, testifying to Wood’s status as the heir to the great artistic masters of the past century. The Speller grips the viewer with Mark Grotjahn’s piercing gaze; he matches our own stare with a profound intensity, acknowledging the viewer's presence in the interior space he occupies. As if skeptical of his guests, Grotjahn leans back from behind his desk to fiddle absentmindedly with his chair. Surrounding him, a complex patchwork of decorative and architectural elements dislocates the viewer within the composition’s dizzying spatial disorientation. In terms particularly evocative of the present work, Wood describes: “I can always add to or subtract from the image I’ve found. I’m using the images by tracing them and taking pieces of them out and then projecting them together and creating my own world….” (The artist in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Exh. Cat., Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Jonas Wood, 2019, p. 94) In its deft combination of multiple source photographs into one conglomerate whole, The Speller embodies the very best of Wood's signature collage-like technique.

Through its deeply personal subject matter, expressed through a stylistic vernacular reminiscent of Analytic Cubism and Matisse’s brilliant painterly flatness, The Speller pays homage to art historical legends, while simultaneously asserting its rightful status as a contemporary masterpiece. Grotjahn’s pose and personal connection to the artist call to mind David Hockney’s 1970-71 portrait Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, which exhibits a similar aura of arresting vigor. In Hockney’s work, designers Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, friends of the artist, address the viewer's presence, looking directly outward them with an inquisitive reservation, much like Mark Grotjahn does in The Speller. Curator Anna Katherine Brodbeck writes: “Wood’s depiction of contemporary artists like Grotjahn, with whom he has collaborated, along with veteran modern artists like Philip Guston, suggests an artistic lineage to which he aspires.” (Ibid., p. 17) Wood’s flattening of pictorial space resembles the whimsical spatial reconfiguration of Henri Matisse’s 1911 Intérieur aux aubergines (Interior with Aubergines); like the aubergines in Matisse’s work, which appear to float on the canvas’s surface due to the painting’s willful lack of shadowing, Wood’s plant—a recurring motif in his oeuvre—hovers in the center of The Speller’s composition, indicating no sense of physical grounding. Likening Wood’s singular artistic project to Matisse’s, art historian Ken D. Allan states: “In 1908 Henri Matisse explained, ‘The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive...Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painter’s disposal to express his feelings.’ Wood’s return to such questions allows us to see that painting’s delivery of visual pleasure has a history—a history that Wood’s work surely continues.” (Ibid., pp. 22-23)