Roberta Smith, "Art in Review: Jonas Wood," The New York Times, March 18, 2011
Yellow Still Life from 2012 is a vibrant example from Jonas Wood’s renowned oeuvre and features his best-known subject matter: interiors with potted plants. Employing artistic tropes of flattened colors and spatial distortion, Wood lends this quiet still life an element of the uncanny. Through the careful placement of each individual potted plant and outstretched leaf within the sun-drenched canvas, the viewer is invited into the room to experience the illusion of depth created by Wood’s striking stems and exaggerated leaves, expertly layered upon one another as if teetering on the very edge of the canvas.
Playful and energetic, Yellow Still Life depicts one of Wood’s most iconic compositions in which he paints seemingly mundane, everyday objects within a simplified domestic setting. Every vessel within the work is unique, with a vast array of sizes and differing plants settled within. The pots are intricately rendered throughout, with each vine drawing the viewer’s eye towards another pot, creating a sense of visual movement and dynamism throughout the composition. Though the placement can appear random, as in all of Wood’s works, everything is intentional and adds to the overall sense of visual complexity. Wood positions his composition symmetrically across the central axis, with the taller objects on one side of the canvas balancing out the smaller but more populous area.
This painting, one of Wood’s most significant works, is drawn from known surroundings and familiar objects. Yellow Still Life is a layered arrangement of simple plants and pottery, juxtaposed alongside detailed geometric vases that reference the works of his wife, Japanese ceramicist Shio Kusaka. The two artists frequently draw inspiration from the other’s work, as exemplified in the present work through the perfect representation of Kusaka’s speckled ceramic pots. These emotionally weighted and personally significant objects are purposefully placed as focal points in the center of the composition, with the largest patterned pot sitting on a lone pedestal. Wood’s use of varied shapes and a multitude of patterns also echoes his wife’s work and further creates a sense of three-dimensional space. However, the flattened perspective and lack of shadows complicates perception and adds a visual tension to this otherwise quiet domestic scene.
In his use of slightly off-kilter perspective, Wood blurs the line between reality and fiction. His painting of familiar objects and simplified scenery appears as a realistic portrayal of an ordinary interior, yet the distorted objects recall an imagined space. The title, Yellow Still Life, implies the notion of commonplace objects, and is a nod to the many still life paintings Wood admires, especially Vincent van Gogh’s beloved Sunflowers and the cut-outs of Henri Matisse. The present work’s colors and domestic scenery also resemble David Hockney’s famed interior scenes, as the vibrant yellow background offers stark contrast to the flat gray floor, delineated only by a single straight line. Evincing his depth of art historical knowledge and frequent sampling from his contemporaries, Wood combines these myriad references into a rich tapestry of personal and canonical allusion.
Although Yellow Still Life is a painting of everyday life, its sense of manipulation and experimentation with perspective align it with Wood’s unique visual language. David Kordansky has described his style as “a combination that makes the final product appear realistic but slightly off… It’s a deception that still feels heartfelt.” (David Kordansky, "Jonas Wood and Shio Kusaka: Each Other's Artistic Muses, The Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2015, n.p.) Yellow Still Life stands apart as an iconic example of Wood’s deceptively simple imagery that invites viewers to return, again and again, to discover the complexity of his work.
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