Of all the possible things I could paint, the thing that interests me is something that I can get close enough to in order to paint it honestly. The painters whose work means the most to me – that’s what they were painting. It was their loved ones or the stuff that was in their house. It was always this hyperpersonal thing to me.
Vibrant and arresting, Yellow Clipping 2 is a masterful specimen from Jonas Wood’s acclaimed oeuvre. The striking clipped orchid, rendered in Wood’s iconic skewed and flattened perspective, depicts Jonas Wood’s well-known characteristics of translating the world around him into flat color and line, mystifying the expectations of scale and vantage point. Wood is admired for his depictions of ordinary environments, such as domestic interiors and landscapes, to which he applies an array of formal techniques to create viewpoints that are at odds with the viewer’s expectations. The plant still life is considered the quintessence of Wood’s painterly lexicon – in essence, these works are figurative paintings that takes form as abstraction, and vice versa – which powerfully assert his stature as a leading master of our generation. Likening Wood’s singular artistic project to Henri 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.” (the artist in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Exh. Cat., Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Jonas Wood, 2019, pp. 22-23)
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. 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half Wood has carved out his own distinctive and critically lauded aesthetic that is embedded in a rich network of art-historical reference.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. The images are then filtered through various layers of drawing until he arrives at his final composition. Wood explains: “I’ll take a picture of the painting and print it out on drawing paper, get the coloured pencils and try to figure [it] out. I’m less of a de Kooning and more like Lichtenstein so it’s a compositional decision” (cited in Bill Powers, “A Talk With Jonas Wood”, ArtNews, January 2015). The fragmentary method is in essence a synthesized perception of time and space; as a result, the final works throb with a vibrant rhythm and whimsical harmony.
As 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.