Jonas Wood: Plants and Animals
January 22 through March 5, 2022
By LITA BARRIE, February 2022
Jonas Wood’s vibrant still lifes are like David Hockney paintings on steroids. His paintings pay homage to his venerated predecessor while amping up the bright saturated color hues, raising the viscosity of the paint medium and enlarging the scale of the canvases to give his luminous still lifes a more powerful presence. Like Hockney, he draws from the world around him, incorporating the people and things who inhabit his daily life into an ongoing exploration of Los Angeles’ visual dynamics and vernacular tradition. Both Hockney and Wood share a love for using multiple overlapping perspectives and their paintings are an interior analogue of their exterior world. Most of all, they share a deep affection and curiosity for the world they see around them, which not only informs how they think about painting, but makes their artwork feel like an outpouring of love letters to L.A.
It is little wonder that Wood has so much respect for the power of painting because he grew up looking at his grandfather’s major collection of post-war art, which included works by Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Bacon, Calder and Motherwell. Wood also collects art, and pieces he owns show up in his paintings, as well as his own older works. After earning an MFA from the University of Washington, the Boston-born artist moved to Los Angeles in 2003 and worked as an assistant to painter Laura Owens. He met his wife and studio-mate, ceramicist Shio Kusaka, who was working as an assistant to sculptor Charles Ray. He began incorporating the vessels she makes into his paintings and their relationship became what he calls “a natural cross-pollination of color, shape, form and ideas we share about vessels.” They have collaborated in joint exhibitions, at Gagosian Hong Kong ( 2015) and the Museum Voorlinden in Netherlands (2017) - and released books which feature both his paintings and her ceramics.
Wood’s current exhibition Plants and Animals, on view at David Kordansky Gallery, showcases twenty-two new paintings and works on paper created over the last three years.. They include the profuse greenery and potted plants for which he is known, along with a menagerie of diverse animals: a deer curled up on a couch, a leopard snuggling up to be petted, dogs of different sizes and breeds (including a mastiff, a large and small poodle, a terrier, and a bichon), as well as a giraffe, a cat and gharials, which are fish-eating crocodiles.
Wood does not shy away from subjects we do not often see in paintings just because they do not have enough philosophical weight to be considered profound. He has painted boxers, baseball and basketball players (copied from trading cards), and even tennis courts and golf courses. Now, he has turned his attention to dogs, simply because he likes them. In the past, his own dog, Robot, occasionally appeared in family settings. But the dogs seen in these nine foot tall paintings - with his wife in Shio with Three Dogs (2020) and in the foreground of a contemporary architectural scene in Five Dogs (2021) - are based on dog images he appropriated from the internet, which are amusing because… who doesn’t like dogs? Wood pursues his attractions to eclectic subject matter he finds on the internet and in everyday life that more pretentious artists would not see - and this makes his work more honest and real. The joy he feels painting things he loves is contagious and he shares this widely by making lithographs, books and even posters so that anyone can afford to buy something by Wood, even if his major paintings are out of their price range.
Wood’s sense of color also recalls Henri Matisse but in his hands, Fauvist color is dope. His luminous colors created by combining oil and acrylic on canvas, are based on the translucent colors we see in flowers which both transmit and diffuse light. John Ruskin, the great Victorian art critic, used to tell artists to go into nature to learn how to paint, famously saying, “Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.” The subtle color variations that can be seen by examining a leaf or petal are never seen in paintings dominated by artificial color in the digital world. I did not even realize there could be so many hues of green until I stood in front of Future Zoo (2021). This painting has a serene Japanese feeling, and the saturated green hues of the foliage are balanced by gray and ochre hues as gharials swim in turquoise water filled with reflections of the foliage.
Meticulous pointillism and detailed pattern-making in nuanced color variations are Wood's signature style. He often juxtaposes geometric patterned upholstery, drapes, cushions, rugs and wallpaper with Kusaka’s ceramic pots and a profusion of lush green foliage. Even the dog fur, wood grains and pine needles are painted in high detail to create density. Wood carefully composes line, form, detail and planes of flat color - in an exquisite symphony of colors - with painstaking brushwork which moves at different speeds. This sense of motion recalls Alex Katz, whom he greatly admires. In Patterned Interior with Mar Vista View (2020), his old house is seen through a large window, and offset by carefully orchestrating geometric patterns in multi-colored hues along with different textures. Wood works from drawings and photo collages, and creates part-fictitional scenes with real-life elements by changing the scale of the images he appropriates in order to create monumental still lifes - which are a fresh take on a classical genre.
Wood’s phenomenal artistic skills demonstrate the wisdom of “standing on the shoulders of Giants” (Isaac Newton,1675) because his immersion in great modern art from childhood, when he visited his grandfather’s collection, continues to provide a greater vantage point for seeing the possibilities of art. WM
Lita Barrie is a freelance art critic based in Los Angeles. Her writing appears in Hyperallergic, Riot Material, Apricota Journal, Painter’s Table, ArtnowLA, HuffPost, Painter’s Table, Artweek.L.A, art ltd and Art Agenda. In the 90s Barrie wrote for Artspace, Art Issues, Artweek, Visions andVernacular. She was born in New Zealand where she wrote a weekly newspaper art column for the New Zealand National Business Review and contributed to The Listener, Art New Zealand, AGMANZ, ANTIC, Sites and Landfall. She also conducted live interviews with artists for Radio New Zealand’s Access Radio. Barrie has written numerous essays for art gallery and museum catalogs including: Barbara Kruger (National Art Gallery New Zealand) and Roland Reiss ( Cal State University Fullerton). Barrie taught aesthetic philosophy at Claremont Graduate University, Art Center and Otis School of Art and Design. In New Zealand, Barrie was awarded three Queen Elizabeth 11 Arts Council grants and a Harkness grant for art criticism. Her feminist interventions are discussed in The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand and an archive of her writing is held in The New Zealand National Library, Te Puna Matauranga Aotearoa.view all articles from this author