The painter Jonas Wood will be showing at Gagosian until December. It’s an intimidatingly large space and one that suits the monumentality of many of the artists on the gallery’s roster, but which could threaten to swamp the humble, apparent sincerity of Wood’s work. Yet, the scale of Wood’s paintings is not insignificant and the enormous canvases manage to hold their own in the vast, white space.
Wood’s paintings are characterised by flatness. In the artist’s interiors objects and surfaces jostle for room, a space that Wood all but denies them with his unconventional depiction of depth. The rooms bring to mind early Cubist still lifes, where arrangements of newspaper scraps and bottles revealed a new artistic reality: that the eye does not see a scene in its totality, but rather it jumps from object to object, perceiving them from multiple angles. In a similar way Wood’s paintings reveal a painter whose concentration is on the objects that interest him, rather than a unified space. To me the Cubists and Wood are united by their ability to debunk prepositions of place: no longer are objects next to each other, or behind each other, instead they simply exist in the same (flat) space.
Wood’s paintings all betray an endearing curiosity for odds and ends. The canvases are crammed with objects which have a significance to Woods, they are jumbled in heaps, or tottering in towers. It feels at times like the impulse of a child eager to show you all their toys at once, but not sure which to start with first.
His most famous works involve potted plants. Painting with his characteristic simplicity in flat colour planes, Wood creates gloriously understated botanical scenes, with huge fronds and curling tropical stems. Wood is acutely aware of the patterns inherent in plants, in a way that recalls Matisse. He creates his own Los Angeles aesthetic: tropical plants and bright planes of colour, that can’t help but remind you also of David Hockney’s own flattened California colour. Yet once again these are humble objects: the pots are lopsided and the plants are comically contrasting. A squat cactus sits next to a tall elegant plant with large, striped leaves. These odd little couplings once again betray the deeply personal nature of Woods work, there is a real sense of pleasure in the soft greens and a fondness to the imperfections.
This personal element is all the more clear in his paintings of pots, as inspired by his ceramicist wife Shio Kusaka and more widely by the distinguished history of pottery in Los Angeles. Painted against neutral backgrounds, the pots once again show Wood’s belief in the emotional importance of physical objects. There is a very pure and innocent appreciation to Wood’s paintings of ancient Greek vases, likewise one enormous pot shows a strange naïve scene of dinosaurs against a prehistoric landscape. Another uses a pattern that used to decorate a shower curtain in Wood’s childhood home. These odd objects are reminiscent of Grayson Perry’s pots and his revival of pottery as a kind of subversive kitsch. Wood’s pots are curious, intimate totems, in which he places great emotional significance.
Wood’s paintings of the places, objects and people in his life are playful, but tender tributes.