Born in 1977, Jonas Wood, the now LA-based world-famous painter, was originally a psychology BA graduate from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York state. Perhaps it was his interest in the subconscious and the psyche that led him to explore his emblematic subject matter throughout his MFA at the University of Washington and subsequent artistic career as a painter of seemingly mundane domestic interiors, still-lifes and portraits with a strikingly unique, layered spatial perspective. In his own words:
“I’m interested in exploring the spaces that I’ve inhabited and the psychological impact they’ve had on me and my memories of them…and then I can create a new memory of that space.”
Drawing on the robust art historical tradition of interior painting among figures like Hockney, Matisse and van Gogh, his iconic, colourful style of large-scale acrylic and oil paintings marries ordinary subject matter with spatial experimentations that is a hybrid between Contemporary Pop Art and Cubism. He brings together a range of formal techniques, such as layering photographs and sketches of objects, taken from various angles and creating collage-like, fragmented compositions. Thus, his method takes a twist on its modernist roots, transforming the expected and the familiar into the uncanny for the viewer. A great example of this is his painting Ovitz’s Library (2013), depicting the LA-based collector Michael Ovitz’s impressive library. Playing with various types of organisational systems, such as painting, literature and libraries themselves, Wood’s representation of the space looks like it’s shown from various angles simultaneously, bringing together bright coloured seemingly chaotic spatial disorder into a harmonious and unified composition. He tends to work in an immediate, spontaneous way, drawing on his surroundings and the various references such as photographs or drawings listed above to create new work.
Wood moved to Los Angeles shortly after completing his MFA, working for the painter Laura Owens and moving into a studio with his future wife, ceramic artists Shio Kusaka, with whom they have since mutually influenced each other’s artistic languages without actually collaborating on specific works.
“…we appropriate each other’s work, but we actually don’t make objects together. We just have created this environment together that’s super creative and potent and fun and beautiful in our own way, together. We’re the best because we’re together.”, describes Wood.
Wood’s firsts solo exhibition was hosted by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2010, followed by a series of public artworks and murals in New York on Chelsea’s High Line in 2014 (Shelf Still Life) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA in 2016 (Still Life with Two Owls). Subsequent important exhibitions include Blackwelder in Gagosian Hong Kong (2015), the first duo exhibition showing Wood’s and Kusaka’s works side by side, followed by their first shared institutional presentation at Museum Voorlinden, in the Netherlands (2017). The Dallas Museum put on Wood’s first large-scale retrospective in 2019 with 33 different artworks. His artworks are part of major collections internationally, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, the Saatchi Gallery in London and the MOMA and Guggenheim Museums in New York City.
“You could call [my work] a visual diary or even a personal history. I’m not going to paint something that doesn’t have anything to do with me. Of all of 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.”, says Wood, who works in phases focusing on one specific category or subject matter at a time. This is reflected in the publication accompanying his various exhibitions. These include Interiors from 2012, showing a body of work on domestic spaces, Pots from 2015 featuring his paintings of various vases with visual references from art history to cinema and popular culture, Portraits from 2016 with intimate portraits of friends and family, as well as some sports figures admired by the artist and Clippings from 2017, paintings of still lives with plants and flowers.
Jonas Wood’s market prices continue to be in a steady increase. His sell-through rate at auction has remained impressive and near 100% since 2011. Wood has also received a good degree of curatorial attention with an average of eleven shows per year in the last ten years, most of them commercial, however in 2019 with a majority of institutional which possibly contributed to Wood’s market peak in that year.
Due to his colourful, emblematic aesthetic, Wood’s works tend to be major crowd-pleasers favoured by a wide audience. However, as the artist said himself, his drive isn’t to cater to a specific audience, instead he is motivated by a much higher artistic calling. While “being aware of the viewer”, his aim is “to see if I can top myself or top my fears or top my friends. Not in like a ranking, but just trying to create a masterpiece, trying to make the work that transcends us.”