Picturing Jonas Wood – family portraits
Discover how the painter works informal family snaps into surprisingly rigorous and structured works of fine art
Does the American painter Jonas Wood reminds you a little of the great, 20th century Modernists? That might not just be because he consciously references artists such as Picasso and Josef Albers. It could also be thanks to Wood’s commitment to “to the twentieth century’s call for a merger of art and life,” as the American writer and curator Helen Molesworth puts it in our new Contemporary Artist Series book on Wood.
“To this end, he has produced a body of work that is stylized and repetitive,” Molesworth goes on. “This repetition comes in part from his interest in the decorative and the everyday – two arenas where repetition is paramount. But the repetition is also a meditation; a daily practice of engaging with the things and people he loves.”
Certainly, his immediate family – among other loved ones - crop up again and again in his pictures. Sometimes he appears to directly recreate a photographic portrait of his nuclear family, as if picked straight from the Wood family photo album, such as in his work Sears Family Portrait from 2011. In other instances his grandfather, Dr Israel J. ‘Rosy’ Rosefsky, Wood’s wife, the ceramicist Shio Kusaka, their children Kiki and Momo, and their cat, Robot, crop up in images that also include interior features, still-life elements and even other artworks.
It might, on first viewing, seem like a bit of a lovely jumble, but as Wood says in our new book, “my paintings aren’t freestyle – they’re more like constructing a building.”
Laboriously piecing together images – the artist says he does a lot of preparatory drawings before he lays paint on the canvas – the paintings appear to be both candid and idealized slice of family life.
Molesworth characterizes Wood as “something of a chronicler of life in the early decades of the twenty-first century.” His family photos might be the one aesthetic inclusion commonly on display in even the most artless of houses, yet Wood’s family pictures, meticulously pieced together and executed, are surprisingly artful and structured. And that tension, between an apparent sense of informality and a rigorous method, is intentional.
“That this practice is labour intensive and time-consuming and difficult, but that the end result is beautiful and casual and appears easy, is part of the game,” explains Molesworth. “All artwork needs an engine to make it; every artist has to hook up their desire and ambition to some external force in order to get up the energy to go into the studio day after day to make things that will ultimately render them vulnerable on a public stage. For Wood, it appears that engine is tenderness.”
For more surprisingly tender fine art, order a copy of our new Contemporary Artist Series book on Jonas Wood, here.