Art & Hope: Jonas Wood’s tender, loving home life

A look at the ways in which artists offer us hope. Here’s how the LA painter locates love in domesticity
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Shio and Robot (2008) by Jonas Wood
Shio and Robot (2008) by Jonas Wood

At the moment, we really need to try to find beauty and hope wherever we can. Some artists fill their work with these qualities by travelling very far from the domestic sphere, to offer us awesome, exotic visions. Yet others focus hard on the world around them to create beautiful works. The LA based artist Jonas Wood certainly falls into this latter category.

You only have to see a few Jonas Wood works to recognise his style. The artist has a disarming line, and a series of charming preoccupations: basketball, house plants, ceramics, modern art, and his own family and domestic setup.

 

Red rug still life (2015) by Jonas Wood
Red rug still life (2015) by Jonas Wood

As the American curator Helen Molesworth puts it in our Contemporary Artist Series book on the painter, “Wood is committed to the twentieth century’s call for a merger of art and life, he has fashioned a life dedicated to art and an art dedicated to life. To this end, he has produced a body of work that is stylized and repetitive. 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.” 

 

Jungle kitchen (2017) by Jonas Wood
Jungle kitchen (2017) by Jonas Wood

In another artist’s work this might appear monotonous or overly referential, but there’s a real, honest, love at the centre of Wood’s art. As he tells fellow artist Mark Grotjahn in our new book’s interview section, by “repainting a Matisse painting, or a Picasso painting, or something that Shio Kusaka [Wood’s ceramicist wife] made, or something that [fellow potters] Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess made, or a painting of yours that’s in the background of a photograph of you or of your girls, all these things just seem natural to me. I’m not trying to remake those things, I’m trying to make them in my own way because I’m so turned on by them.” 

Obviously, there’s a high level of artistry in presenting all these enthusiasms in a series of beautiful paintings, which can be loved and appreciated by viewers who don’t share Wood’s love of the Boston Celtics or southern Californian ceramics.  

However, as Molesworth points out, there’s also a real bravery in his work, in Wood’s willingness to open up on his personal pleasures. To demonstrate her point, Molesworth focusses on a 2008 canvas, Shio and Robot (top), depicting Wood’s wife, dog and marital bed.  

 

Jonas Wood's studio
Jonas Wood's studio

“In this painting Kusaka, in a highly patterned, colourful sundress stands both awkwardly and sweetly on the far-left hand of the picture,” writes Molesworth. “Given her importance to the image, she takes up but a sliver of space, leaving the bed and chandelier to take centre stage. 

“But what draws me to this picture again and again, is Robot curled up on the bed,” Molesworth goes on. “Dogs have long been a symbol of fidelity in western painting, and this picture is no different. Wood has offered us an image of enormous tenderness and vulnerability here: his wife, the light that emanates from her, their bed – a site of repose and love – occupied by the physical embodiment of their fidelity.” 

 

Red Studio Pot (2014) by Jonas Wood, which references The Red Studio (1911) by Henri Matisse
Red Studio Pot (2014) by Jonas Wood, which references The Red Studio (1911) by Henri Matisse

Look at the painting in that way, and almost of all of us can think of tender, private instances in our own lives, that echo in Wood’s painting. The picture might not have been painted from life; his wife and his dog might not have ever taken up the positions shown in the work, yet the intent and effect remain nonetheless. 

“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,” writes Molesworth. “For Wood, it appears that engine is tenderness.” 

 

Jonas Wood

For more from Molesworth, and to see many other Wood paintings, order a copy of our Contemporary Artist Series book on the painter, here.


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