Jonas Wood really knows how to paint. In his most recent exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery, the Boston-born, Los Angeles resident delivers an oddly sincere art historical cocktail generously spiked with sizeable shot of himself.
He also provided me with the opportunity to learn a new German intellectual-type word, applied to this same show by an anonymous reviewer for the Huffington Post (apparently in reference to the artist’s BA in psychology.) The word is Unheimliche – which according to Wikipedia
“is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar.”
And, indeed, “the Unheimliche” perfectly encapsulates half of what is especially nifty about Wood’s art. The other more obvious half is that his paintings are simply colorful, bright, breezy and cheery. They are not weighed down with the Strum und Drang that might be otherwise be expected in art-history heavy painting.
Now, back to the Unheimliche:
There is really nothing unfamiliar in his paintings, but that’s not a problem – more like the opposite, actually – a kind of liberating and open demonstration of the zeitgeist (if you can still call it zeitgeist after 30 or 40 years of similar and continuous artistic thinking – more like an artworld Weltanschauung) that creators are no longer expected to invent an entirely new mode of communication, in much the same way that authors don’t need to birth brand new languages. This is revealed in the way that Wood consumes everyday images and content, ruminates over them and then regurgitates them for our pleasure, re-formed as true and unique vehicles for his own idiosyncratic voice. His work is a textbook demonstration of the alchemy of deriving the somewhat strange from the very normal and almost hackneyed – with a confident personal vision as the only catalyst.
His paintings explicitly reference, among other things, the solid blocks of color in Stuart Davis’ still lives, Matisse’s decorative patterns and studio interiors, as well David Hockney’s California-sun-drenched exteriors.
This is his language – a language of art past.
And he repurposes it in a slightly off-kilter way in the service of ever-so-mildly odd-ball content – in some cases, painting giant images of basketball cards and other sports imagery, his own studio walls covered with small paintings of basketballs, shelves of his wife – Shio Kusaka’s pottery and decorative garden patterns overpopulated with gravity-defying parrots. The stylized visual flatness of the paint application renders explicit how this work is not an attempt to accurately record Wood’s interests, life and surroundings, and is instead an effort to deliver his own highly-stylized and personal re-imagining of the same.
Jonas Wood’s Technicolor™ (and gemütlich) way of re-presenting and repositioning ‘the familiar’ delivers much more than might ever be suggested by a mere cataloging of his source material.