Rooms with a View

Jonas Wood’s powerful, autobiographical paintings of interior spaces possess a dreamlike and sometimes unsettling quality

Words by Lisa Johnson

Portrait of Jonas Wood by Manfredi Gioacchini

At first glance, an interior painting by Los Angeles-based artist Jonas Wood (right) feels as fresh as a midsummer garden after a rain shower. Look again, however, and the effect is more disorienting: the flattened perspective and distortions of space are more the stuff of dreams than reality. Other contrasts in Wood’s work are similarly compelling: the playful references to pop art, cubism and artists like Hockney and Matisse in works that are immediately, distinctively Wood’s own; the landscapes contained within the parameters of domestic vessels created by Wood’s wife, the ceramicist Shio Kusaka – the whole world in a pot.

Born in 1977 in Boston, Wood grew up surrounded by art – his grandfather collected works by Bacon, Calder and Frankenthaler – yet it was only after studying psychology at liberal arts college Hobart and William Smith Colleges that he began painting. He met his wife while completing a Fine Arts MA at the University of Washington, after which the couple moved to LA, where they now work side by side in a shared studio.

Wood’s work is autobiographical, refracting childhood memories and everyday life through his own particular sensibility. He uses collage as well as paint, starting with photographs he has taken or appropriated – of his family and from old magazines – and rearranging them. His still lifes, portraits, interiors and landscapes also often include pots, which he views as recurring characters. He cites Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Bonnard and Vuillard as influences, both for their work itself and the way it is interpreted by other contemporary artists. “I love David Hockney and Alex Katz,” he says, “who are looking at modern painting and riffing on it. I’m looking at what they’re looking at, but I also get to look at them.”

Two Tables with Floral Pattern, 2013.
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 93 inches Wood shares a studio with his wife, the ceramic artist Shio Kusaka, and her pots are “recurring characters” in his work. “Repeating elements appear in different paintings, and change shape,” he says. (Photo: Brian Forrest; Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago, IL)

Artworks by Wood, which now sell for six figures at auction, are held in the permanent collections of the major contemporary art museums of New York, Chicago and LA, and last December he covered the 5,400 square foot facade of LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) with a vinyl version of his Still Life with Two Owls (2014). The image was “sourced in part from a photograph of a shelf with plants and pottery from a 1970s House & Garden-type magazine”, he says. “I use those and then replace about 70 per cent of the plants and objects with things I’m interested in.” It’s life – but not quite as we know it.

Jonas is the honoree of this year’s TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art auction held in Dallas on 28 October, 2017. twoxtwo.org/about