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PSS Winter '12

Abstract Representation

by Catherine Williams

Jonas Wood

Jonas Wood '99 in the studio

On the occasion of Jonas Wood’s most recent solo show at the Anton Kern Gallery in New York City, Roberta Smith of the New York Times wrote: “...his works negotiate an uneasy truce among the abstract, the representational, the photographic and the just plain weird.”

Stacks of bird cages stored in a corner, their tiny metal bars forming a rippling kaleidoscope. A static-filled television in front of a geometric landscape of lines and masks. A seemingly silent painting of the artist and a hypnotist that on closer inspection reveals a thunderous, tipping vortex of color and pattern, all of it hinging on the hypnotist’s eyes.

For Wood, these are the landscapes of his life that, along with his paintings of sports figures and abstract plants, have garnered him critical and popular acclaim as well as 23 group shows and 11 solo exhibits, including one at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

“I collect different images, make a lot of drawings and take photographs,” Wood explains. “All of these things turn into collages and eventually paintings. What I’m doing is an exploration of painting. It’s representational, but by experimenting with shapes, colors and forms, I’m approaching it in an abstract way.”

It’s this tense line between reality and perception that sets Wood apart.

From a family that is equal parts scientific and artistic – his grandfather was both a physician and an artist, his father is an architect and his mother taught drama, Wood’s work and life is grounded in an appreciation for both.

Wood chose Hobart because it offered him the ability to take courses in premed and art. “Hobart was the only school I applied to,” he says. “I wanted a liberal arts college on the East Coast. I visited, loved it and that was pretty much it.”

Wood eventually majored in psychology and interned with a dyslexia clinic while abroad in Bath, England. His senior year, he took an independent study with Associate Professor of Art Nick Ruth. “I asked Nick if he would teach me how to paint and he agreed to it.”

Wood set up a studio in the basement of Bampton House and, after graduation, continued to paint. He spent one year in Boston working at the McLean Hospital psychiatric center at Harvard University, thinking the experience would help in his applications to grad school for psychology. Eventually, though, he decided to pursue an MFA. “Nick really encouraged me and it was through his connections with the faculty at the University of Washington that I was accepted to their MFA program.”

Wood recalls being told during grad school that the odds of any MFA candidate being able to make a living through art were about one in 10. “But once I started painting full time, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

His success is the result of obvious talent combined with an aggressive work ethic. “I’m in the studio seven days a week,” says Wood, who is married to the artist Shio Kusaka. “Art isn’t a nine-to-five job. It starts when it starts – sometimes at two in the morning, and ends when it ends. It’s a monastic life to a certain extent and it involves a lot of sacrifice. But it is also very rewarding.”

Wood ’99 is currently preparing for an upcoming show at the David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, scheduled to open on March 31.