At Gagosian, Jonas Wood Continues His Ongoing Exploration Into Painting

For years, we’ve adored the texturally charged, disorientating compositions that Jonas Wood creates. Using source imagery that spans genres, significance, and time, Wood has created a distinct style with layers of intrigue and interpretation. In his latest presentation at Gagosian’s 24th Street gallery, Wood has brought together a body of work that shows a progression of his practice. He continues to explore similar themes and subject matter in a carefully curated showing where each room leads you through the essence of the painter himself. We sat down with Wood to talk about this present moment in his career, how he builds a painting, and why he doesn’t shy away from the humor in his work.


Still Life with Wood Panels, 2018
Oil and acrylic on canvas
82 x 82 in
© Jonas Wood. Photo: Brian Forrest. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.


How does this new body of work stand apart from past series?

I don’t really see my work as occurring in series, it’s more of a continuation in exploring what’s interesting to me. My idea with the show was to come into the second room and see these five red Matisse pots. That’s how it began. Then I started thinking about what I would want in the second room that would be the counter balance to the pots, because a lot of the pots have interiors and exteriors – you’re looking through a space, there’s still lifes in them. They have all these components that I thought would be cool to show in my paintings versus showing off how Matisse painted them. That’s how I put it together.


Artwork © Jonas Wood. Photo: Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian.


With the drawing room, my thinking was that this is a very large space and it’s frequented by a lot of people who like art but also by a lot of people who have never seen my work, who just wander in here because this is where you go to see art. I put up these drawings, which are the studies or preparatory drawings for the paintings, because I wanted to share them with the audience that was coming in here so if they didn’t know my work or they had only seen my painting, they could see part of the way I make work. You don’t see the source images, but you’re seeing the step that comes after the initial source images.


Artwork © Jonas Wood. Photo: Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian.


I make drawings about half the time in my work, but for this particular show I was like ‘fuck this is a big show I don’t want to fuck this up’ and I want to make sure that everything’s great. So, I knew that if I made a drawing, I would make it until I wanted to move forward with it as a painting. It is sort of a way to protect myself. This space on 24th Street, you can do great here and you can probably also crash and burn here. I didn’t want to crash and burn.

I also made benches in the gallery to combat some of the space I wasn’t going to use, because this building is so big. People can stop and sit, which will hopefully slow the viewer down. That’s what I’ve been thinking about with this show – how can I get people to slow down and stop and look at my work.


Jersey City Apartment, 2019
Oil and acrylic on canvas
104 x 142 in
© Jonas Wood. Photo: Marten Elder. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.

You’ve incorporated elements personal to your own life as well as symbols that are universal. Is it important for you to toe the line between autobiographical content and works that are less personal?

I don’t think there’s a real difference. Anything that I’m interested in is autobiographical, that’s how it works for me. Certain images in the show – one is from a photo from 1966 of my dad building houses – are obviously autobiographical. But there is a lot in that work that I changed from the original source photo. I liked the idea of the image, knowing it was my dad and he’s a builder and that I build my paintings. I like that narrative for myself and the image. I was mostly just turned on by the aesthetics of the image.

I use source images, but I like the idea that you think this is something I know or I don’t know, if I was there or if I wasn’t there. If it was something I’ve physically taken a picture of or a conglomeration; I like that it doesn’t really matter, that it’s not supposed to be seamless, because my paintings are definitely not seamless – there’s a lot of construction happening in places where you’d think it’s organic.


Young Architect, 2019
Oil and acrylic on canvas
110 x 78 in
© Jonas Wood. Photo: Marten Elder. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.

Your work contains a sense of humor where you aren’t taking every subject matter too seriously. Can you speak on this?

It’s absurd to put Matisse paintings in pots and then have a giant show in New York City where that is a huge part of it. I think it’s just how you view it – I like wood grain, so I made a crazy painting about wood grain; I like Matisse, so I made some paintings about Matisse.

I like the idea of putting something absurd on a pot – I could kind of paint anything, but the things I choose to paint they are very specific and connected to me.


Red Pot with Lute Player #2, 2018
Oil and acrylic on canvas
86 x 90 in
© Jonas Wood. Photo: Brian Forrest. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.

When did you develop an interest in ceramics?

I met my wife [ceramist Shio Kusaka] in 2000 when I was in grad school and she was an undergrad, I got into it because she was into it. It didn’t have anything to do with my practice.

When I finished school the question was, what am I going to paint? I knew I was a figurative painter, but I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep studying painting. I decided to just copy what all my painting heroes did and paint still lifes, landscapes, and interiors. I wanted to work in all these modes because that is what the Modern Masters did. And then I started looking at Shio’s pots and other pots in museums and started to think about it more.


Artwork © Jonas Wood. Photo: Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian.

These larger giant pots started happening when I started to take individual things out of my paintings and make them much bigger. At first, I did it with plants, I had small still lifes and would take the plants out and just paint a clipping of a plant super big and isolated. I started making large plants and some large pots and thought ‘I’m just going to stick a large plant in a large pot’ .That’s where the landscape pots, these sort of giant totemic pots with a plant in it, started happening and became their own type of painting within my different genres of painting.

How would you describe the style of painting you’ve come to be known for?

My personal narrative is that I like painting and I’m investigating painting. I approach painting in a lab science kind of way. Object painting, still-life, landscape, portraiture, interior, exterior – those are the things I do in terms of subject matter. These totemic pots are the most non-representational representational – they don’t exist in a space. They are defined by the object.

I do a lot of collaging, moving things around, taking things out, putting things somewhere else, making them bigger. That’s kind of like where this original idea came from, working in changing the scale of something drastically.


M.S.F. Fish Pot #7, 2016
Oil and acrylic on canvas
72 x 72 in
© Jonas Wood. Photo: Brian Forrest. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.

This moment is particularly important for you, with the opening of the show at Gagosian and your first solo museum survey currently on view at the Dallas Museum of Art. Was there a lot of anticipation around these landmarks?

Dallas was the first museum show I’ve ever had where a bunch of old paintings were brought together – 33 paintings from the last 13 years. I was having a lot of anxiety around thinking ‘what if the old paintings suck or what if the new paintings are not as good as the old paintings and I’ve gotten progressively worse or was I way looser before and now I’m too tight.’ Once I got down there, I was relieved that I wasn’t a total hack. It looked good, but what I was really happy about was that I got an opportunity to look at the old work and new work together, to have this critical moment to think about where I could move forward or what I could leave behind or what I left behind that I needed to bring back. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to have all these different works together.

At the same time, I also have this different kind of opportunity showing at Gagosian, where I’m putting together a moment in time. I realized the museum show is going back and selecting things from across different points in time. I couldn’t have felt or known how it was until I experienced it.


Artwork © Jonas Wood. Photo: Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian.


I have been working on putting together this show [at Gagosian], for almost 2 years. I’ve had a model of the space for a while and I kind of knew what it was going to look like. I came here to see a bunch of shows, to see how it was going to be. I asked for a lot of advice from a lot of people. So, for this show, I wasn’t as nervous. I’m pretty confident with the ratio transition from the model to the actual thing. I like puzzles and I feel like it’s a lot like that.

This show is a big celebratory thing for me. I feel like I tried my hardest to make it something that people would be interested in checking out or be critical of or whatever.

This is a tough space to have a show in. It’s really beautiful but the risks are super high. I’m excited for people to see it.

Jonas Wood will be on view Gagosian, 555 W. 24th Street from April 24–July 19, 2019.