“More than ever his works negotiate an uneasy truce among the abstract, the representational, the photographic and the just plain weird. They achieve this with a dour yet lavish palette, tactile but implacably workmanlike surfaces and a subtly perturbed sense of space in which seemingly flattened planes and shapes undergo shifts in tone and angle that continually declare their constructed, considered, carefully wrought artifice.” Roberta Smith, New York Times
(R. Smith, "Art in Review: Jonas Wood," The New York Times, March 18, 2011).
A master of the quotidian, Jonas Wood is one of the most critically acclaimed and respected painters working today. Maritime Hotel Pot with Aloe is a stunning example of the artist’s signature style that fuses visual references to mid-20th century David Hockney and an eye for subverted space typical of Henri Matisse. Blending the traditional still life with scenes of an urban landscape, the ‘Landscape Pots’ like Maritime Hotel Pot with Aloe create a push and pull between intimate space and scenic vista, between illusionistic representation and abstracted reality. “Both steeped in tradition yet completely fresh, Wood captures the impossible sharpness of modernity with the familiar feelings of home,” (P. Frank, “Jonas Wood Invites You Into His Colorful, Warped Painted Interiors,” Huffington Post, September, 30 2013). This combination of intimate settings and grand scale mark Wood as one of the most innovative representational painters working today.
Set against a pale gray ground, a skinny aloe plant springs forth from a large pot. The surface of the vessel is adorned with an intricate image that depicts darkened buildings receding into a blazing sunset. Painted primarily in black and gray, each structure is alight with the grid patterns of multi-pane windows, some offering the pale yellow of an incandescent bulb and others dark for the evening. In the distance, columns of smoke and steam rise from chimneys while a small patch of blue signifies the presence of water. Above it all, a gradient of red, pink, orange and yellow leads the eye upward into the aloe’s tendrils. At the base, a curved line sweeps across the image. The leaves of the aloe plant cast faint shadows on this scene and confuse the illusionary depth of the piece.
The aforementioned curved line is not merely a decorative element, but speaks to Wood’s use of photographs and personal experiences as his source material. Looking to the title, one realizes that the pot’s subject is actually a view from the Maritime Hotel in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. Known for its circular windows that mimic the form of portholes on a ship, the building was originally designed for the National Maritime Union of America by the New Orleans architect Albert C. Ledner in the 1960s. Peering from the hotel window, Wood subtly notes his location with the edge of the windowsill just barely in frame. Combining this architectural element with both the flatness of the image and the perceived dimensionality of a real ceramic vessel creates a precarious dichotomy that grasps at two competing depictions of space. Roberta Smith, in a review of Wood’s work in 2011, noted, “More than ever his works negotiate an uneasy truce among the abstract, the representational, the photographic and the just plain weird. They achieve this with a dour yet lavish palette, tactile but implacably workmanlike surfaces and a subtly perturbed sense of space in which seemingly flattened planes and shapes undergo shifts in tone and angle that continually declare their constructed, considered, carefully wrought artifice" (R. Smith, "Art in Review: Jonas Wood," The New York Times, March 18, 2011). By constructing tableaus in such a way, Wood is able to call attention to his working methods while also breaking from the staid tradition of still life painting. Not merely a picture of a potted plant, works like Maritime Hotel Pot with Aloe reference the genre’s history while also speaking to the visually adventurous still lifes of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, among others.
The so-called ‘Landscape Pots’ exist as a confluence of Wood’s thematic modes. Combining his spare still lifes, or ‘Clippings’, with more dense scenes of interiors and landscapes, works like Maritime Hotel Pot with Aloe play on the artist’s interest in distorting space and perspective in a perplexingly intimate manner. The artist notes about the series, “Painting the landscape pots wasn’t necessarily about painting well; it wasn’t about creating an image that was relatable to the viewer, or about painting in a more realistic way. I wanted to paint the landscape pots so they were intentionally unrealistic. They were all filtered into an even looser organization of information that would represent this landscape pot as opposed to trying to paint the perfect landscape on a pot. Because I was recycling the imagery from previous works, it was like painting a painting in a painting” (J. Wood, in an interview with B. Sharp, exh. cat., Los Angeles, David Kordansky Gallery, Jonas Wood: Paintings and Drawings, 2015, p. 8). Creating self-referential works is not new to Wood as his canvases frequently depict his own living space and studio. Infusing each work with a hint of the artistic process, the painter is able to talk about the history of art while also looking toward the future.