One of the most critically acclaimed and respected working artists of the last decade, Jonas Wood invokes the work of forebears such as David Hockney and Henri Matisse. M.S.F. Fish Pot #5, is a striking example of Jonas Wood’s signature confined brilliance and use of composite imagery sourced from Wood’s personal collection of ceramic art. A monumental painting, M.S.F. Fish Pot #5 is derived from Wood’s study of artists Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, a husband-and-wife ceramic team working in L.A., whose work inhabits Wood’s Culver City studio. Similar to Wood’s body of work, the Frimkesses oeuvre spans many genres- pottery, mythology, and pop to name a few. This exploration of the Frimkesses collaborations not only serves to memorialize Wood’s paramount adoration for their art, but also directly references the collaborative working relationship between Wood and his wife, ceramic artist Shio Kusaka.
Sharing a studio with Kusaka, ceramic vessels are often showcased in Wood’s oeuvre. “When I met my wife, Shio Kusaka, who is a ceramicist, I started looking at vessels. I became interested in the Greek pots. Like basketball cards, they have a shape and a form, and they have images that are very flat, graphic, and simple. Basically, there are cartoons on the sides of the pots that tell stories” (J. Wood, quoted in J. Samet, “Beer with a Painter, LA Edition: Jonas Wood,” Hyperallergic, 12 September 2015). Ceramic imagery has since been a primary subject of Wood’s work. M.S.F. Fish Pot #5 debuted at the husband and wife’s inaugural New York exhibition at KARMA in 2015. A testament to their respective artist processes, the work transcends to serve as a personal totem referencing Wood’s family, memories and art collection. This work is a prime example of Wood’s signature style that fuses visual references, and collages personal, familial and art historical attitudes with the objects and settings that compose his everyday life. “Wood’s expanding gallery of athletes, portraits and still lives are animated by familiar yet universal elements, allowing his drawings and paintings to radiate at the intersection between personal mythology and collective identity” (C. Alemani, quoted in Jonas Wood: Sports Book, New York, 2009).
The Koi fish and their domestic habitat often recur in Wood’s work. They prove ideal forms, juxtaposing the magnificent with restraint. Set against a pale gray background, M.S.F. Fish Pot #5 depicts a round ceramic pot filling the composition. The surface of the vessel is adorned with intricate and playful aquatic imagery. The marine life illustrated on the pot serves as a window into a fervent anemone, dominated by the majestic red-orange Koi fish swimming amongst the sea grass and flowers. The spirited score ends abruptly at the parameters of the vessel. Combining this lively underwater scene 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, 18 March 2011).
By constructing tableaus in such a way, Wood calls attention to his working methods while also breaking from the staid tradition of still life painting. Not merely a picture of a decorated pot, works like M.S.F. Fish Pot #5 reference the genre’s history while also speaking to the visually adventurous still-lifes of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, among others. Oscillating between representational still-life and abstraction, Wood appropriates cubist collage techniques, pop-portraiture ideals, and the loyal approach to devotional still-life.
Creating self-referential works is not new to Wood as his canvases frequently depict his own living space and studio. “I basically have a giant treasure trove of source images, of things I’ve taken or found, that are part of my archive. Things people send me, and family pictures. Then I think about what I want to paint… I’m making choices based on aesthetics, but also maybe based on things that are important to me.” Says Wood, “There’s an ebb and flow of that in my paintings in general. I can’t make super complicated paintings all the time – I need some balance. So, taking an individual thing out of a painting and isolating it – a basketball, a pot, now some weird emoji paintings – it’s just a genre of painting that’s within these different kinds of larger figurative works” (J. Wood quoted in L. August, “Painting Towards Intimacy,” Arts and Culture Index, 12 February 2019).