Towering above the viewer at nearly three metres in height, Diet 7Up Frimkess Pot is a monumental example of Jonas Wood’s celebrated pot paintings. Largely based on ceramics in his personal collection, these works play a vital role in his distinctive practice, with studies held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Broad Collection, Los Angeles. Known for his pantheon of still lifes, portraits and landscapes, Wood brings a sharp art-historical sensibility to bear on observations of his personal surroundings. His interest in pottery was first sparked by his wife, the ceramicist Shio Kusaka, leading him to explore the work of other practitioners. Created in 2016, the present painting is based on a 1995 vase entitled 7Up – The Uncola by the husband-and-wife ceramists Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, whose works inspired a number of Wood’s pot paintings. Much like Wood himself, the Frimkesses adopted a wide-ranging view of art-making, drawing influences from pop culture, art history and mythology. 7Up – The Uncola references the early marketing of the eponymous soda, which initially branded itself in opposition to Coca Cola during the 1960s. The drink’s logo is joined by a number of other motifs, including cartoon figures, trees, flowers and fragments of text. Wood’s reimagining of the pot filters this tableau through his own vivid imagination, infusing it with visual references to Matisse, Picasso, Hockney and Greek vase design. Reviewing the artist’s exhibition Portraits, where the work was unveiled, the critic Daniel Creahan notes that it ‘ultimately sees Wood at his most unrestrained, and his most entertaining’ (D. Creahan, ‘Jonas Wood: “Portraits” at Anton Kern’, Art Observed, 19 September 2016).
Wood grew up surrounded by art. ‘My grandfather collected a lot of art in a short period, for not even twenty years in the 1960s and ‘70s’, he explains, ‘… Warhol, Bacon, Motherwell, Jim Dine, Larry Rivers, Calder ... my grandparents’ and parents’ homes were very aesthetic places, packed with images and objects. It all seeped into me’ (J. Wood in conversation with A. V. Sharp, 9 November 2011, in Jonas Wood: Interiors, exh. cat., Anton Kern Gallery, New York, 2012, p. 56). He recalls that the Cubists, the Impressionists and the Fauves, along with artists such as Calder, Hockney and Stuart Davis, were frequently extolled to him as ‘examples of greatness in painting’ (J. Wood, quoted in interview with E-L. Tovey, Dossier, 3 April 2012). Wood combines this rich influence with memories of landscapes, interiors, people and places, using fractured art-historical references as a means of mirroring his own process of recollection. His interest in pots bears witness to the artistic exchange he shares with his wife – a relationship echoed in the Frimkesses’ own practice. In his study of ceramics, moreover, Wood found a medium closely aligned with his own artistic aims. ‘I became interested in the Greek pots’, he explained. ‘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). This marriage of image and anecdote is reflected not only in the original Frimkess vase, but also in Wood’s practice more broadly, where depictions of furniture, people, architecture and art-objects are saturated with personal meaning.
Wood sees his pot paintings and still lifes as distinct from his landscapes and interiors. Whilst many of the latter feature combined elements, snipped and re-contextualised from his vast archive of source imagery, the pots zoom in on single objects, often – as in the case of the present work – reproducing them in close detail. ‘[T]aking an individual thing out of a painting and isolating it – a basketball, a pot … – it’s just a genre of painting that’s within these different kinds of larger figurative works’, he explains (J. Wood quoted in L. August, 'Painting Towards Intimacy', Arts and Culture Index, 12 February 2019). Despite fidelity to their originals, however, these representations are infused with Wood’s own language: in the present work, the pot is rendered with an almost Cubist logic, by turns flattening and enhancing the object’s sense of three-dimensional reality. In places, certain patterns appear to leap off the canvas; elsewhere, they recede into the distance. Once-curved planes are flattened into smooth fields of colour, causing the motifs to loom unnaturally into the foreground. The effect is one of constant push and pull: the Frimkesses’ playful conglomerate of imagery is rendered all the more curious. Wood’s painting heightens the palette of the original, projecting a bright purity redolent of Matisse’s cut-outs or the glossy surfaces of Pop Art. The result is at once familiar and alien: strains of antiquity and modernity blend seamlessly into one. It is this quality that ultimately defines Wood’s oeuvre.