Karma presents Drawings 2003–2023, a traveling survey of works on paper by Los Angeles–based artist Jonas Wood. The exhibition opened in June at Karma New York and is now on view from November 10, 2023, to January 6, 2024, at 7351 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles.
Drawings 2003–2023 assembles one hundred artworks, exhibited chronologically, in the largest survey of Jonas Wood’s works on paper to date. The exhibition begins with drawings made by the artist following his move to Los Angeles. While he established his studio practice in the city, Wood worked as an assistant to painter Laura Owens, and had his first solo exhibition with the storied Black Dragon Society gallery in 2006. During this time, Wood began to crystallize the distinctive visual language that would come to define his mature practice. An avid draftsman, drawings have myriad purposes for Wood, serving as either preparatory sketches for collages and paintings or stand-alone works of art.
At the heart of Wood’s prolific output is a reverence for the handmade: holding a found photograph in his hands, operating a manual projector, leaving behind a half-erased pencil sketch. In Plant 4 (2003), one in a series of drawings of potted plants that make up the earliest works in the exhibition, Wood’s delight in the tactility of mark-making is palpable: he used distinct strokes of crayon and spirited, imperfect shading to give shape to fields of blocky color, leaving behind an explicit citation of the hand of the artist: a single fingerprint. Works like Hunting With Mochi (2005), which depicts a cabin in the woods surrounded by a landscape made up of quilt-like patchworks of translucent color, exemplifies the influence of photo-collage on Wood’s practice. His drawings often begin with photographs, which he then cuts apart and re-composes into deliberately disjointed collages. Projecting the new, flattened-out, stylized image onto paper, Wood sketches its form using an array of media, including gouache, ink, charcoal, and ballpoint pen, producing a wide-angle lens effect that mimics the skewed proportions of memory.
In a 2008 essay, curator Cecilia Alemani describes Wood’s formal language as “a vernacular adaptation of color field painting inserted in the most mundane subjects.” This idiosyncratic hybridization of the everyday and art historical is clear in his work—such as Studio Shelf (2005), in which a skull, a favored subject of artistic movements such as Dutch Vanitas, is depicted alongside items including a mug, duct tape, and Color-aid swatches—and Hockney (2004), wherein the folds of a collared shirt become a site of modernist gesture, revealing a labyrinth of stratified grids. Hockney’s influence is clear in Wood’s loose gestural strokes, use of photo-collage, and scrupulous draftsmanship, and the younger artist’s admiration of his antecessor is also demonstrated in portrait homages. In 2005, Wood began depicting trading cards, which he describes as “ready-made portraits.” A prolific collector, the artist has amassed a formidable trove of sports memorabilia. One of numerous trading card portraits in the exhibition, Bo Jackson #2 (2018), a stencil-like portrayal of the baseball player within a black-and-white striated frame, evinces Wood’s engagement with the aesthetics of fan art. By treating the prosaic with sincerity and devotion, he reveals complexity and depth.
Over the course of the last two decades, Wood has considered and reconsidered architectural spaces—flattening and re-arranging them into distinct sections and adorning their walls with cultural signifiers. The artist approaches the titular paintings and the dark frame of an ornate molding in Two Picassos (2016), as well as a Matisse print and Panasonic television screen in Night Time T.V. Room with Janet (2021), with the same visual treatment, conflating both high art and everyday domesticity. In 2012, Wood first encountered the work of California-based ceramicist duo Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess. Like Wood, they delight in flattening references—Greco-Roman pottery and family photographs share pictorial space with Mickey and Minnie Mouse dancing the jitterbug—and a reverence for the handmade. Wood honors their output in works such as Frimkess Snoopy Pot with 33 on Plane (2023), a carefully rendered depiction of the nominal vessel in two-dimensions. In these homages to Frimkess, and in Wood’s practice more generally, the artist extends and plays with art historical lineages through devotional appropriation, always by hand.
To accompany the exhibition, Karma will publish a hardcover book that will feature a new essay by Douglas Fogle and a conversation between Jonas Wood and Laura Owens.
Jonas Wood (b. 1977, Boston, Massachusetts) works across a variety of genres, including portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and interior scenes. In each of these, however, his work reflects an instantly recognizable vision of the contemporary world, as well as a personal approach to subject matter defined by his affinities and experiences. Its warmth is matched by a quasi-abstract logic that breaks pictures down into layered compositions of geometry, pattern, and color. Wood works at every scale, and maintains active drawing and printmaking practices, generating techniques that he also uses in painting. Conjuring depth using flat forms—his process involves collage-based studies in which he works with photographs, breaking images apart and reassembling them—Wood probes the boundary between the new and the familiar, integrating emotionally resonant material from everyday life. Painting becomes a way to freshen the artist’s—and the viewer’s—perception of the world.
Recent solo exhibitions include Karma, New York, (2023); David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2022); Gagosian, New York (2021); Dallas Museum of Art (2019); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2016–18); and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2010). His work is in the permanent collections of the Broad, Los Angeles; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others.