Visiting the "Jonas Wood" exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is like walking though the American painter's personal photo albums. Jonas Wood's first major solo exhibition, on view through July 14, highlights Wood's artistic style while reflecting on the people and places important in his life.
The exhibition consists of more than 30 large-scale paintings featuring his childhood home, a colorful array of plants and portraits of friends and family. Wood's process begins with a photo or image.
"The way that I find work or start work is I take a picture, I find a picture, I manipulate a picture. I take photos and put them together," Wood said. "I gather images and gather images and say, 'I want to make landscapes' and I do research in my giant source pile."
From those preparatory collages of source photos emerges re-imagined concepts of places he has lived and worked, interiors he admires and landscapes that intrigue him.
"I'm not a photo-realist," Wood said. "The way that I think about painting is that I'm just making large shapes and making smaller shapes and then making very small lines and that's sort of how I put together my paintings. I think less about if this is real for the viewer and more of if it's balanced as a painting."
Not interested in falling off a ladder, Wood often paints upside-down. He flips his source image or drawing to continue his creation process seamlessly. "I build my paintings like a builder, from back to the front. I know what I'm painting," Wood said.
A painting of his parents' New England backyard depicts a shed covered in something North Texans do not immediately recognize: snow.
"I really wanted to make a painting about snow and pattern. You can see the patterning fighting with the realism at the same time," Wood said. The snowy scene is now part of the DMA's collection.
Wood loves plants. Moving to California introduced him to new varieties of flowers and trees. A gallery focuses on a series of clippings depicting simple large-scale versions of favorite plants. The gallery is covered in a wallpaper of tennis balls, creating a playful atmosphere. "I do think these paintings are about beauty and focusing on shape and color," Wood said.
There are two rooms of portraits in the exhibition. One portrait gallery features makers of art. The youngest of the art makers is Wood's daughter, shown staring into a mirror as she paints her own face. Other portraits portray Mark Grotjahn, Akio Takamori, Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Philip Guston, artists Wood respects and frequently counts as friends. "I love Philip Guston. This one of the first artist portraits I made besides making a self-portrait," Wood said.
The second portrait gallery presents his family. Wood readily admits his childhood was not happy. "I'm happy now," Wood said. "Painting is my savior; painting makes me healthy and painting makes me happy."
A pair of portraits reveals how Wood uses art to process his past. One portrait is based on a picture of his mother holding a cat. She looks away and the cat becomes the more prominent subject. Next to it is a similar self-portrait of Wood. His face is unobscured, his gaze is steady.
"This is how I see how I want to be present and available and my mom wasn't so much to me, so that's part of talking about painting as healing and helping myself," Wood said. "I can remake something into a more pleasant experience, even if it wasn't at the time."
His painting of his family's Sears family portrait is on display for the first time. There is a portrait of Wood's grandfather, a doctor who became an amateur artist and art collector later in life. Wood considers growing up with his grandfather's art collection a significant influence. His wife, Shio Kusaka, is a ceramist and her vessels often appear in Wood's work. Even his dog's cocker spaniel lineage is part of his reinterpretation of his sister's bedroom.
"The Bat/Bar Mitzvah Weekend" depicts the family portrait taken by Elsa Dorfman, a photographer who owns one of the few large-format instant Polaroid cameras. When the painting was displayed at a hometown museum, Wood received messages from people in the area who remembered having their portrait taken by Dorfman. "It's about Boston," Wood said.
In portraying personal subjects, Wood conveys universality.
"Jonas Wood" is part of the DMA's free admission.