Issy Wood’s Hypnotic Paintings Reveal the Darker Side of Femininity
Issy Wood, Mother’s maiden name, 2022. © Issy Wood. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York and Carlos/Ishikawa, London.
Issy Wood’s paintings function like a mercurial Tumblr moodboard from the early 2010s. Drafted in a stream-of-consciousness style, the works appear to be both intimate and deeply impersonal. Conveyed with a deft painterly hand, Wood’s style is both a play on Pop Art and Surrealism. With an emphasis on mundane household items, Wood’s paintings and the trancelike state in which objects, like a gold tooth or brown leather trench coat, appear leaves viewers wondering if this is real life or just fantasy.
Born in Dunham, North Carolina, Wood grew up in a family of doctors in London, where she is now based. Perhaps her upbringing helps explain the analytical gaze Wood utilizes in her paintings. One work on view through November 12th in her debut New York solo show “Time Sensitive” at Michael Werner Gallery, which co-represents the artist with Carlos/Ishikawa, depicts an opened mouth viewed from the side to reveal a sore on the gums. Titled Sore Awards 1 (2022), the image is both succulent as it is grotesque. The clinical vantage point mimics a dentist’s perspective while examining a crown, but the intimacy of potentially veering into an illness of unknown nature manifests in viewers a discomfort towards all things medical.
With an MA from the Royal Academy in London, Wood, now the age of 29, is experiencing a type of cross-disciplinary success that is incomparable to her peers. She is both a rising figurative painter with an active secondary market, as well as a musician—her debut album My Body Your Choice was independently released earlier this month. Wood’s careers in the art world and the music industry bleed into each other in her ability to find and represent femininity in otherwise masculine objects.
Issy Wood, Sore awards 1, 2022. © Issy Wood. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York and Carlos/Ishikawa, London.
In her music video for “Both” (2022), directed by Lena Dunham, Wood paints common motifs, such as a clock, on the body of actress Hari Nef. The same object appears in the corners of the darkly muted painting Idea for a playing card (2022), which depicts a pink sink at its center. This painting, not included in “Time Sensitive,” is a pretty image with a sinister undertone that leaves viewers asking why one would obsess over time-consuming activities around a sink. Frank about her history with disordered eating, Wood subtly gestures in the painting to tools or spaces that provoke and enable purging.
The clock is a running theme in “Time Sensitive,” for it evokes both an Alice in Wonderland–like escape into the dream world, but also our strange relationship with time in the digital era where one can easily lose time with social media, emails, and text messages. As Wood states in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, “What does ‘from life’ even mean in this day and age?”
Issy Wood, Roger Sterling with future ex-wife, 2022. © Issy Wood. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York and Carlos/Ishikawa, London.
Tension lies in other works as well. The frighteningly large Roger Sterling with future ex-wife (2022) features a cropped detail from the television show Mad Men (2007–15). The painting depicts an older businessman leaning in to kiss a younger woman who’s decked in diamonds and gems. Although the reference image is pulled from a fictional storyline, the scene evokes the types of leaked footage that now commonly plague our public figures. The notion that damning revelations exist for nearly every powerful person is reiterated by Wood in a track titled “Monica Lewinsky” on her latest album.
And just like that, Wood briskly entraps viewers into the next vignette—an enlarged detail of a DialPak container with birth control pills in Badly (2022). The contrast is enough to give audiences whiplash while also setting the tone for how Wood communicates emotions. Like moodboards and memes, Wood’s oeuvre demonstrates how sophisticated our intuitive interpretation is in day-to-day communication, rendering explicit narrative plots unnecessary. Wood’s paintings are powerful on their own for not just the artist’s deft skill as a draftsperson, but also her curation of images that say so much without actually saying anything at all.