Brian Wood’s drawings are literally visionary. They derive from what the artist describes as a “trance-like” state, where the ego is consumed by the image, as the inner mind and hand become vital conduits for arising images. This inner process results in drawings that invoke nuanced mental states, fragmented memories, and perhaps most important, a glimpse at the unknown. Holland Cotter wrote in his NY Times review of Brian Wood’s 2014 solo show Enceinte that the artist creates “a kind of Symbolist world in which emerging into life and being devoured by it are part of the same inexorable process.” In a cynical age with ubiquitously ironic art, this unabashed approach to the spiritual elements in the process of art making is quite refreshing.
There is a sense of swift motion running throughout all thirteen graphite drawings in Brian Wood’s current show at Arts+Leisure. This sense of fluidity along with the drawings’ intimate scale create a unified viewing experience, where the viewer is invited to join in the artist’s intensely intimate journey. For the artist it is a mystical experience, as he elaborates in a vivid essay included in the extensive catalogue that accompanies the show. The artist further says that some images reappear in different guises over the years going all the way back to childhood – “fire, beings, projecting proboscises, feelers and tongue-like forms, stretching limbs, shifts of objects becoming space and space becoming objects.”
For instance, in the earlier drawing “Passage”, from 2012, a curved row of teeth rooted on what can read as a lip, a vagina, a worm, a flower, or a hybrid of all, dominates the left part of the drawing. Out of the teeth, which are depicted with incisive sharp lines and shaded values, a triangular eruption spews towards the middle and evaporates into a void that translates visually into a bright light, reminiscent of an overexposed photograph. The eye moves to the right where a trace of a circle is still faintly visible, as if in the process of erasure. We are looking at a circle, a portal to an inner space, a passage into the unknown which is both ethereal and tangible.
The circular form in “Passage” shifts into a triangle in “Cathedral”, a more recent drawing from 2018 where an amalgam of what can read as microscopic life, birds, fossils, and skeletal body parts merge into an enigmatic machine-like entity. Here, the tension between the nuanced lines and the bold Volumatic shapes creates a mysterious lyrical quality that relates to what Brian Chidester wrote in Ephemera, 2015, “for this artist, nature went one way; it could have gone another. It may yet still.” As indicated in previous texts, the artist’s early imaginative experience was formed growing up on a farm in northern Saskatchewan’s harsh wilderness, where nature – severe weather, life and death cycles of animals and crops – were an integral part of daily life. But nature for Wood is not limited to what we see with our eyes open. He defies in his work the limits of consciousness, deriving his impetus from the primordial phase of pre-self.
In “Chora”, also from 2018, Wood’s lines become increasingly tonal from bottom to top, finally submerging within a darkened haze. The composition here forms as a vertical massive rectangle, titled and curved upwards with gusto. There are many complex interpretations to the idea of “chora”, starting in a nutshell from Plato’s creation story ”Timaeus”, where he describes it as an enigmatic force related to place. Then Julia Kristeva’s borrowed use, bringing “chora” to the realm of pre-lingual stage of development when the self is undistinguished from the world, without boundaries. Wood’s “Chora” seems to associate more with Kristeva’s sense of a world before language, where the conventional separation between in and out dissipates. In this phase the body ejects from its shell and turns itself into space, linking to the outside world in a perpetual dynamic process. Wood’s experience and passionate yearning for a different vantage to reality is reflected with poignant vitality in his marks.
In an erudite essay for Jeannie Freilich Contemporary exhibition catalog in 2008, Saul Ostrow argues that Wood’s drawings can be perceived as the product of an inexplicable aspect of existence seeking representation by the artist, and alternately, as an attempt by the artist to gain control over the unimaginable. Ostrow sums it up best: “It is our inability to differentiate between the one and the other that makes Wood’s work both fanciful and traumatic.”
Brian Wood Drawings at Arts + Leisure
1571 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10029
Through September 2st, 2019