Issy Wood’s hypnotic paintings reveal the dark side of femininity

Issy Wood’s paintings function like a mercurial Tumblr moodboard from the early 2010s. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, the works seem both intimate and deeply impersonal. Conveyed with a deft painterly hand, Wood’s style is both a play on Pop Art and Surrealism. With a focus on mundane household objects, Wood’s paintings and the trance-like state in which objects, like a gold tooth or a brown leather trench coat, appear, leave viewers wondering if he is it 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 his upbringing helps explain the analytical eye that Wood uses in his paintings. A work on display until November 12 in his first New York solo exhibition “Time Sensitive” at the Michael Werner Gallery, which co-represents the artist with Carlos/Ishikawa, depicts an open mouth viewed from the side to reveal a wound on the gums. Title Painful rewards 1 (2022), the image is both luscious and grotesque. The clinical point of view mimics the perspective of a dentist when examining a crown, but the intimacy of a potential turn to an illness of an unknown nature manifests in viewers an unease with anything medical.

Holder of an MA from the Royal Academy in London, Wood, now aged 29, enjoys an interdisciplinary achievement incomparable to her peers. She is both a rising figurative painter with an active secondary market, as well as a musician – her first album my body your choice was released independently earlier this month. Wood’s careers in the art world and the music industry intertwine in her ability to find and portray femininity in otherwise masculine objects.

In her music video for “Both” (2022), directed by Lena Dunham, Wood paints common designs, like a clock, on actress Hari Nef’s body. The same object appears in the corners of the dark muted paint 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 an eerie undertone that leaves viewers wondering why anyone would be obsessed with time-consuming activities around a sink. Candid about her history with eating disorders, Wood subtly nods in the painting to the tools or spaces that cause and enable purging.

The clock is a common theme in “Time Sensitive”, as it evokes both a Alice in Wonderland– like escaping into the dream world, but also our strange relationship to time in the digital age where time can easily be wasted with social media, emails and text messages. As Wood puts it in the accompanying exhibition catalog, “What does ‘of life’ mean even today?”

The tension also resides in other works. The scary big Roger Sterling with his future ex-wife (2022) features a cropped detail from the TV show Mad Men (2007–15). The painting depicts an older businessman leaning down to kiss a younger woman who is adorned with diamonds and gems. Although the reference image is taken from a fictional script, the scene evokes the kinds of leaked footage that now commonly plagues our public figures. The idea that damning revelations exist for almost all powerful people is reiterated by Wood in a track titled “Monica Lewinsky” on her latest album.

And just like that, Wood vividly traps viewers in the next vignette – an enlarged detail of a DialPak container with birth control pills in it. Wrong (2022). The contrast is enough to give the audience a boost while also setting the tone for how Wood communicates emotions. Like moodboards and memes, Wood’s work demonstrates how sophisticated our intuitive interpretation is in everyday communication, rendering explicit narrative plots unnecessary. Wood’s paintings are powerful on their own not only for the artist’s skillful skill as a draughtswoman, but also for her preservation of images that say so much without saying anything at all.

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