Issy Wood's first Asia solo dazzles in Beijing

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Help Yourself (Large) by Issy Wood. [Photo provided to]

As many art lovers flock in droves to downtown Beijing to see late Italian still life master Giorgio Morandi's solo, others make a point to visit the capital's northeast end, where American artist Issy Wood, a rising star in the art world, is holding her first Asia solo at the X Museum.

Co-curated by Huang Xufu and Yang Yuqing, Issy Wood: Good Clean Fun, running through Feb 28, presents about 50 pieces spanning painting, writing and installations from the young artist's recent practice.

Upon entering the museum's right hall, visitors are greeted by several large-sized velvet paintings depicting either luxurious car interiors or leather jackets in tight close-up.

Using lush velvet as her medium and choosing leather objects as her subject matter, the artist creates a"texture-on-texture effect" in her painting, said William Weydig, an art aficionado who visited the exhibit's opening Saturday.

The close-cropped compositions, together with the subdued colors, an effect from painting on black velvet, strike many viewers as claustrophobic.

"The painting makes it hard to breathe; it feels like I'm locked in this dark space," a visitor commented in front of Wood's Tricky Question/Car Interior, featuring crimson leather back seats in a sedan.

Featuring porcelain tableware, another two series, Helping Yourself and Serve You Right, were done in a similar vein. They conjure up zoomed-in images on a phone screen, which the artist, born in 1993, revealed as an inspiration gained from browsing social media platforms.

The tableware, as Wood told the curators, was found in the pages of auction catalogues dating back to the 1970s and '80s that she found in her grandma's house.

The fuzzy, out-of-focus feel of the paintings recalls images one sees from the outside of a dusty window or photographs discoloring with age.

"The way she renders the old objects makes me feel as if they were fading away," said curator Huang Xufu, who co-founded X Museum in 2020.

Hung on the museum's grayish terracotta walls, Wood's work, against the space's muted lighting, emanates a sense of sadness.

"The sadness characteristic of Wood's painting is reminiscent of the mono-no-aware in Japanese culture," said curatorial assistant Yang Yuqing. "The term refers to people's gentle wistfulness caused by realizing the impermanence of things."

Also on show is an installation comprising a dozen vintage suits, each painted with a certain Chinese zodiac animal and corresponding years. Titled Chinese Zodiac Animal Jacket, the series was tailor-made for the artist's China solo, according to the curators.

At the end of the show, viewers are invited to enter Wood's sanctum to interact with the artist in a more intimate and personal manner.

There visitors can squat down to view the floor decorated with the artist's hand-painted tiles, read When You I Feel and All The Rage, two compilations of the artist's writing, and appreciate a roster of small-size paintings that reveal the humor, sarcasm and surrealism that characterize the millennial artist's work.

For example, a painting titled Hold onto Your Teenage Daughters depicts a close-up of a pig's head with a squinting eye. Another painting combines a beautiful woman sporting vampire teeth, with bubbles, cupcakes and a diamond-shaped clock, an item the artist included in many of her paintings created in 2020.

"She's good at layering everyday objects with something extraordinary, making her work quite funny and also recognizable," said Huang, who came across Wood's work three years ago and was impressed by her distinct style.

A painting sensation in the art world, Wood, who graduated from RA Schools in 2018, has been invited to hold solos at a number of the world's prestigious art museums, including the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art and Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.

When asked why he decided to curate a museum exhibition for an emerging artist like Wood, Huang said it's in line with X Museum's founding mission, giving a platform to young artists from both home and abroad.

"We dare to hold museum solos for young artists who are still fledgling in their careers, which can help them flourish fast," Huang said, adding the museum is already planning on holding solos for artists like Wood.

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