Rising artists to watch: Issy Wood

Stefano Pirovano

Here is how we have met Issy Wood and why her enigmatic painted words seduced us. Artist’s first solo exhibition at Carlos/Ishikawa in London next November.

We met Issy Wood for the first time last year in Paris at Chez Omar, a popular Maroccan restaurant in Le Marais. We had been invited there by Nadine Ziedler and Amadeo Kraupa Tuskany, who were attending the FIAC that week. Issy was also a guest of them. It was a mild Friday or Saturday night. The small restaurant – a typical overpriced Parisian place with no clothes on the tables and too easy going waiters – was packed. Roughly twenty people, mostly art people, were sitting at our table.

Issy Wood
Issy Wood, Hard Brexit / Heel, Boys! 2017; oil on canvas 176 x 120 cm. Courtesy of Carlos/Ishikawa.

Issy Wood was sitting in front of us. She was wearing a burgundy sweater. We remember the low tone of her voice and a sort of straightforward curiosity in her eyes. She didn’t talk much. It seemed that she was mainly interested in listening to what other people were saying. At some point she went straight out to the street to smoke a cigarette.

When a few months later we met her for the second time – that occurred early this year in London, at the Union Pacific Club, in occasion of Condo’s opening party – we didn’t recognize her. Until last January she was just someone we met somewhere a couple of times.

Issy Wood
Issy Wood, Untitled, 2017, oil on velvet 50 x 40 cm. Courtesy of Carlos/Ishikawa.

But then we went to visit Independent art fair in Brussels. While we were looking around for the most wanted Kasper Bosmans (sold out at Barbara Gladstone) we bumped into something also interesting at Carlos/Ishikawa booth. It was a small oil on canvas picturing half of a human figure in burgundy high heel boots. As soon as the gallery told us the name of the artist who made the piece a bell rang in our mind. “Yes, she is Issy Wood” a friend confirmed over the phone, “the artist we met in Paris”. And that’s how we have been discovered by her. Now the face had a name, and also a quite defined painting style that we would locate somewhere along the lines of Renoir, Seurat, Goya, Velásquez, Rubens, hence some of the old masters she likely studied during her BA in Fine Art & History of Art at Goldsmiths in London.

She has taken Cezanne and Seurat’s painting’s lightness, and she probably admires Velásquez and Goya’s extraordinary ability to organize the elements on the canvas’ space (Goya had a seminal exhibition at the National Gallery in 2015, which she might have visited). Rubens had a unique sensitivity for red and a brush stroke fluidity, that same fluidity she was apparently looking for while painting those high heel boots… needless to say that these are great masters and Issy Wood is only 24. But certain references she sometimes puts in her paintings are too evident to miss, at least for an educated eye. Or, to put it differently, the best of Issy Wood’s painting is more often than not addressed to the history of this medium. Rather than forgetting it as many talented emerging artist were doing up to a couple of years ago, she tries to dialogue with it, as some established contemporary masters such as Victor Man, Adrian Ghenie or Michaël Borremans are doing.

Issy Wood
Issy Wood, the lie-in 2017,, oil on canvas 70 x 80.5 cm. Courtesy of Carlos/Ishikawa.

Is also this second group of references too much? A couple of hours that we spent on her blog – Chew and Swallow – have convinced us that probably they are appropriate. It doesn’t cost you reading more than two or three of her posts to realize that she is giving equal importance to form and information; and that is fundamental, especially when the artist is dealing with painting. From Leonardo Da Vinci to Lucien Freud, from Vincent Van Gogh to Luc Tuymans, art history has proved that great artists are as interested in the intangible side of their art as they are in the tangible part of it. And all these extraordinary examples make also clear that the two sides have to be perfectly merged, fully integrated. By reading Wood’s writings you will learn how the fragmented system of symbols, characters and events she is generating with words is fully committed to her painting expressiveness and fondness for close ups (eyes, mirrors, shells, fan, hands). Of course she is neither the first artist nor the only one in the history doing it. But we think that she is taking all the risks an artist is required to take for succeeding; as in the case, for instance, of the nice Sphinx painted on red velvet that we saw at Liste Basel last June. Those who don’t make mistakes will never improve.

The last encounter with Issy Wood took place a couple of weeks ago in Copenhagen, where we attended Chart and the second edition of Code Art Fair. While visiting this latter we saw three more pieces by Issy and Carlos/Ishikaw’s director confirmed that next November she will have her first solo show at the gallery. We would like to wish her all the best.

October 23, 2020