Painter Jonas Wood has always loved plants. As a child, he would spend hours in his parents’ and grandparents’ gardens in Boston, taking clippings of his favourite flowers. At college, he filled his room with potted ferns. And when he moved to California in 2003, when he was in his mid-twenties, greenery began to creep into his work.
“In grad school, I was painting based on Bacon and Picasso,” he says on a video call from his studio in Los Angeles, referring to the moody, and sometimes violent, works of Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso. “But I found myself moving from darkness to light when I moved to California. Coming from the East Coast to the West Coast, the climate is so different. There are so many cacti and succulents here—they’re almost prehistoric. I was just leaning into the things I was into.”
It paid off. Wood abandoned his earlier melancholic aesthetic in favour of the work he is famous for today— bright, colourful paintings that play with scale and perspective, turning complex shapes into his signature flattened style. Woods’ distinctive still lifes have made him one of the most in-demand artists working today, popular among both intellectual collectors and curators, who have placed his paintings in institutions such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Guggenheim, as well as with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Bamford Watch Department, which have tapped him for collaborations.
Wood’s stratospheric rise can also be traced through auction results: advertising tycoon Charles Saatchi, a longtime fan, bought a piece by Wood in 2009 for US$45,000 that he went on to sell at Christie’s for more than US$600,000 in 2015. In May this year, another painting, Two Tables with Floral Pattern, sold for a record-breaking US$6.5 million at Christie’s in New York.
So there is enormous excitement among fans and collectors about Wood’s latest exhibition, which is running from November 23 to January 15 at Gagosian in Hong Kong. “I wish I could be there,” says Wood, who is unable to head to the city due to ongoing travel restrictions. “I tried my best for this show. It’s something that I really care about. I’ve been supported by amazing collectors in Asia.” Among his fans in the region are Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and K-pop star G-Dragon, both of whom own paintings by Wood, and Jennie from Blackpink, who visited his studio this summer.
The exhibition features a selection of new still-life paintings, mostly dominated by flowers, on matt black backgrounds, as well as a series of drawings of plants isolated on white paper. A set of five drawings traces the ripening of a banana from almost lime green to bright yellow and eventually to speckled with brown, inspired by a bunch that Wood grew at home and then hung in the studio. Part of the gallery is also plastered in wallpaper Wood has created especially for the show that features a kaleidoscopic selection of his colourful plant paintings.