Woods composes her paintings on aluminum, and the smooth surface, along with a considerable amount of planning and masking tape, allows her to control the work and apply precise brushstrokes. Her source material consists of photographs that she reinterprets, especially through the color palette. The starting point is typically black-and-white photos found in books, magazines, on the web or captured herself. This approach is profoundly personal; when she comes across a captivating image, it is employed intuitively and oftentimes inexplicably, with her only realizing the cause of the emotional resonance at a later stage.
All of the paintings in the exhibition have been created during lockdown. These extensive periods of confinement gradually intensify the otherwise trivial experience of being at home. And during a time like that, with hour after hour spent indoors, one becomes unmistakably aware of the things that we’re chosen to surround ourselves with. The mundane objects that make up our own environment, the elements that furnish each of our own makeshift isolation cells. Characteristics, patterns, and features emerge that only boredom can make us notice. Landscapes appear in the tablecloth, a melancholic incidence of light shines through the old window, the decorative flowers have been limited to a relatively short life in the vase, removed from their natural habitat. Displaced to the house, slowing withering away. Domesticated, they sigh calmly without fighting back.
Still life is a genre with a long history, a long tradition, and it’s a genre that has long been considered to be a bit old-fashioned. In the classic still lifes of the Renaissance, several motifs recur to symbolically express the transience and ephemerality of life; inevitably, the fruit will rot, the flowers will wither, the smoke will dissipate, and the bubbles will burst. Ingrained in these depictions has often been a metaphorical call to seek the bliss of the kingdom of heaven rather than the earthly, fleeting joys.
Now the still life has acquired a decidedly different significance. In the works of Clare Woods, we don’t find the moralizing thoughts of the past. Rather, her work can be perceived as an existential reflection, a confrontation with mortality, initiated by these static scenes – which perhaps are not so static after all. Everything passes away, and in a time of constant reminders of the ongoing pandemic and tragedy, an anxious attachment to one’s surroundings is virtually inevitable. The ordinary starts to appear unreal. In the flowers, for example, we sense the fragility, the fine line between blossoming and decay. However, the wistful scenes can arguably also be interpreted with a certain ebullience, as expressions of appreciation, finding peace in existence and accepting its basic premise as being-towards-death.
Clare Woods (b. 1972) is an internationally acclaimed British contemporary artist, living and working in Hereford, Wales. Clare Woods has exhibited around the world, and her works are included in numerous collections such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, The National Collection of Wales, Cardiff, and Arken Museum of Modern Art, DK.