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April 21, 2021

Acquisition: Jonas Wood, "Helen’s Room"

Jonas Wood, "Helen’s Room"

Jonas Wood
Helen’s Room, 2017
oil and acrylic on canvas
228.6 x 203.2 cm (90 x 80 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Purchased as the Gift of Stuart Barr, Sarah MacKey, and TSL, a Private Asian Collector
Photography by Brian Forrest
Image courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first work by contemporary artist Jonas Wood (b. 1977). Wood’s graphic painting style uses familial relations to address the real and psychological spaces that capture the intimacy and personal nature of his work. An important example of the artist’s work, Helen’s Room (2017) refers to an upstairs bedroom in Wood’s maternal grandfather’s home in Binghamton, New York. This painting, the artist has explained, created a "new, heightened memory of spending time with family."

Wood combines several studies into a single image, resulting in spatial contradictions and subtly interrupted or overlapping elements. Characteristic features of his work include art historical references (Henri Matisse’s cut-outs and Jasper Johns’s linear inventions) and the interaction of pattern with large areas of color, a mix of acrylic paint (for flat areas) and oil (for impasto details).

In Helen’s Room, Wood combines autobiographical elements and historical references with a deliberately cool tone that is highly personal. These elements create a viewing experience of depth and complexity. "Helen" refers to a housekeeper who had used the bedroom shown in the painting. Aided by a photo of the original space, Wood made the work as a combination of real and invented imagery "as remembered at age nine." The "real" elements from the photo include the cat (a Siamese belonging to the artist’s parents), the bed, copies of Matisse paintings made by SUNY Binghamton students commissioned by his grandfather, the lighting, folded maps behind the floor lamp, the phone, and the remote control on the side table. To these items, Wood added the butterfly/moth picture above the bed (a colored version was owned by Wood’s maternal uncle in a different home), and the nature scene out the window to the right (which was covered with a drape in the photo.)

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