"VANITAS" - Jake Wood-Evans at the MACM

15th October 2021 - 30th January 2022

Published on:

Painted during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, Jake Wood-Evans’ latest body of work once again uses inspiration from the past to reflect and engage with a distinctly contemporary mood. The pieces combine the possibility of an attempted communal return to the beauty and bounty of nature, and the inescapable reality of where we find ourselves in the present moment. Wood-Evans’ paintings form a modern day momento mori, a reminder not many of us have escaped during these previous months. Preoccupations with mortality, identity, histories, loss and fear have been hard to avoid this past year. However the concept is not intended to be wholly morbid or bleak, but can serve to inspire, motivate and clarify. 

References within the collection are drawn from the Golden Age of painting in the 17th century. They include works by Ambrosius Bosschaerts the Elder, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Jan Davidsz. de Heem and several of the rare female artists of the time, such as Maria van Oosterwyck and Rachel Ruysch. Jake Wood-Evans combines and reorders his references, just as the original artists combined flowers from different continents and seasons in one painting, creating an illusion that could not exist in reality, rearranging and even reusing these individual floral studies in several subsequent works.

Wood-Evans’ practice is in itself a form of vanitas. The subjects within the painting are in turn revealed and concealed behind a tarnished, dissolving facade. From within dappled light, a transient shape shifts as you regard the surface of the linen. The works are made in a moment of experimentation. Picasso described his own painting as ‘a sum of destructions’ - the artist builds and demolishes in the same instant. Wood-Evans’ admits his process risks overworking an idea to the point of elimination, but rarely is the canvas discarded. Surfaces are reused and recycled, as with a renewed energy ideas are reborn and adapted, yet bearing the imprint of what passed before. Physically in Wood-Evans’ work, details dissolve and form an altered, retranslated version of themselves. In this way the paintings become palimpsests. The bruises and traces of previous workings remain. These are celebrated, encouraged even, rather than denied - they become integral to the resulting image.

Jake Wood-Evans @MACM - a collaboration with Unit London