The internet and advertising provide us with a constant barrage of images. In the face of this mass it can be hard to find meaning. Clare Woods’ current exhibition at Mead Gallery is a direct refusal of this position. She presents only a handful of works to allow us a clarity of vision which is incredibly refreshing.
Woods is a renowned British painter who predominantly works with household paints on aluminium at a very large scale and she continues utilising this process in her show of new and recent works at Mead Gallery, though we see some development. Woods is now using oils. While technically, Woods is continuing working in a way that she is well known for, the subject here has shifted. We are not seeing the abstracts with strong reference to the landscape for which she is best known but instead are seeing a figurative shift towards some kind of darker terrain. The paintings, which are seemingly each made up of only a few loose but purposeful brushstrokes, depict subjects as varied as a bouquet of flowers installed alongside another work featuring a topless, presumably teenage, male figure sporting the iconic Adidas 3 stripe tracksuit bottoms. On closer inspection the paintings are dense, the surface of the works are luminous and there are subtle details hidden within the broad strokes.
Juxtaposition is frequently used to create a sense of discomfort in Woods’ work. We saw it in her London Olympic Park commission which portrayed the site in derelict condition prior to its redevelopment and we see it again here at Mead Gallery where the combinations of works illustrate both vulnerability and confinement. The apparent affluence of the flowers alongside the tougher feeling youth leaves one feeling somehow uneasy, being unable to tell which is invading the others’ space. Both subjects are clearly also fragile.
Gesture is equally important in this show, not just that of Woods herself, though visitors can be seen imagining the artists brushstrokes, emulating the movements she may have made while painting, but also within the works themselves. Again, returning to the young man depicted in ‘The Dementor’ (2017), the way he is holding himself is key. It suggests aggression, confidence, arrogance but also apprehension and uncertainty.
The imagery, sourced from a collection of found photographs, and the seemingly rapid production combine to present us with a snapshot of contemporary life, a snapshot of reality, which, thanks to the only-just-figurative composition of marks feels dimmed. Upon exiting the show the world feels less focused but all the clearer for it.