MIEL PAEK delves into Issy Wood’s unique audio-visual world, exploring how music and art work to create connection and feeling.
Rotting away in the perfect indentation of my bed with a muted Zoom class droning on in the background, I had lots of time to scour the internet for new music. I stumbled across Issy Wood, but found little information aside from the beautiful squares of artwork filling her Spotify page. Featuring small trinkets, as if she had painted a still life of rubble found at a car boot sale, her work creates a sense of ambiguity between reality and fantasy, teetering on the line between hyperrealism and textural fuzziness.
The moment the music began, I was enveloped in a world of sound where crunchy, grunge-muted guitar riffs resonated with a raw, gritty edge. These earthy tones were placed against angelic vocals ethereal in quality. The lyrics, whimsical yet violently odd and deeply relatable, added layers of intrigue and mystique. Each note, each word, seemed to pull me deeper. Quickly, Wood became the star of all my Spotify playlists, each carefully curated to include her, opening with the heavy distorted drums that encapsulate her sound.
In the waning months of 2021, I found myself wandering the halls of the Hayward Gallery, a cherished haven nestled in the heart of London. To me, the gallery is more than just a space for art; it’s a sanctuary where I once stood guardian of the masterpieces, just a girl entrusted with their care as gallery steward. The trust placed in me, despite my doubts about my physical ability in any capacity, are memories I hold dear. During this particular visit, the gallery was alive with the vibrant exhibition Mixing It Up: Painting Today, a contemporary showcase of independent artists exploring themes of race and gender through acrylic and oil paintings. In the second room of the exhibition, my eyes were immediately drawn to the unmistakable works of Issy Wood. Her art was instantly recognizable; the textural fuzziness alongside the mundane subjects of the paintings, in this case metallic statues, were undoubtedly Wood. The moment was electric, a visceral surge of excitement coursing through me at the sight of her creations in person. Each brushstroke, each enigmatic image conjured, resonated in me with a profound familiarity, yet still maintained the thrill of discovery. Standing there, amidst the echoes of artistic expression, I felt a deep connection to Wood’s unique visual language, feeling both awed and intimately at home in its presence.
Issy Wood’s art allows a back-and-forth between the personal and the impersonal, rendered in a style that combines elements of Pop Art and Surrealism. Growing up in a family of doctors, Wood’s paintings sometimes exhibit an analytical gaze, as seen in ‘Sore awards 1’, which combines the clinical with the intimate. In it, she describes the ability to tell someone’s level of happiness through their teeth, an attention to detail which playfully subverts notions of anatomy and health.
Wood has a reputation for cross-disciplinary success, blending her careers in art and music to comment on various societal issues. For instance, the recurring motif of clocks in her work and music videos symbolises the complex relationship with time in the digital era. Paintings like ‘Roger Sterling with future ex-wife’ touch on themes of relationships, impermanence, and the public persona. By using a figure like Roger Sterling, possibly an allusion to a character from popular culture (such as the TV show Mad Men), Wood explores the façade of perfection often presented in the public eye versus the reality of personal turmoil and transient relationships. This work could be seen as a commentary on the dissonance between public and private lives, especially in the context of celebrity culture and the media. Wood’s oeuvre demonstrates her ability to communicate emotions through imagery, allowing for a sophisticated, intuitive interpretation from her audience.
Wood’s creative process is driven not by impulse but by a need to cope, as she describes painting and songwriting as essential to dispelling feelings of depression. Still, she maintains a critical distance from her personal identity in her work, allowing it to exist without bias or personal image distorting the way it is consumed by others.
In the elusive world Issy Wood weaves, I find more than just art or music; I discover fragments of myself mirrored in her creations. Her work seems to whisper directly to the core of my being, each stroke of her brush, each lyric, echoing my innermost thoughts and feelings. In narrating these so clearly, Wood forges a space where one is able to indulge in those feelings; she not only guides us, but illuminates the darkest of times, as well as embellishes the best of times, with the upbeat tone of her sound. In her genius, I am reminded that art is not just seen or heard but deeply felt, a rare connection that continues to resonate within me and everyone who has the pleasure of entering her world.
Featured Image: Issy Wood’s Studio, 2020, courtesy of Kuba Ryniewicz.