Far from warm fuzzy art, (no sunset fields here), Jack Arthur Wood, Jr. has hung a scary, shocking, and ferocious show called “This is the Worst” at Clay Street Gallery; the kind of scary that draws people to horror shows, and macabre stories. Add to this a whopping big dollop of fine art and you have a real crowd-pleaser.
One cannot set out to deliberately offend the public and be as good as Jack Arthur Wood. Talent would defeat the perpetrator every step of the way, as indeed it has.
Wood has transformed the legendary strength of relief printing into something beyond fear. His large prints are filled with jagged edges, messages boldly marching around the borders, and images of imminent danger. The eyes of animals and people alternately threaten and inspire pity, but always capture imagination.
Along with the obvious talent, Wood carves his linoleum quickly. In fact, he produced an anticipated one hundred 12” x 12” linocuts based his newest passion, comic books, during a residency at Tiger Lily Press. These were garish faces reflecting slovenly lifestyles. As a rule, speed keeps the artist from getting too wrapped up in detail. Not so for Wood. The details keep pouring out until nearly every inch is covered in design and messages. Unique combinations crop up everywhere. Two pieces in this show employed a combination of reduction lino-cut, chine colle, and silkscreen, and one of them, ”Crucifix Like a Gris Gris”, was part of a portfolio. The mind boggles at the amount of work entailed.
It’s hard to miss the correlation of Wood’s prints and Tom Huck’s “evil” prints, yet the hand makes a vast difference. Huck and Wood shared a two-week printing spree, and some of that heavy experience surely would remain in any artist. Wood will sometimes balance the harsh cuts with nearly imperceptibly more delicate marks producing a contrast that works well without being overbearing. The controlled anger, though, is compatible in both styles.
The amount of emotion made possible with cut linoleum or wood was witnessed recently in the German Expressionist exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Sharp corners and deep slices expressed the sorrow and injustice of the times better than any other two-dimensional medium could. Wood is using the weapons at his means as the voice for his art.
Opposing walls at either end of the gallery were covered top to bottom with drawings, prints and graffiti. Pieces of prints, messages, names, drawings, a sort of artistic shorthand wandered over the two surfaces, while another change of pace occupied the small raised area of another room, Here were three-dimensional collages utilizing prints, pins, staples, and metallic elements. A particularly successful piece employed staples as a design element, with the small metal surfaces catching the light .
Wood also writes very well, as evidenced in one of his statements:
“I began making art at a very young age, and have always found myself prone to the influence of creative forces and personalities. Throughout my life I have dabbled in a wild variety of creative endeavors including theater, rock n’ roll music, radio, classical music, and poetry. My poetry, and love of poetry, have often found their way into my work in the form of fleeting textual crypticisms, many of which aid narrative content. Visual art has always been my greatest love, however, and over the last several years I have developed a committed relationship to a low brow aesthetic of interpretation, a sieve through which I appropriate personal and religious myths. Through the development of my style, I have lassoed the validation and motivation necessary for the visceral procreation of my art. I move myself to work with self-degradation and an overbearing sense of guilt. Most of my work is dark and I feel it’s justified by the horrors of modern society. Although my content is derived largely from personal experience, I gather fodder and ferocity from a great many sources, mainly visual, but also literary.”
Describing his art as filled with “visceral procreation” pretty well sums it up. Viewing his work is like taking a journey which is much longer than the participant planned in its serious exploration Yet its fascination makes it worth it.