Issy Wood - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  • Unveiled at the London-based interdisciplinary artist’s first solo show daughterproof in New York in 2020 at JTT, a gallery that launched the careers of many rising talents, Swan/He won’t 2 is a brilliant example of Issy Wood’s great ability as a “medieval millennial” i to bestow peculiarity to familiar objects and render them in a classical fashion, marking the passage of culture and time with enigmatic moments of hyper-loaded collision and fusion. Furthermore, the present lot is the titular subject of her EP album cover ‘The Blame, Pt.2’ released the same year (click to listen on Spotify).


    Taking inspiration from a variety of sources including banal moments of daily life, her grandmother’s heirlooms, auction catalogues, and screenshots of pop culture, a haunting malaise permeates Wood’s cropped depictions of an array of ephemera. Turning to objects that range from antique to contemporary and isolating them in darkness, portrayed as though they fade into obscurity, she toys with the idea of time as a sort of temporal gaslighting and configures them from being alluring objects to items of conjured tragedy. As such objects of the antique and the contemporary are strewn across the picture plane of the present work, Swan/He won’t 2 perfectly sits in the artist’s darkly imaginative world and exemplifies her exploration into the relationships between consciousness and commodity, life and form, and objects and objectification.  


    “I’m convinced the way I configure these otherwise alluring products and garments often lowers them, literally, in tone, or happily switches them from being an advert to an expression of perversion, in the way painting can do.”
    — Issy Wood



    The Uncanny & The Familiar in Wood’s Materiality


    As in Wood’s signature technique of painting on velvet depicting images of leather jackets and car interiors, Swan/He won’t 2 is equally representative of her seductive style and delights in painting the likeness of a material onto a surface of another through the representation of everyday commodities, transforming the banal daily life into something quite extraordinary and simultaneously unsettling.


    Painted on linen, she masterfully renders a close-up image of a decorative swan ornament with a flower bud in its mouth, embellished with luscious green foliage, bearing a resemblance to the retro, mass produced swan vases that almost every household would have in the late 1960s and were the perfect gift at weddings, housewarmings, Mother’s Day or to celebrate the birth of a child. The motif of swans seems to be of fascination to the artist and has appeared multiple times in her paintings, with her various Instagram posts revealing her captivation of the animal since 2019, be it a mid-century swan console table or actual swans at the pond. Her placement of pearly white highlights and loose feathery brushstrokes echoes the beauty and grace of a swan, and she subsequently intensifies the ceramic sheen to perfection.

  • Rendered with such a precision for detail, one might be mistaken for misinterpreting the smooth canvas surface for a tactile, three-dimensional object. This cognitive confusion is what Wood herself describes as ‘a sort of joke with myself about painting, alluding to painting a fabric on a different fabric […] it has an uncanniness to it.' ii The still-life of the swan ceramic is used as a form that represents a distinct connection with the human body and potentially as a neglected object of the past. Juxtaposing the denseness of the materiality of the ceramic swan, Wood inserts another recurring motif, the clock, in the upper right corner of Swan/He won’t 2, which is strangely positioned in the painting at first glance. The conjunction of the two objects would not normally be associated with each other and the result is electrifying as it’s both playful and menacing at the same time.

    The uncanniness is comparable to Salvador Dali’s Lobster Telephone from 1938, in which a lobster is balanced on a telephone, fitting snuggly and with its tail blending perfectly over the mouth part of the receiver. Clearly observing the lessons of Surrealists in finding strange beauty in the unexpected and the disregarded, Wood’s unique pointillist techniques sets the tone of a surreal scene in the present work. Playing with the contradictions of the two objects, Wood amplifies the inherent oddity with her unique style of execution and beautifully distorts reality through an enlarged lens depicting a mysterious environment that one cannot fully understand, to the extent that even everyday items are able to conjure up feelings of uneasiness.


    Salvador Dali and Edward James, Lobster Telephone, 1938
    National Galleries of Scotland
    © 2023 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    Visions of Vanitas: Fragility & Impermanence


    “What does ‘from life’ even mean in this day and age?”
    — Issy Wood


    Combining elements of the past and present in an unlikely marriage, Wood projects visions of vanitas and infuses contemporary anxieties into a classical lexicon, collapsing time in her paintings. As evidenced in Swan/He won’t 2 and like her body of works made in 2022 for the Micheal Werner gallery show Time Sensitive, she inserts a clock face in the upper corner of the canvas, alluding to the idea that time can be wasted easily online in this day in age. As a recurring motif, the clock not only evokes an Alice in Wonderland-esque escape into Wood’s dark imaginary world, but also brings to attention how one can lose track of time in this digital era inundated with social media, emails and text messages. As she explains further, ‘Time is so many things – it’s this huge deal and arbitrary measure. It is the enemy of the depressed person, for whom the days and nights are always too long. It is lateness and pissing people off, earliness and waiting. Ageing, jet lag, school, sport.’ iii


    Detail of the present lot


    Radically decontextualising her still life subjects with a cynical humour, the artist leaves the door open for interpretation and mixed messages that can realise themselves as dark and murky as the ideals projected onto her canvas. It is hard to determine whether the ceramic swan or the clock face in Swan/He won’t 2 are relics from the past or mass-produced items from the 21st century. Her practice holds an obsession with texture and surface, their contents and tonalities, which call to mind the forms of Giorgio de Chirico’s Metaphysical paintings, home to the unsettling combination of antiquity and modern inventions.


    Giorgio de Chirico, Le chant d’amour (The Song of Love), 1914
    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York,
    Artwork: © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome


    An intriguing facet of Wood’s practice is how she 'lifts' images from her sources, an approach that began during her time at the Royal Academy Schools in London. Browsing auction catalogues, she was fascinated by the glossy presentations of rare items coming up for sale that would soon disappear once again from the public eye and out of private hands. As she explains, 'It made me think about my own family’s hypothetical afternoon sale – our emotional provenance […] – and I turned to the objects belonging to my maternal grandmother: her taste […], her tureens, her silverware, the hideous watch she held onto out of familial duty.' iv Similarly, the artist also noticed this phenomenon on social media platforms, where objects, possessions and even people come and go at the flick of a swipe. Drawing inspiration from this sense of impermanence, Wood is fascinated by the potential tragedy associated with these objects, where ideals are rendered non-existent by consumerism and where heritage is leveraged as a transaction.

    Returning these familiar objects and making them somehow strange, as depicted in Swan/He won’t 2, Wood highlights our dependence on commodities, and the strained relationships we forge with them. She has a precise sensitivity to the correct ratio between the banal and the sinister and perfectly encapsulates the seductive artificiality in her pictorial planes, which is a testament to her popularity amongst art collectors and institutions alike as an accomplished painter.



    Collectors Digest


    Cortisone by Issy Wood, 2020


    • Currently living and working in London, artist and musician Issy Wood received her BA in Fine Art and History of Art from Goldsmith’s in 2015 and a MA from the Royal Academy Schools in 2018.

    • Since her first major institutional show with Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in September 2018, Wood has shown her work at institutions world-wide, including the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and Tate St. Ives. Her first Asian museum solo show, titled Good Clean Fun, was exhibited at Beijing’s X Museum from 6 December 2020 - 28 February 2021.

    • A testament to her increasing popularity in Asia, Wood made her debut in Korea on 7 September this year at the Ilmin Museum of Art. Titled I Like To Watch, the show will run until 12 November 2023.

    • Cementing her auction record in 2022 at Phillips London, which hammered down for GBP 441,000 against pre-sale estimates of GBP 100,000 - 150,000, Wood’s works are becoming increasing sought after.

    • Her top 10 auction results were achieved in the past 3 years.

    • Wood's work is held in the permanent collections of The Dallas Museum of Art; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, amongst others.



    i Issy Wood, quoted in Philomena Epps, ‘Issy Wood Talks Painting the Tragedy and Ambivalence Lurking in Luxury’, Garage, 18 March 2019, online
    ii Issy Wood in conversation with Sarah McCrory, Luncheon, No. 8., 2019, p. 60-61.
    iii Issy Wood, quoted in ‘Interview with Issy Wood and Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel’, Lafayette Anticipations, 31 July 2023, online
    iv Issy Wood, quoted in Philomena Epps, ‘Issy Wood Talks Painting the Tragedy and Ambivalence Lurking in Luxury’, Garage, 18 March 2019, online

    • Provenance

      JTT Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, JTT Gallery, daughterproof, 8 January 2020 - 9 February 2020


Swan / He won't 2

signed and dated 'Issy Wood 2019' on the reverse
oil on linen
161.1 x 217.8 cm. (63 3/8 x 85 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,000,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for HK$2,032,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 6 October 2023