Issy Wood - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips
  • "Wood treats [her subjects] like textbooks of desire, manuals for mysterious constructions of want."
    —Matthew McLean 

    Presenting a black luxury convertible that appears to emerge from a dark abyss, Actual car 2, 2019, is a manifestation of Issy Wood’s “intoxicating interplay of desire, luxury and degradation.”i Extracting her source material from online auction archives and catalogues, her grandmother’s heirlooms, and her own photographs, the emerging London-based artist is best known for her uncanny depictions of cars and leather jackets. Here, she appears to draw from a found aerial shot of a 1950s Mercedes Benz 300 SL, reimagined through her painterly sensibility. Showcasing Wood’s signature technique of painting on velvet, the present work exemplifies the artist’s investigations on the relationships between consciousness and commodity, masculinity and femininity, glamor and tragedy.


    Domenico Gnoli, Ladies Shoes, 1968. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Artwork: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

    "Cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object."
    —Roland Barthes

    In her car series, Wood weaves notions of gender and desire that permeate her work by playing with the slippery distinctions between object and objectification. While the artist’s paintings of leather jackets “represent a kind of woman…I think of the cars as quite a masculine environment,” the artist explained. “The car is an escape for a man, it’s where one can experience a kind of freedom—or at least that’s how advertising sells a car...It’s fun to try that on for size, to see what it would be like to be a man for whom this is a desirable object.”ii Wood further addresses this notion of desire in her writings, where she quotes Roland Barthes’ statement in her observation of the hallowed and erotic aura that surrounds sports cars in modern culture. In Actual car 2, the convertible is presented like a divine object as the interplay of light and shadow sensually highlights its body.


    [left] Luigi Russolo, Dynamism of an Automobile, 1912-1913. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Image: © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY [right] Robert Bechtle, ’71 Buick, 1972. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Image: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Robert Bechtle and Whitney Chadwick Trust. Courtesy of the Robert Bechtle and Whitney Chadwick Trust, and Gladstone Gallery

    "A found painting surface, such as an old tarpaulin, a dark-coloured velvet...already has its own structure and history. Such surfaces are not neutral; they are not passive, but instead already have a voice of their own and the power to evoke mood."
    —Max Hollein

    In a 2019 interview, the artist revealed that works such as Actual car 2 mark a new development in her car series by making the color of her subject the same as that of the respective velvet support. By painting directly on velvet, Wood at once explores the visual and tactile through her painterly process, revealing the power of materiality to convey mood and meaning. Here, the rich black velvet and matched palette engenders the dark and eerie mood pervading the composition, evoking the black-hole silence of the background and barren seats. In the Western art historical canon, velvet paintings originated as a sanctified medium reserved for portraying religious icons and, by the 20th century, became kitsch statements of anti-art eventually elevated into the realm of “high art” by artists such as Julian Schnabel. The present work thus situates itself within the charged history of the velvet medium as Max Hollein observed, while also alluding to a timeless fabric that—like modern luxury cars—symbolize power, desire, and wealth. In this way, Actual car 2 captures the striking dialogue between representation and materiality, past and present, with which Wood engages in expressing the “seductive artificiality” and “angst” of glamor.iii


    Julian Schnabel, Saint Vulture, 1983. Rubell Museum, Miami. Artwork: © Julian Schnabel/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "I’m playing with time, too. I lay the foundations for something that hints at the early twentieth century and throw in [a contemporary clue], as a sort of temporal gaslighting."
    —Issy Wood

    Calling herself a “medieval millennial,” Wood devised the term in referencing her signature classical style that is now widely recognized as her unique brand of Neo-Surrealism. Trained at the Royal Academy of Arts, Wood’s mastery and use of a historic painterly language often leaves viewers perplexed on the date of her works. “It’s gratifying…if someone can’t tell whether [my] paintings were made in 2010 or 1910,” she shared, though at times she enjoys “throwing in a contemporary reference, a couple of clues that maybe this wasn’t [the past].”iv,v Here, she paints the year of the work’s creation onto the composition, a device discretely used throughout her practice thus far. Yet, Wood does not simply date the work for clarity, but rather adds another layer of temporal complexity by rendering the numbers in Gothic font, epitomizing her oxymoronic self-identification. As she reflected, “What does ‘from life’ even mean in this day and age?”vi



    i Rosanna Mclaughlin, “Issy Wood,” Mixing it Up: Painting Today, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 2021, p. 112.
    ii Issy Wood, quoted in “Issy Wood in Conversation with Sarah McCrory,” Luncheon, no. 8, 2019, p. 61.
    iii Philomena Epps and Issy Wood, quoted in “Issy Wood Talks Painting the Tragedy and Ambivalence Lurking in Luxury,” Garage, March 18, 2019, online.
    iv Issy Wood, quoted in Griselda Murray Brown, “Paint the Moment: Why millennials are Turning to Oil and Canvas,” The Financial Times, April 20, 2018, online.
    v Issy Wood, quoted in Matthew McLean, “Get Weird: Justin Fitzpatrick, France-Lise McGurn, Issy Wood and Tom Worsfold,” Frieze, no. 194, March 12, 2018, online.
    vi Issy Wood, quoted in Margaret Kross, “Issy Wood: From Life,” CURA, no. 31, Summer 2019, p. 200.

    • Provenance

      Carlos/Ishikawa, London
      John Wolf Fine Art, Los Angeles (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection


Actual car 2

signed and dated "Issy Wood 2019" on the stretcher
oil on velvet
60 7/8 x 43 3/8 in. (154.6 x 110.2 cm)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $478,800

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022