Issy Wood - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips
  • "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 
    Turning fashion into fetish, The butter’s closely cropped depiction of a belted leather trench coat is a particularly seductive example from Issy Wood’s most iconic series. Executed on linen in rich, creamy tones of beige and tan that visually recreate the tactile qualities of brushed leather, The butter very deliberately plays with modes of cognitive estrangement, generating jarring collisions between image, idea, and material in what she has described as ‘a sort of joke with myself about painting, alluding to painting a fabric on a different fabric […] it has an uncanniness to it.’i 

    While clothes often carry a strongly autobiographic element, standing in for the wearer and articulating something of their personality or identity, Wood’s jackets – the majority of which belong to women -  feel strangely unworn, a result, perhaps, of the second-hand nature of Wood’s source material. Gleaned from the pages of old auction catalogues, second-hand eBay purchases, and iPhone photographs, Wood foregrounds a certain tragicomic element embedded within contemporary commodity culture, establishing an ‘intoxicating interplay of desire, luxury, and degradation’ in her strange, sensual compositions.ii Wood took this a step further in her major presentation for Goldsmith’s Centre for Contemporary Art in 2019, installing a selection of ‘failed eBay purchases, or clothing purchases that I made in some kind of insomniac haze’ that the artist had painted over. As Wood explains, these poorly fitting or unsuitable garments speak ‘to my taste in the negative: for dysmorphic or aesthetic reasons I have chosen not to wear [these items] but instead have painted on [them].’iii


    Domenico Gnoli, Green Bust, 1969, Private Collection. Image: Album / Scala, Florence, Artwork: © Domenico Gnoli, SIAE / DACS, London 2022

    Formally, Wood’s closely-cropped and magnified portraits of everyday objects establish a relationship with Domenico Gnoli’s surreal visions of painted details of clothes, furniture and highly stylised hair, and yet, while Gnoli’s compositions always refer back to the body that occupies them, Wood’s are strangely divorced from their human counterpart. A favourite motif of the artist, jackets in particular come to stand for a kind of protective armour for the wearer, having ‘[s]omething to do with privacy, and armour and a kind of defence – or a shell or second skin, depending on what you want to protect yourself from.’iv 


    With its clean lines and subtle tailoring, the trench coat is ‘The opposite of a statement piece, the trench melds itself to the wearer, becoming whatever it needs to be at that moment.’v The wardrobe staple of film noir and hardboiled detective thrillers, the trench coat is a potent signifier in our pop culture imaginary, assuming multiple identities as a tool of seduction and as a mode of subterfuge and disguise. Bringing the two sets of association together in one image, Wood endows the painting with a powerful erotic charge, one that is further complicated by the soft, yielding associations introduced by the work’s title. 


    Left: Sophia Loren in The Key, 1958
    Right: René Magritte, The Use of Speech, 1927 – 1929, Private Collection. Image: © NPL - DeA Picture Library / G. Nimatallah / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

    Like René Magritte’s playful exposure of the arbitrariness of the relationship between sign and meaning, Wood’s title introduces a further interaction between image and word, ‘butter’ at once connecting to the material qualities of the jacket – its colour and the rich, creamy tactility of the leather – and undercutting the notion of the jacket’s ability to function as a kind of protective armour. Glamour, in this instance, is shown to be ‘another protective façade […] for anxieties around the female body, economic class, mental health – and, thus, intimately entwined with the experience of pain.’vi

    Referencing her classical style and the darkly imaginative world that her paintings inhabit, Wood is often described as a ‘medieval millennial’, an appropriately discordant description for an artist so adept at generating temporal dissonance in the collision between the antique and the contemporary, the valued and the discarded that her paintings dramatise.vii Returning these familiar objects and making them somehow strange, Wood highlights our dependence on commodities, and the strained relationships we forge with them.  

    Collector’s Digest 


    • Since her first major institutional show with Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in 2019, Wood has exhibited her work world-wide, including the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Tate St. Ives, and Beijing’s X Museum. In 2021 her work was included in the critically acclaimed exhibition of contemporary painting in Britain, Mixing it Up: Painting Today at the Hayward Gallery in London. 

    • Featured in the Artsy Vanguard 2020, her works now reside in the permanent collection of Beijing’s X Museum, where she also enjoyed a significant solo exhibition in 2020. Her work is currently on view in New York as part of her solo exhibition Issy Wood: Time Sensitive with Michael Werner Gallery. 


    • An established musician, Issy Wood is signed with producer Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records, with her second EP If It’s Any Constellation released earlier this year. 


    i Issy Wood, quoted in ‘Issy Wood in Conversation with Sarah McCrory’, Luncheon, No. 8., 2019, p. 60-61.
    ii Rosanna Mclaughlin, ‘Issy Wood’, Mixing it Up: Painting Today, (exh. cat.), London, Hayward Gallery, 2021, p. 112. 
    iii Issy Wood, quoted in ‘Issy Wood in Conversation with Sarah McCrory’, Luncheon, No. 8., 2019, p. 60. 
    iv Issy Wood, quoted in ‘Issy Wood in Conversation with Sarah McCrory’, Luncheon, No. 8., 2019, p. 61. 
    v Janelle Okwodu, ‘Here’s Looking at You, Burberry! The Trenchcoat’s Greatest Moments on Film, Vogue, 21 February 2016, online
    vi Marg Kross, ‘Issy Wood From Life’, Cura, 2019. 
    vii Naomi Rea, ‘They’re very similar attitudes’: Artist Issy Wood on her double life as a paintings sensation and ascendent pop star’, ArtNews, 20 November 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Carlos/Ishikawa, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


The butter

signed and dated ‘I. Wood 2019’ on the reverse
oil on linen
140.5 x 100.3 cm (55 3/8 x 39 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 120,000 ‡♠

Sold for £277,200

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022