Wilfrid Wood is known to many audiences for his gently caricatured studio portraits, or his plasticine renderings of famous figures typically caught in unflattering or uncompromising positions – a hangover of his time spent working on Spitting Image.
The generally irreverent approach to his art practice makes any earnest moments all the more touching. Such is the case with a new exhibition of his drawings – titled Country Life, they are a collection of pastoral scenes rendered in pastels.
The pieces – a combination of nude drawings, still lifes, and portraiture – are all set in the “somewhat dilapidated house” in East Sussex that he grew up in. Now based in Hackney, Wood uses it as a base to while away his downtime with his boyfriend Theo, who appears alongside the artist in James Cooper’s short documentary from 2020.
Wood has been basing works on Theo for years. However, the quiet hum of the countryside adds a different dimension to his studies of his partner. Here, they are fuller and more fleshed out than usual, which is in itself a tender gesture. “The drawings of Theo in Country Life all have a bit of context – even if it’s just a bit of carpet or a bath or a pillow,” Wood tells us. “I wanted to make actual pictures rather than sketches. Country life is much slower than city life so it feels like there’s time to do something a little more expansive.”
While there, he “cuts back the brambles, drinks cider, lights the fire and draws Theo lying on the carpet”. There is no presence of anyone else except the two of them. “The environment is lovely but the people are awful,” Wood explains. “I grew up in deepest Sussex so I’m very comfortable with frogs, brambles and snakes. But speeding Range Rovers, bored pensioners in coffee shops, and traffic jams in small villages grate on the nerves.”
East Sussex ticks most of the boxes, but if Wood could spend his time inside anyone else’s paintings of country life, he would choose the world of Lois Dodd – an American artist who, having just turned 96 years old, is currently having her biggest museum show yet. Praising the way she casts reflections in windows in her works, Wood says that Dodd “paints seemingly humble scenes of country life like washing blowing in the wind, clouds over the moon, trees and cows and shadows on sheds,” he says. “They’re very un-fancy but have a curious atmosphere.”
Country Life by Wilfrid Wood is on display at Frmd, London until May 20; wearefrmd.com