Professor Richard Demarco
foreword to 2004 catalogue
Solo exhibition at The Bonham, Edinburgh
‘Collage’ in French means simply
to paste or glue. Now it refers to a well-known and tested
pictorial technique, originating the avant-garde movements,
which characterised the first two decades of the 20th century
world of European art.
The technique was endorsed by the Surrealists, notably, Max
Ernst and Hans Arp, and its origins in the theories and actions
of the Dadaist artists who found it necessary to protest against
the obscenity of the First World War. They questioned the
concepts of art making to the breaking point.
‘Collage’ can be clearly associated with the two
great masters of The School of Paris, Pablo Picasso and Georges
Braque. In their efforts to establish the Cubist principles,
which gave impetus to the Modern Movement in Europe, they
experimented with the use of collage in their paintings to
inspire succeeding generations of painters.
In 1912, Georges Braque began his experimentation with materials
and substances not hitherto associated with the painter’s
palette. He mixed sand, sawdust and metal filings with the
pigmentation of his oil paint. This daring mixture made tangible
the surface of his canvas as well as adding an extra dimension
of pure visual texture.
At the same time, Pablo Picasso experimented with his painting
methods. Like Braque, he brought this idea of Cubist reality
to an advanced intellectual dimension by experimenting in
‘papiers collies’, that is, in compositions with
Acknowledging the experiments of Braque and Picasso, Christopher
Wood has moved to completely abstract non-representational
paintings, questioning deeply the relationship between pictorial
and visual realities. He has done so by a subtle and successful
use of collage and reveals a deep respect for the world of
late 20th century masters, particularly Antoni Tapies and
Alberto Burri. They defined the spirit of modernism by the
distinctive ways in which they experimented with the stuff
and substance of materials. Christopher Wood has taken the
risk of freeing himself from the subject matter which has
given him his reputation as a gifted landscapist. He is now
a painter of what I must regard as ‘mindscapes’.
However, these new paintings are possessed of the distinctive
character associated with his work over the past ten years,
particularly in the degree of sheer physical energy release
which they make manifest.
The point of departure for his new work can be associated
with the birth just over one year ago of his son, Max. His
experience of fatherhood has caused him to reflect on his
role not only as a father but also as the son of his own father.
He is focussing thus on the ineffable mystery of human life
and the way in which he acknowledges this is through the act
Christopher was this year honoured with professional membership
of the Society of Scottish Artists. In their most recent exhibition
at The Royal Scottish Academy, he was awarded a prize for
his painting entitled ‘Birth’. It was a bold abstraction
and possessed of a quality beyond the limits of aesthetic
values. It could be regarded, like all meaningful art, as
a painting ascending to the condition of prayer.
Christopher Wood is an artist who could be regarded as a contemporary
Scottish Colourist because colour is a dominant factor in
the ways which he has found of depicting the ever-changing
effects of light and weather typically Scottish, particularly
those associated with Scotland’s shorelines where tidal
forces create a dramatic encounter between land and sea.
Christopher Wood’s use of colour is given a special
significance by the confident draftmanship inherent in every
paint-laden brushstroke applied to the surface of his canvas.
Christopher Wood could have easily remained content to make
paintings which come into being through his rigorous professionalism,
but now he feels the need to challenge himself by including
within his true and tested painting methods the element of
collage. In this way, he is reminding himself that Georges
Braque and Picasso must still be taken into account.
Picasso pushed beyond Braque by a daring use of non-art material
and integrating an identifiable slice of the real world –
a piece of painted oilcloth printed with an image of caning
associated with café tables and chairs into one of
his paintings – and so “collage” was born.
It came into being in 1912 in his painting entitled ‘Still
Life with Chair’.
Picasso had daringly placed a product of mass production into
the stuff and substance of its traditional opposite –
the handmade painting.
Collage gave Picasso and Braque bolder and clearer shapes
to play with and these are the shapes which are beginning
to appear in Christopher Wood’s latest works.
Christopher Wood is also well aware of the challenge given
to him by the Italian artist, Alberto Burri who died in 1996.
He was born 1918, in the Umbrian town of Citta de Castello.
His experience as an army doctor and prisoner of war in Texas
led him to become a painter. In 1948, he abandoned figurative
painting and began making abstract work with other materials,
particularly tar and pumice stone. In the fifties, he made
his art using canvas sacking, resulting in the famous ‘Sacchi
Series’. Then he used iron, wood, earth and the effects
of fire. In the eighties, he used plastic with a particular
delight in cellotex. His career was an adventure, evolving
always through risk taking – his experiments with collage
involved sewn, burned, scarred, and stained raw materials.
Another challenge lies in the work of Antonio Tapies. He has
recently given Christopher Wood much food for thought. Antoni
Tapies is a painter inspired by graffiti, imprints, sketches
and glyphs. His works are metaphysical walls arising, as he
says, from dust, ashes, earth, as well as destructive and
cataclysmic forces, all well considered in a meditative view
of the Cosmos. He, like Christopher Wood, is concerned with
the history of ideas and the influence of philosophy upon
Tapies is inspired by Heraclitus who believed that everything
changes and at the same time remains identical.
This state of constant flux is expressed in his use of latex,
emulsion and tar applied in thick layers inscribed with signs
and symbols – triangles, circles, crosses. Tapies provides
Christopher Wood with his profound thoughts, not only on avant
garde painting but on a heady mixture of Marxism, Surrealism,
psychoanalysis and the new physics. Along with those influences,
Tapies had also to take into account the generation of artists
who immediately preceded him. Outstanding among this generation
was Jean Fautrier who thought that painting should perpetually
destroy and re-invent itself and he practised his creed. He
was the initiator of informal painting – his aim was
to promote a language of ‘new signs’ – a
lyrical abstractionism. This is precisely what Christopher
Wood knows he must achieve.
Following Braque and Picasso, Fautrier inspired Burri and
Tapies and, like them, he represents a beacon of light guiding
the painters of today towards new ways of expressing the visual
world through the age-old process of making painted marks
on a two dimensional surface. Among these painters, Christopher
Wood can be identified as someone who has already contributed
a distinctive body of work. He continues to reassure those
attracted to his art that, although he works resolutely with
his eyes fixed on the international stage of contemporary
art world, his viewpoint remains steadfastly and recognisably
identified with Scotland.