Jake Wood-Evans’ Vanitas show is now available to view at the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins, 15 October 2021 – 30 January 2022
Jake Wood-Evans’ new body of work, entitled Vanitas, forms his first solo exhibition with Mougins Museum. Influenced by traditional ‘vanitas’ artworks that symbolise the transience of life and painted during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, the artist uses inspiration from the past while simultaneously engaging with a distinctly contemporary mood. The pieces combine the possibility of an attempted communal return to the beauty and bounty of nature with the inescapable reality in which we find ourselves at the present moment. In this sense, Wood-Evans’ paintings convey a modern day memento mori; preoccupations with mortality, identity, histories, loss and fear have been hard to avoid in recent times. At the same time, this concept of the ‘vanitas’ serves equally to inspire, motivate and clarify.
References within the collection draw from the Golden Age of painting in the 17th century. They include works by Ambrosius Bosschaerts the Elder, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Jan Davidsz de Heem and several female artists of the time, such as Maria van Oosterwyck and Rachel Ruysch. Wood-Evans’ ethereal flower paintings are formed of combinations and reorderings of these references, just as the original artists merged flowers from different continents and seasons in a single work, creating illusions of reality by rearranging and reusing individual floral studies in several subsequent works.
Vanitas follows Wood-Evans’ last solo show, Relic, which referenced great altarpieces by Old Masters such as Rubens and Van Dyck, contemporaries of the Dutch Golden Age artists. Like the altarpiece works, Wood-Evans’ still life compositions present bountiful, authentically impossible arrangements of flowers while creatures and adornments provide powerful moralistic allegories. The paintings arc upwards in a celestial exhibition of light and darkness, at once representing the brevity of life and the promise of an eternal afterlife. The flowers seem to blossom upwards, reaching towards the heavens, while those blooms that fall below wilt and wither, shrouded in shadow.
In and of itself, Wood Evans’ practice is a form of vanitas. The subjects within the paintings that form his exhibition are, in turn, revealed and concealed behind tarnished and dissolving facades. Underneath dappled light, transient shapes form and reform across the surface of the linen. These works are made in moments of experimentation. Similar to Picasso’s description of his own work as ‘a sum of destructions’, Wood-Evans’ builds and demolishes in the same instant. A canvas is rarely discarded, even though the artist admits his process often risks the overworking of an idea to the point of elimination. Surfaces are reused and recycled, ideas are reborn and adapted while bearing the imprint of what has passed before. Details dissolve to form altered and retranslated versions of themselves, almost becoming visual equivalents of palimpsests. In Wood-Evans’ Vanitas, the traces of previous workings remain and are celebrated, encouraged even, rather than denied, becoming integral to the final image.