Meet the British painter who’s rewriting art history one brush stroke at a time
Artists have been making studies of each other’s work for hundreds of years, but there’s a big difference between imitation and inspiration.
“In the post-internet age we live in, there’s a temptation for young artists to look to new media, conceptualism and abstract forms," says Joe Kennedy, director of Unit London Gallery, who hosts a talk with the artist this month. "Jake Wood-Evans takes British masters and reinterprets their paintings based on his experiences. He looks back to push the genre of painting forward, which sets him apart from his contemporaries.”
Since studying at the Prado museum in Madrid after university, the 35-year-old artist based in Hastings has been hooked on history paintings, and has built a reputation for his portraits inspired by Old Masters, from Velázquez to Rembrandt.
“I could probably do 20 different pieces of work using the same painting as a starting point,” says Wood-Evans. “I try hard not to make a really poor copy of a great painting. I want to make them different."
With their textured surfaces, drips and smudges, Wood-Evans’ interpretations mix contemporary and classic styles, and cast the storied paintings they reference in a new light. As a result, they highlight the influence of Old Masters in today’s art. “All these images have been around so long, they’re almost part of our subconscious,” he says. “The fact that a couple of hundred years of modern art have been and gone, that finds its way into the paintings that I make through the techniques. That’s what gives them a contemporary feel.”
In a series of new work, Wood-Evans turns his attention to British painters from the 1700s. His latest paintings darken the mood of portraits by artists like Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Henry Raeburn. Their heroic images of admirals and generals, and decadent paintings of women in their finery are all boldly reimagined. “Paintings of this time take such a proud stance; they have incredible presence,” the artist explains. “What I’ve tried to do is scrape away some of that gloss and make them slightly more haunting.” These will make up the bulk of his debut solo exhibition in London later this summer, the title of which is also lifted from the artist writings of Reynolds. “Nothing can come from nothing,” the 18th century painter famously said.
“I think, like every artist does, you take a little bit of something from everywhere,” says Wood-Evans. “The more I study these paintings, the more I find out what I’m about.”
Jake Wood-Evans: Subjection and Discipline will be on show 19 August – 11 September at Unit London.
Originally published on houseseven.com for Soho House & Co