CHRISTOPHER P Wood always says that art chose him. He had little say in the matter. All feelings, fields of study and other areas of curiosity fed into his exploration of the world of the imagination.
They’re inner landscapes given material presence. Physical landscapes are there as a theatrical setting for what is going on in the mind. Even when he attempts an explanation of these densely worked dreamscapes spiked with allegory, a huge part of their magnetism is that there is something that will remain mysterious.
The artist – born in Leeds and educated at Allerton Grange High school alongside Damien Hirst and Marcus Harvey, before studying at Chelsea School of Art in the mid-80s – is influenced by the visionary artists William Blake and Graham Sutherland. His work, he says, is about imagination – “not in a fanciful, but a serious way”.
A vivid, livid oil on canvas The Poet Wordsworth has the romantic figure of the poet set in the midst of dense vegetation rising up from a fiery earth. As with many of Wood’s works, the world above the ground is less intense and challenging than the ‘immaterial world’ seething below.
“The figure of the poet is actually just an actor in the landscape,” says Wood. “It’s the painting as a whole that is a metaphor for his rich imagination and worship of nature.”
Not long after his final year show, Wood’s pieces were selling through a Cork Street gallery then at Agnew’s, the same private gallery that had once exhibited Turner’s work. Whether he is reading Jung, Ovid or Dante and playing out their ideas through his paintings, etchings, monoprints and more recently, a series of more than 100 collages which incorporate fragments of his previous pieces and even bits of Picasso (yes, really), he sticks to what arouses his curiosity rather than catching a fashionable wave.
Now 51, Wood returned to Leeds 25 years ago, but his work has always been shown locally, nationally and internationally. Public galleries in York and Harrogate own pieces, and he sells well through the Hester Gallery in Leeds as well as in London, but until now an exhibition in a public gallery in his home city has eluded him.
However for next three months his work can at last be seen in a public space in Leeds, at Leeds University’s Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery.
“It means a great deal to me,” he says. “I’m not sure why it hasn’t happened before...perhaps curators think that if you show in a private gallery locally, in London and at public galleries around the country that you don’t need their support. But this is a very big thing for me.”
The show ranges from the surreal Conversation With The King, heavily inspired by reading Arthurian legends and featuring the essence of the king rising up from the earth as an essence distilled into a kind of fairy dust, to landscapes in which alchemic motifs are at play in the universe. Startling collages make visual and emotional sense rather than providing a literal narrative.
“Working on them has been exciting, even more so than I expected,” says Wood. “They have also helped me to move into a new phase of painting.”
Christopher P Wood: Unseen Works, The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, Leeds University, until March 23, 2013. firstname.lastname@example.org 0113 343 2778.