about - KAREN WOOD
Artist & Urban Explorer
In the urban environment of our city streets Karen finds inspiration in road markings, construction sites, signs and architecture. Karen’s preoccupation with industrial colour, geometric shapes and lines is magnified by her childlike propensity for seeing oversized structures in small details which mostly go unnoticed by others.
Karen captures this sense of superimposed urban materiality through layering tape whilst editing with a scalpel, achieving varying levels of translucency. The elasticity of the tape together with the quick scalpel movement releases tension and creates what Karen calls the “spacebetween” providing portals to other worlds and dimensions. This process often causes a feeling of imbalance to occur.
Karen explores her urban documentary place-based practice in the studio, involving further editing through drawing, painting, printmaking and site-specific installations with an emphasis on how we move through these spaces.
bio - KAREN WOOD
Group Exhibitions & Collaborations
URBAN EDIT - Karen Wood Solo Exhibition - Sky Gallery at Spitalfields Studios. Part of WhiteChapel Gallery 1st Thursday’s Program in April
Material World - 44AD Associates Annual Exhibition - at 44AD artspace Bath, January
Inside / Outside Exhibition - The Laboratory of Dissent Residency (5 weeks) - at Winchester Gallery - Winchester School of Art (Chapel Artist Studio Associate submission)
November - December
Urban Rural Exchange Reception and Artist Talk at Spitalfields Studios, together with a weekend Live Walk Talk Draw Make workshop in the East End. This exhibition followed a year-long collaboration with James Aldridge exploring crossovers within place-based art between urban and rural settings, documented on instagram. Part of WhiteChapel Gallery 1st Thursday’s Program in November
Drawing the Bigger Picture - Live Drawing Walk Workshop - Lead Artist, promoting drawing on the streets of Salisbury as part of the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize exhibition (Chapel Artist Studio Associate submission), October
Refresh Exhibition for Spitalfields Studio Artists at Spitalfields Studios. This included an Artist Talk with Karen & James for Urban Rural Exchange. Part of WhiteChapel Gallery 1st Thursday’s Program in September
Drawn In - Exhibition involving 9 artists, all with drawing at the core of their practices. Bridport Arts Centre. Experimental Playful Industrial Materials Drawing workshop for adults/children led by Karen Wood as part of the exhibition, May to June
In the Round - Associate Exhibition, celebrating 10 years of CAS (Chapel Arts Studios), March
Playing Hooky - drawing and Poem - Dyadic visual poetry published by Sum Journal
press - Spitalfields Studios - Kirsty Kerr Curator
Urban Rural Exchange
Karen Wood and James Aldridge
8th November – 27th December 2019
Sky Gallery is pleased to present Urban Rural Exchange, a new series of paintings and a mixed-media installation, the culmination of a year-long collaboration by place-based artists, Karen Wood and James Aldridge. Together, Wood and Aldridge walk regularly in their respective locations of London and rural Wiltshire, documenting their journeys via a shared Instagram account - a digital space and visual diary for their ongoing dialogue.
Using a range of media, they record their interactions with ‘place’, including architecture and debris, signposts and markings, pathways and waterways, wildlife and people. Back in their studios, they create works in response to these findings, encapsulating their local environments, and together interrogating the notion of a perceived Urban-Rural divide.
Based here at Spitalfields Studios, Karen Wood calls herself an ‘Urban Explorer’. Walking in her East London surroundings, Wood draws and photographs architecture, road markings, road signs and construction sites, documenting a pre-occupation with industrial colour and geometric form. Using these source-gathering explorations and further editing processes, she shows permutations of cityscape through drawing, painting and printmaking, with a specific emphasis on how space and movement are controlled and restricted. For Urban Rural Exchange, Wood has created Urban Edit, a series of paintings developed from her observational electrical tape drawings, referencing urban markings, architecture and minimal colours. Layers of paint with varying levels of translucency create a sense of space, which counters the flatness of their planes, along with structural lines and geometric shapes framing what she calls the ‘spacebetween’. Wood’s industrial colour Palette, playfully presented alongside this triptych, gives the viewer insight into her making and editing process.
press - ART AESTHETICS
Karen Wood isn’t just an ‘artist’ but an ‘urban explorer’ who conjures art out of the mundane road markings that we abide by—without ever properly seeing—every day. Sam Jacob of the University of Illinois at Chicago and visiting professor at Yale University recently wrote for Dezeen that ‘[r]oads are super complex landscapes. All those speed bumps, arrows, double yellows, zig zags, kerbs, red men, green men, zebra, pelican, puffin and pegasus crossings are both the surface over which we travel and codes that modify and instruct how we travel. They are simultaneously map and territory, abstract markings on the surface of the city that become the city.’ Wood’s Back to the Road (2017) abstracts such road-markings from their “natural” environment. They’re cut-out into modernist works of art. It’s as if they’re inspired by the cut-outs and découpage of Matisse or the De Stijl of Mondrian. Interestingly, the latter is often referred to a neoplasticism and road markings are similarly made with thermoplastic paint in bright colours along predominantly straight edges. It’s interesting, then, to witness the coincidence of the high-brow and the lowly infrastructure of the world in which it all takes place.
Wood’s artworks explore these super complex landscapes in which we live and, especially, the ways in which we’re allowed to move through them. David Harvey’s excursus on Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s renovation of Paris in ‘The Right to the City’ (2008) states that Haussmann ‘created an urban form where it was believed—incorrectly, as it turned out in 1871—that sufficient levels of surveillance and military control could be attained to ensure that revolutionary movements would easily be brought to heel.’ Haussmann sought to control the same city that the flâneur sought to explore. Merlin Coverley’s Psychogeography (2006) states that ‘[l]ike London before it, Paris in the nineteenth century had expanded to the point where it could no longer be comprehended in its entirety. It had become increasingly alien to its own inhabitants, a strange and newly exotic place…characterised as a jungle, uncharted and unexplored, a virgin wilderness populated by savages demonstrating strange customs and practices.’ It’s worth reconsidering the struggle between control (of movement, traffic, etc.) and urban exploration in contemporary London. We’re constantly moving through space. We’re constantly exploring the city. We’re constantly curtailed by the directions for movement therein.
Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem’s ‘Basic Program of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism’ (1961) stated that their first task was ‘to enable people to stop identifying with their surroundings and with model patterns of behaviour…We must encourage their scepticism toward those spacious and brightly coloured kindergartens,’ for ‘[o]nly a mass awakening will pose the question of a conscious construction of the urban environment.’ Wood similarly suggests that the colours of ‘controlling signage’ might be described as the ‘hyperreal’ as described by Jean Baudrillard who’s work shares much in common with that of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1967) and the other members of the Situationist International as Kotányi and Vaneigem.
Way Through (2017)
Pigment on Canvas
Wood’s Way Through (2017) is in much the same vein of critical and artistic thought in that it distils the experience of walking the city into white, black, and blue. It’s a really pristine reduction of the cacophony of the city into one of its purer forms—not through the eyes or artist’s vision, but through the actual movement of the body through the built environment. Furthermore, someone who collects these artworks collects a part of our contemporary moment: more people live in cities than the countryside for the first time in our history. From gentrification to Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS), the city is increasingly subject to new political and aesthetic visions.
Wood successfully intervenes in these contemporary debates.
press - DESIGN BOOM
Will Sorrell [Director] September 29, 2017
Challenging Borders (2016)
Etching on Somerset Paper
Perfect Suspension (2017)
Karen Wood describes herself as a painter, printmaker, & installation artist. She uses her source gathering explorations to show permutations of architecture, cityscapes and roadmarkings with a specific emphasis on how space and movement are controlled and restricted. Out on the streets of London, and other cities when visiting, Karen takes photographs of road markings, road signs, construction sites and architecture. Karen’s photographs document her pre-occupation with industrial colour, geometric form (with a specific interest in the void-like shape), and the ‘spaceinbetween’ created within and by these urban landscapes.