Non-representational, not abstract

Art meets chemistry in Keith Wood’s vibrant encaustic paintings

  • “Untitled” by Keith Wood

  • “Untitled” by Keith Wood

  • “Untitled” by Keith Wood

Colourful paintings line the walls of Keith Wood’s studio in preparation for his upcoming exhibition at the newly relocated Ken Segal Gallery. Wood’s exhibition is called Right Click and will consist of 15 vibrant encaustic paintings and seven or eight colourful lithographs.

It’s 9 p.m. and Keith Wood just woke up from a nap. He grabs his coffee from the microwave, he lights a cigarette and he welcomes me to his studio.

Keith Wood has been making art all his life. As a child Wood used to make art while sitting in his mother’s kitchen in the Maritimes. It was then that he realized that making art was his calling. And at 65-years-old, Wood doesn’t look like a guy about to retire.

“I’m like one of those old farmers who gets up on that tractor every day,” said Wood, when describing his life long work ethic as an artist. “I’ll be painting for the rest of my life. If I wasn’t painting, I’d drive all of my friends crazy.”

As an artist whose focus is non-representational painting, which Wood prefers to call abstract painting, Wood feels as though he is painting in a vacuum or a time warp. According to Wood, his love for this style of painting began with a trip to New York in the ‘60s while attending Woodstock. He describes the work of Mark Rothko and some of the other American abstract painters as being influential in his current mode of painting.

If I wasn’t painting, I’d drive all of my friends crazy.

Keith Wood, artist

And although Wood chooses to work in a non-representational format, he was trained in school to be a realist.

“People seem to think if you work like this that you can’t draw, but that’s just not the case,” Wood said, pointing to an older piece of his inspired by Alex Colville.

Wood has a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art (now called Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) and also holds a BA in Education.

A cross somewhere between a chemist and an artist, Wood used a combination of fresh beeswax, varnish crystals and powdered pigments to create his latest series of paintings. When asked about encaustic painting as a choice of medium, which uses beeswax to fix paint to panel, Wood says that it’s the “viscosity” of encaustic painting that he likes. And when he hands me piece of beeswax and asks me to smell it, I know that there is also a visceral element to his painting methods.

His paintings are as much about line, colour and shape as they are emotive. Wood compares the spontaneity in his paintings to jazz – he never really knows when they’ll be done or where they will take him.

He rubs his hand across one of the pieces.

“This painting may not make it into the show,” he said, pointing to one of the areas and describing it as unresolved.

He never knows in advance when a painting is going to be finished, in some way assuring me that his work is not formulaic.

“When people ask me how long it took me to paint something I say that every painting is the sum total of my life.”

Keith Wood’s work is on display at the Ken Segal Gallery, 531 Osborne Street, until Aug. 29.

Published in Volume 63, Number 30 of The Uniter (August 13, 2009)

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