Joel Woodard: Chasing Infinity (or the Mis-Evolution of the Digital Primitive)
Founders Hall Art Gallery – Soka University, Aliso Viejo
through January 6, 2020
Written by Liz Goldner
As contemporary art evolves in range, depth, conceptuality, experimentation, and use of materials, it can be daunting and difficult to describe. Influenced by the need to explain their own work, artists often become creative in their descriptions. Woodard as an example describes his paintings in this exhibition: “My work is a convergence of graphic shapes, patterns, symbols, gestured abstraction, and is an exploration of evolution, emergence, and the primitive. The work is driven by questions of what imagery is possible with traditional media in our fast paced and technologically driven world. I’m continually interested in how automatism informs the anatomy of shapes and gesture, and in turn how that can suggest uncanny symbology and totemic structures. I like to think of my work as the native art of an alien or future culture.”
Indeed, the artist’s paintings, in acrylic and gouache, are filled with symbols, with many derived from the book, “Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols.” By drawing recognizable symbols that are used in travel, agriculture, architecture, business, communications, engineering, photography, sports, safety, traffic controls and other areas, Woodard then creates abstract paintings that are—at their source images—familiar and identifiable.
Yet while he often appropriates symbols from video games and computer hardware, his art-making is entirely hands-on, rather than digital, paying homage to his artistic predecessors who lived and worked before our computer age became so omnipresent. The results are wildly colorful (with often complementary colored) hand-painted constructions. His images evoke scans from the brains of creative individuals, as well as sprites, nymphs, frustrated travelers, flying out-of-control objects, creatures and scenes from outer space, battles among those alien creatures, and even technology gone amuck. Think of Pac-Man on a rampage.
Beyond the otherworldly, digitally inspired appearance of his work, Woodard explains that significant influences in his work include the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, particularly Jackson Pollock, along with graffiti and especially the iconic artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work, with its often-repetitive themes, was likely affected by his drug addiction. Yet Woodard, who also repeats abstract themes, is drug-free and responsible, as he works full-time as head of security at Laguna Art Museum. And while he also admires and is influenced by artist Richard Diebenkorn, the resemblance here is ambiguous, as the latter’s work is cleaner and more classically designed than is Woodard’s.
In an email, he wrote, “I think these paintings are about emergence more than anything. How certain elements and compounds can combine in enabling conditions to give rise to life forms.” He also describes his work as containing things that are large and pointy, along with other elements that seem to shake almost violently, and those that look strange and unusual.
Employing titles such as “Nightdrive,” “Commuters,” “Superorganism” and “Soldiers,” Woodard has created an original and striking oeuvre. And as his work becomes more visible on the Internet, it will be logical to see a generation of budding, digitally influenced artists appropriating his images. But for now, his pictures are unique.