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  • Writer's picturePäivi Maria Wells

Art and Soul: Mark Wood

I go to gallery shows and exhibitions quite seldom. I browse magazines or internet for visual inspiration selectively. The reason is that I get overstimulated easily. So quickly it all becomes a consumption, I become tired and it stops serving it’s purpose. But of course, like we all, I need a regular dose of input. I try to get mine in biteable sizes through different channels and using my senses sparingly. I believe there needs to be a balance between outward influences and quiet contemplation, a balance between actively noticing and just being, not aiming on absolutely anything.

I strongly believe that this way of depriving myself from over stimulus allows me to experience things more deeply. So when I do indulge in a gallery show or just browse other person’ s art, it can be an in-depth exploration, I am hungry for it, the memory stays with me for a long time and so often, continues to live in my own art. I had one such experience last summer when I visited an exhibition in England. I was deeply touched by this experience and I want to introduce the artist here. His name is Mark Wood.

It was actually one of those days that I had prepared myself for something rather grand. I went to visit the fantastic Ashmolean museum in Oxford. For hours and hours I indulged myself in that beautiful space and especially over the J.M.W. Turner’s (1775-1851) watercolours which were part of the Great British Drawings exhibition. No need to say, it was just wonderful and I was excited. I was inspired and my soul was well fed. What however touched me even more on that day was another, completely unplanned visit to a much more modest exhibition. As I left the Ashmolean museum I accidentally bumped into a small advertisement. I loved the poster on the wall and walked in, guided only by the image .

painting of a man standing in dark forest under full moon
My photograph of “Midnight in the Forest” by Mark Wood

I found myself all alone in a quiet gallery of the Oxford City museum. After the crowds at the Ashmolean this really was a treat as I, and I alone, was surrounded by watercolours, photographs, drawings and poetry by a local artist, Mark Wood, who had passed away in 2013. As I sat down to emerge myself in Wood’ s art pieces I also learned about him and his life. This combination of the narrative together with his art allowed me to really hear his voice in his work. I was immediately touched by the exhibition that was put together by the artist’s family and friends who had discovered these art works in his house after his death.

What I learned was that Mark Wood was a deeply sensitive and a creative man. He was a kind and a gentle person who had a wonderful, wry sense of humour. He also had a tremendous concern for the future of the planet as he was painfully aware of the environmental damage happening all around us. Wood felt that the nature was the most wonderful thing and that life on this planet was at risk. His care and concern for these issues was not only reflected in his art but also on his ascetic lifestyle and on his impressively small ecological footprint. I also learned that Wood had a great difficulty being comfortable in the world and finding his place in it. He had multi-chemical sensitivity that made his everyday life very difficult to manage. This was a reason why he only used watercolours on his paintings. Wood also had a series of complex mental health problems including extreme social anxiety.

Mark Wood was a multitalented artist, both visually, musically as well as verbally and used his voice to highlight his concern about the state of our planet through his paintings, comics, poetry and music. It became clear to me that I was experiencing art work by a beautiful and a very sensitive person and that despite the extreme difficulties he faced, I believe it was through his art that he had managed to carve his own space in this world. The multitude of Wood’s problems resulted in long term unemployment as he was not able to cope in the traditional working environment. Despite this the administered fitness-for-work assessment found him well enough to take employment and a decision was made to stop his sickness and housing benefits. Soon after this, his health started rapidly deteriorating and he was found dead at his home four months after the benefit cuts. At the moment of his death at the age of 44, Mark Wood had been markedly unnourished and underweight.

Since my visit to Wood’s exhibition I have been pondering why I was so touched by the artist who was far from the technical brilliance and mastery from the immortals such as Turner. I was of course touched by Wood’s tragic story but there was also something else that drew me closer to his work. This is hard to put into words but it was as if I could hear him, I could relate and I could reach. There was fear, there was beauty and there was hope. There was imperfection, just like in all of us.

For me art has spoken when something inside me stirs, awakes, moves and surprises. When my consciousness expands. As contemporaries we all share the task of changing the course of the environmental disaster that is happening all around us. Mark Wood was a a modest person struggling with the high scale environmental issues. In all honesty, shouldn't we all be as alarmed and concerned as he was? Despite his inability to be employable in the work market he was however continuously working on his art and making a positive contribution to the common good through his talent and conscious approach to life.

“I Hear the birdsong outside my window on to the world.

If this is all there ever was

It would still be enough for me.”

From "Now That Spring Has Come" by Mark Wood

painting of sunny but stormy sea and cliffs with castle on the edge
My photograph of a painting by Mark Wood, title unknown

This has always been so clear to me: that making and receiving art can be a healing, enriching process and that Art (yes, in capital) belongs to all of us, not only to it’s highest establishments. Art can bring joy, art can highlight and point towards, art can help us to understand the human condition and allow us to make sense of the complex. It can also allow a platform for one’s own space in this complicated world. I think the Chinese writer, Lin Yutang (1895-1976), had said it so well when he stated that "...the spirit of true art can become more general and permeate society only when a lot of people are enjoying art as a past time, without any hope of achieving immortality”.

Mark Wood’s artistic legacy of words, music and images show his love of nature and his thoughtful approach to life. For me this experience was a calling to listen more carefully to those delicate quieter voices in this world. And, like I have been encouraged, always to encourage those who are in doubt but perhaps wish to share their vision and stories through their art and creativity.

I hope I get to share more of these voices in this space in the future. They will be shared by the title 'Art and Soul'.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, "Venice: The Riva degli Schiavoni", 1840 can be seen here:



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