OBSERVATIONS ON THE WORK OF RONNIE WOOD: DIRECTOR’S INTRODUCTION
Talent is a most mysterious gift. It is distributed unequally, for sure. And rarely do we find artists whose talents are multi-tiered. Ronnie Wood has been so blessed. His musical accomplishments have been more than celebrated; and, his talents as a visual artist deserve an equally distinguished level of recognition.
What strikes one immediately in examining his artistic output is the remarkable range of his abilities. He seems to move effortlessly between media and genres and is as much at home in executing large canvases as in creating pen and ink illustrations or etchings. Great artists through time have had the ability to move in many directions; Picasso and Matisse certainly come to mind. In America, Jasper Johns' mastery of encaustic and traditional painting media is rivaled only by his excellence as a graphic artist. Comparatively speaking, one cannot help but be impressed by Ronnie Wood's competency in diverse and technically complex visual arts disciplines. His eagerness to tackle a multitude of media and approaches in order to satisfy the requirements of his vision speaks to the seriousness of his purpose and to the height of his achievement.
Great artists from Rembrandt to Matisse have emphasized the importance of drawing. Drawing places emphasis upon the most elemental of the visual elements, the line. Drawing exposes talent. We see in the drawings of Ronnie Wood a remarkable strength of observation and the discipline and skills necessary to capture the essence of his subject in line. Included in the exhibition is a pencil drawing of Kate Moss, which truly defines the artist's ability as a draughtsman. This is an amazingly simple pencil study, but one that shows off his understanding of line's ability to tell a complete story despite the absence of color and scale. But drawing is also the very foundation of painting and the heart and soul of printmaking. Excellence in drawing rewards the painter and is revealed strongly in all of the graphic arts. Wood understands this and thus his emphasis upon linear qualities in virtually all that he does. One of the artist's most distinguished works is a 2001 oil on canvas of a seated Mohammed Ali. Called Ali With Stick, the work is a virtual clinic on the implementation of line as a key component of painting. In this work, line not only defines the form of the boxer’s body but also serves to embellish the work. In examining the dark form of Ali's suit, we see how Wood has filled the darkened areas with a myriad of lines which both animate the painting and give life to the subject. This is an artist who knows what he is doing.
Few artists in history have been able to move from the canvas to pen and ink illustration. Certainly Daumier comes to mind. Ronnie Wood's pen and ink cartoons and illustrations are brilliant on many levels. They clearly demonstrate the sophistication and versatility of his drawing talent while revealing a richly inventive mind. These extraordinarily accomplished pen and inks are every bit as engaging and imaginative as anything produced in this genre. The series which he calls A Variety of Annoyances are both intelligently conceived and skillfully executed. They offer a broad and revealing look into Wood's creative reservoir.
Beggars Banquet is an oil on canvas which speaks not only of Ronnie Wood's gifts as a painter as revealed in the handling of the medium, but also of his ability to organize space, or what has come to be known as "form". The work with it numerous figures, animals, furnishings and objects is brought to life through the artist’s use of a baroque-like light, varied textures which play off of one another, and a thoughtful and clever placement of elements. The table provides a strong horizontal presence balanced brilliantly by a slightly off-center fireplace with a large obscured painting atop of it. Despite the activity contained in the painting with figures and animals apparently in motion, the painting is nonetheless well ordered and resolved. A strength in all his work appears to be in the resolution of the visual elements of line, shape, color and texture. Everything relates and is ordered. Even in the portraiture, as in the marvelously painted canvas of Charlie Watts, we see that understanding of what to emphasize and what not. The positioning of hands, the placement of folds in the clothing, the tight and thoughtful color range and the painterly nature of his application of the medium all work toward his obvious accomplishment as a portrait painter. He is a most versatile talent who deserves to be recognized among the elite.
The Butler Institute of American Art is indeed honored to host this very special exhibition of the work of this most extraordinary artist. We are grateful to the following who have helped to make this unique project possible: Bernard Pratt of Pratt Contemporary Art, Kent, England who has been an inspiration and friend to Ronnie for over twenty years; Daniel Crosby of Limelight Agency in Los Angeles who has been Ronnie’s art representative from the early days and who has been working with the Butler for four years to make this happen along with Danny Stern of Limelight Agency in San Francisco.
We are especially grateful to Ronnie Wood, not only for his wonderful and brilliant talents but also for his willingness to share them with us.
Louis A Zona
The Butler Institute of American Art