by Shea Slemmer
Tony Wood was raised by his grandparents in what he called “a Norman Rockwell, corner drugstore world” in Nashville, Tennessee. Realizing that the community he lived in and his caretakers would only accept a career that included a gold watch after a corporate climb, Wood moved to Jacksonville in 1981. He finished his degree at the University of North Florida where he studied under Larry Jon Davis, Paul Ladnier and Louise Freshman-Brown. Through his studies, Wood became interested in trying to capture the human condition, which manifested itself into the representative portrayal of people, faces and figure that still fuels his work today.
His early years of soaking in the writings of Nietzsche, Dante and Brautingan while being subjected to Hee Haw and George Jones are almost highlighted in the dichotomy evident in his works where the design is clearly deliberate but give way to a considerable degree of spontaneity. The “Real-Life” aspect of capturing a face becomes a mere clipping of photographic realism and (much to my delight), whether inadvertently or not, exposes the faults of the subject.
Wood’s portraits composed of oil, grease and wax speak of a hometown life while concurrently highlighting his intellectual pursuits. The resulting works flirt with an impressionistic similarity between depicting a subject and trying to make statements about art, artist or the relationship between artists and their model. Wood’s paintings naturally interest me as I am human and there is an undeniable connection between a frozen glance or voyeuristic pause and the way my mind makes a correlation to a memory or thought. An invisible, wholly self-serving string between two tin cans with the artist’s ear on one end and mine on the other seems to appear while viewing his works and that string, I am happy to say, has created a conspicuous connection through a recent interview with the aforementioned artist.
EU: Can you introduce yourself? How long have you lived in Jacksonville?
TW: I am first an artist. I believe you don’t pick art, it picks you, and although it seems counter-intuitive, I’m glad it picked me. I feel it’s the most rewarding and fulfilling job you can have, other than being a poet. Counter-intuitive because it can be a hard way to make a living, so I am also a teacher, but I get summers off, allowing me uninterrupted time to make more art and take workshops to fuel my interest, so I am also a student. So hello, I’m Tony Wood, an Artist, Teacher and Student. I have lived in Jacksonville since 1981, my wife, Dawn and daughters Sarah and Stephanie are natives of Jacksonville, so I now call it home.

EU: How would you describe your work? Would you consider yourself a portrait artist?
TW: I enjoy painting portraits and capturing that spark that makes a person who they are. The human condition and human narratives intrigue me. Sometimes I feel like I am collecting people, faces and stories, I see someone I want to paint then I try and make that happen, sometimes they come to me and that’s exciting too. My work is based in realism. I enjoy using mixed-media, it may get messy and loose but it is still anchored in a realistic approach, and although I like looking at good abstract works of art, I can’t relate it to in my own work. It eludes me.

EU: Where have you shown your work in Jacksonville thus far? Any shows coming up?
TW: I’ve shown at Gallery L in Modis building in solo and group exhibitions, at MOCA in their First Coast Portfolio exhibit, The Wilson Center in various group shows, Kent Campus Gallery, The Shultz Center as Dual County Artist in Residence, Course Gallery and Atelier. I am currently showing monthly at Southlight Gallery downtown and in May I will be exhibiting in a four person show in Daytona at the Art League.

EU: Tell me about the series you are currently working on.
TW: I usually try and work on several bodies of work concurrently. I am currently interested in a series based on the relationship between artist and model. How it is a complex, symbiotic and voyeuristic kind of connection. This new work tries to relate this relationship with past stories and narratives, such as the series of coffee paintings I did of my model as Susanna, from the story of “Susanna and the Elders.” Two self portraits, representing the elders, leer at the model lustfully while the model covers herself to repel their advances.
I based my work more on the countless paintings representing the story rather than the bible story itself. It’s not a moral judgment, simply an observation that is interesting to me. I am exploring the idea further with inspiration from the stories of Salome, Daphne and Persephone because they have a similar moral narrative. I still do as many portraits, figures and large portrait heads as I can, and I recently received an individual artist grant from the Community Foundation to purchase the technology to use video, projections and computer generated visuals to enhance my exploration of portraiture and push my ideas into new media.

EU: Are there any Jacksonville artists you particularly admire or draw inspiration from?
TW: Yes, Paul Ladnier is a mentor and a good friend. He has shared his passion for art, teaching, drawing the figure and paint with me. We have had many long conversations about art, artist and techniques and he always inspires me to do more, try new things in my own work, be a better teacher and stay the relentless student. Larry Davis inspires me to simplify my figure drawings and draw them with grace and bravado and may have inadvertently led me to my interest in creating works of art about the relationship between the artist and model. Every artist I meet informs my work in some way so I try and stay open to other peoples’ ideas, thoughts and experiences.

EU: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to add?
TW: I try and entertain myself with my art, ideas and friends, Friedrich Nietzsche said it best: “Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?”
For more information about Tony Wood, or to view more of his work, please visit or e-mail him at [email protected].