William Wood's work has seemed ubiquitous this past year, and it's easy to understand why, especially judging from the suite of oil-on-paper paintings recently on view in the project room at Danese. Wood has developed an uncanny grisaille technique that produces paintings on paper in which peculiar structures with great personality appear to clot and sway in softly glowing aqueous space. Wood's process is masterfully realized, and something of a trade secret. In order to achieve his effects, I imagine, he drips wet white paint from above or at an angle into a wet background of Payne's Gray, which is then smoothed over with a tool into a seamless surface. Perhaps some sanding is involved to create tiny furrows and irregularities that cause the biomorphic, natural-seeming shapes and the striking variations of light. In any case, the greater impulse on the part of the viewer is to surrender to the immaterial and pacifying beauty of Wood's work.
Some of the images, such as those in Untitled (WW#17) and Untitled (WW#16), appear as condensation might, effervescently rising against a ghostly flare of white back-light. The scattered shapes resemble bubbles or pebbles, and seem to have the texture of liquid gel-caps that have been smushed or pinched from the bottom by an invisible thumb and forefinger. Untitled (WW#22) presents a magnified view of a similar image where the corpuscles, now flatter and widened, lilt like mantas or elephant's ears toward a light that seems to be filtering down from above. This painting may be the most intimate in scale of all the works here, which are 15 by 11.5 inches.
Untitled (WW#11), on the other hand, is the most forcibly sculptural of the works, with starkly hightlighted flagellate forms that seem to swirl in a claustrophobic frenzy. I think Wood's more agressively sculptural drawings move the images further away from "mere" technique and to a whole other realm in which his process is pushed to its limits. Other images in the show, such as Untitled (WW#24) and Untitled (WW#23), have a more botanical feel, something that approaches the stem-like architecture of a glade. Density of image is achieved in these works by using an interweaving pattern, a lyrical crisscross array, that inevitably results in a triangulation of space not unlike the web-fields of Brice Marden and Terry Winters.
Untitled (WW#23) contains a dense structure of what looks like overlapping globular cells (a motif doomed to be endlessly repeated by every abstract artist). It reminds me of an aquarium I once saw in an Indian restaurant on East 6th Street, filled with about 50 goldfish, all bumping into one another -- suddenly the restaurant seemed magically less crowded.
The issue of color can wait. Wood has just opened his revelatory world between black and white, and it's amazing what seven shades of gray can illuminate.
William Wood at Danese, Sept. 19 - Oct. 18, 1997, 41 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.
MICHAEL BRENNAN is a New York painter who writes on art.