Wilfrid Wood is an artist best known for his portraiture: amusing, deeply honest depictions of the most brilliant array of faces, a great number of whom featured in his colourful series People back in 2021. But for his most recent collection, Country Life, Wilfrid was intent on trying something new.
“I wanted the drawings in Country Life to have more context – to be actual pictures with a sense of place,” he says. To achieve this placemaking, Wilfrid moved out of his comfort zone, adding in depictions of inanimate objects – sheds, trees and fireplaces – while still involving some of his classic portraiture. More broadly, Wilfrid also says that he wanted to develop his practice as a whole: “I feel like I’m on an endless journey to try and become a proper artist, rather than someone who never gets beyond sketching.”
For the series, Wilfrid and his boyfriend Theo escaped from the hectic city life of east London and travelled to the home Wilfrid grew up in: a “neglected and somewhat remote house” in Sussex. “We’d go for walks, light the fire and cook nettle soup,” the artist says. “All good country pursuits, interspersed with lots of pastel drawings.”
In what Wilfrid describes as a “lucky” turn of events, his boyfriend Theo is “a very willing model” and features heavily throughout the series. Just last year, the pair were interviewed on the This is Love podcast, explaining the events that led to Theo becoming such a central muse for Wilfrid, and how he now tries to draw him every day. Throughout the pastel drawings, Theo can be seen relaxing, lounging naked, reading on the grass and taking a bath – all realised with Wilfrid’s unique and brilliantly deep use of colour. In one of Wilfrid’s favourites from the series, Theo lies on a bed sheet with light streaming in from a nearby window. As Wilfrid tries his best to capture life at its most realistic, each drawing is done rapidly, and for this one in particular, its clarity stands out for Wilfrid – the “engaging” look of Theo’s, and the convincing way in which the shadows fall.
In terms of Wilfrid’s more landscape-focused works, it’s interesting to see how his portraiture style bleeds into these moments: the deep colours, expressive smudges and an ability to give even an inanimate object a sense of character and personality. For Wilfrid, there’s something particularly poignant about his recreation of the hearth. In the scene, wood smoulders in the ashes, surrounded by a slapdash collection of logs, the gentle curves bringing the fireplace to life. A place where Wilfrid has “lit a thousand fires”, he says – “not my usual subject matter at all but making it glow was deeply satisfying.”
Overall, Wilfrid hopes the series, despite its personal significance, is one everyone can relate to in some way. “There’s something I read about the universal being found in the specific. Country Life is quite self-indulgently all about me and my boyfriend, but I hope there’s a look in Theo’s eyes, a highlight on his butt cheeks or an awkward angle of his arm in bed that’s somehow familiar,” he says. “I hope it conveys the intimacy of two people away from their urban lives and has the whiff of cut grass and manure.”
GalleryWilfrid Wood: Country Life (Copyright © Wilfrid Wood, 2023)
Wilfrid Wood: Country Life (Copyright © Wilfrid Wood, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.