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> > > All is calm, all is chaos, in Mark Wood's world

Mark Wood, who died tragically in 2013 at the age of 44, was a prolific creative who worked in photography, painting, cartoon, poetry, short story and music composition. Deborah Caulfield reviews ‘Spirit of Nature’ an exhibition of his work on show at Oxford Town Hall until 22 July.

watercolour of a dark figure in a wood under a full moon

Midnight in the Forest by Mark Wood. Photograph: Mark Wood

After a period of instability, Mark Wood's housing and benefits were sorted and he was able to maintain a fulfilling lifestyle, pursuing his interests and passions, and taking care of himself and his beloved cat.

ATOS put an end to all that when they declared him 'fit for work' and his benefits were cancelled. He quietly accepted their assessment. After all, he was working - at his art. He weighed less than six stones when he passed away.

Spirit of Nature covers the full range of Mark's artistic output, all of which reflect his love of nature and his fear for the future of planet Earth.

I came away from this exhibition with a heightened awareness of the potential for harmony in contradiction and opposites, the need for acceptance as well as action.

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.
(Now That Spring has Come)

Indeed, there is more than a hint of Yin and Yang about Wood's work. He seems to have an innate appreciation of the interconnectedness and interdependency of the natural world. 

Here is a gentle and modest person wrestling with big environmental issues, imagining  disaster and devastation. There's a struggle going on, and he's part of it.

We are blasting chaos from the top of the tower tonight
My guitar screams at the sky
The sky screams back louder
(Healing the Poisoned Badlands)

Wood is fearful but hopeful too. He doesn't preach; he worries, wonders why? how? and what if? There is disturbance and deliberation, a longing for resolution, loud calls to action (see above) and silent reflection:

I'm in the forest at midnight
Some quiet time for contemplation
And the space to assess my situation
In the same poem he considers karma and reincarnation:
There are too many things that I want to do
And I like playing the guitar, swimming
And watching football too much
To want to be a rabbit in a hutch
(Midnight in the Forest)

Wood can't help but communicate tranquillity in the face of upheaval. In the process he achieves (perhaps unknowingly) the 'Sublime', which statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (b. 1729) suggests stirs the emotions and perhaps (deep sigh) spurs us to actively engage. However, Burke also says: "No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear."

Wood's paintings communicate harmony and peace, even where the title suggests otherwise.

In 'Sea Monster' and 'Emerging from the Deep', cool, quiet blues and greens predominate. There is just the right amount of orange, a hotter and more vibrant colour, to provide challenge  and contrast. The overall impression is balance. The brush strokes in the lower half are horizontal, while above is circular. Danger is there, but so is the possibility of rescue. All may not be lost.

The messages in the poems are more easily grasped than in the paintings, (or do I find words more accessible?) There is humour too:

And I can just about force a smile
As I check the fruit for air miles
And with a sudden surge of envy
I suddenly see, this fruit
Travels more than me!
(Fiddling While Rome Burns)

In this and other poems, Wood makes clear his concern for the environment, the future of the planet, his fear of impending disaster and his hope (wish, even) for a better life to come:

Later something changes as the wind picks up
More survivors from the ashes of yesterday’s war
The one that should have erased every shadow.

It’s Day One, the chance to start again
And with the first rays of the morning sun
I see a new world so pure in its simplicity.
(Day One)

There is little if any sign, in Wood's work, of the difficulties he faced in his day to day life, for example his Multiple-Chemical Sensitivity (why he only painted in watercolour.)

He lived through his art, which has a wistful, dream-like quality, innocent but stopping short of child-like. He was a prolific and imaginative writer of stories whose characters act out earthly dilemmas in other-worldly ways:

Be prepared, you never know ... what's going on beside you in another dimension.
...should human life become multi-planetary?
(Plan B For the future of humanity)

It would be tempting, but wrong, to suggest Mark Wood was a tortured soul, as the cliché would have it. He was sensitive, concerned and scared. While he feared the end of everything, he was also optimistic. A post-apocalyptic new beginning is a recurring theme:

If we can just get through this cold night
There may be a chance to live again
As the machines of war no longer operate here
(Day One)

We have lost a prolific and productive artist. Not a technically outstanding one, perhaps (although 'Early Evening By the Sea' and 'Stormy Sea' display a good understanding of tone) but a troubled and sensitive man who expressed his fears, hopes and joys intuitively, constructively, through his art.

If this was all there ever was, it would still be enough for me.

'Spirit of Nature' has been put together by Mark Wood’s family and friends and is raising money for National Mind. It is on exhibition at Oxford Town Hall until 18 July 2015. Free. 

Copies of Mark Wood’s work are available to purchase from his Eco Artist website. All net proceeds go to MIND. All requests to purchase can be made via the contact form which also includes a price list of the printed items.

Last month The Guardian highlighted the plight of Mark Wood and other victim of welfare reform


Colin Hambrook

23 July 2015

Dear Nick

Many apologies for the fact we had the wrong date on the website for the closing date of Mark Wood’s exhibition! Very frustrating. I took the date from the Museum of Oxford website but wish I had double-checked.

I am trying to find out if there are plans to show his work some more as I know several people feel Mark deserves more acknowledgement.


22 July 2015

Pleased to see that you were publicising an event close to me in Oxford I went along to the Mark Wood exhibition on the last day that you advertised, 22 July, only to discover an empty gallery. The exhibition had been taken down. I was very disappointed, given that like most disabled people it took me a considerable effort to go along. Maybe an empty gallery is a comment of sorts.