In theory, anything can be the subject of a painting. In practice, even contemporary artists tend to limit themselves to a small number of recurring themes. It was therefore refreshing to visit Issy Wood’s solo exhibition “Study For No” at Lafayette Anticipations in Paris. Issy Wood paints gleaming car interiors, leather jackets, trash, porcelain sets and close-ups of open mouths with braces and fillings. Yes, you read that correctly.

Of course, Issy Wood has her own reasons for painting what she paints. As she says of the car interiors, photos of which are ubiquitous on online car forums, “rather than to sell, this photo’s grand motive is to brag, to exalt”. These photos “suggest that it isn’t out of the question for someone to love their car more than their spouse.” Of the jacket painting she notes that “jackets are, like all of fashion, a skin-deep assessment of someone’s morals or stature dictated by what they wear.”

The exhibition is called “Study For No” for a reason. A lot of the time Wood asks herself “Do I want this? Do I want this coat, these nails, this set of porcelain, a man with this expensive car? (..) The ‘no’ comes in handy here.”

Issy Wood is an acute observer of contemporary life. Much of her work is marked by a subtle sense of humor. It shows that painting is very much alive and relevant as an artform.

As for the dental paintings, both of Issy Wood’s parents are medical professionals and she grew up with medical journals lying around the house. As she observes, she “usually paints teeth which are undergoing repair in some way, a set of dentures, a crown, a filling, some braces. The mouth is central to anyone with an eating disorder, and especially bulimia nervosa where stomach acid erosion means the teeth and throat are in constant peril. Dentist visits are suddenly charged and heavy. The brain’s anguish has a direct effect on teeth.”

But why paint a painting? Why not take a photo and post it on Instagram? The answer lies in the question. A painting raises the question: why this painting? Why did someone make the effort to paint this? When you see one of Issy Wood’s paintings in a gallery it stops you in your tracks. At least, it stopped me in my tracks. For this reason, too, my exhibition snapshots don’t do justice to her work. Issy Wood's paintings demand to be seen IRL. So do check her out if you have a chance.

Lafayette Anticipations is an amazing new exhibition and performance space in the heart of Le Marais, a few steps from rue de Rivoli and BHV Marais. It is located in a 2500 square meters refurbished industrial building designed by Rem Koolhaas / OMA. It is one of several new spaces dedicated to contemporary art to open in Paris in recent years.

Issy Wood. Study For No is at Lafayette Anticipations in Paris through 7 January 2024.