If you take a look at Wilfrid Wood’s website, it’s clear that the sculptor has the chops for realism, or at least something approaching it. Wood’s clay likenesses of Sir Paul McCartney and footballer Wayne Rooney are identifiable even on a quick scroll-by. But if the ex-Beatle’s hangdog jowls betray their maker’s eye for particulars—the key quality or two that make a famous face so familiar—another subset of his work exhibits an interest in the more universal aspects of the human visage. Each of Wood’s abstract face sculptures has two eyes and a mouth, but that’s about where the similarities end.
The pieces came out of a period in which Wood was trying to rethink his sculptural work in the context of the field in which he was trained: graphic design. The artist thought he could "do more work with a simpler, almost calligraphic silhoutte, bringing together sculpture and graphics." The finished pieces, which look as much like fine computer renderings as real, physical objects, show his success in realizing that marriage.
The sculptures all read as "faces," but each is unique. You wouldn’t necessarily peg any two here as close relatives—or even members of the same species. Some of the sculptures are relatively straightforward exercises in form and line, like one piece that takes the shape of a dog’s face, the whole thing balanced precariously on the beast’s lower jaw. Others are more colorful and elaborate, often including stylized eyebrows and "ears" of dubious acoustic advantage. One mug is composed entirely of sculpted breakfast foods.
But for whatever their diversity in size and shape, Wood’s faces do share a few common aesthetic traits. Most noticeable is that the faces look like they’re assembled from a handful of discrete pieces, like Mr. Potato Head if you lost the starchy canvas and just had the plastic add-ons to work with. The visual style, which Wood says is influenced by the work of the Memphis Group as well as that of artists like Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, and Saul Steinberg, seems like it would be particularly difficult to execute in his preferred medium of baked clay. But for Wood, that’s just part of the challenge.
"One of the fun elements of the more abstract pieces is getting the forms to balance," he explains. "I like them to look precarious, the shapes just touching and playing off each other." Wood starts with armatures of aluminum wire, he says, which is soft enough to bend around "until the whole thing stays upright."
"I tend to skid around in the area between abstraction and figurativeness," Wood continues. "As I’m making any sculpture there is a tension between the two: how realistic to do the hair, how stylised to make the eyes et cetera. Its lovely to be very specific with someone’s eye shape, but on the other hand some simplification is necessary and can look stronger." Or weirder. Or both.
[Hat tip: Beautiful Decay]