Don't make your hobbies into jobs!
Issy Wood tha young oil-paint pusher on horny Porsche collectors, how confusion is cool, seductive, hideous objects, whipping up an album in her kitchen & more
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Issy Wood — she’s a fantastic artist whose paintings are sly, funny and appealingly unsettling… She often works from found images she plucks from car-collector message-boards, auction-house catalogues, Sopranos episodes, and other unlikely places. The results — bluntly cropped tableaus & portraits, sometimes painted on burlap or velvet — weave together sadness and desire, allure and unease, surrealism and grotesquerie, among other “unbeatably compelling” combinations. We would love to hang one of her sick, uncanny car interiors here at Spyplane H.Q. … maybe one day !!
A few years ago Issy started writing, singing & recording synthed-out off-kilter pop songs at her kitchen table. This past Friday she put out her first full-length album, My Body Your Choice, and we hear new cool s**t in it every time we throw it on. The lead single was “Both” (Lena Dunham directed the video, which stars Hari Nef), followed by the Spyplane-favorite “Trash” — the album’s linked below.
The other day we hopped on the SpyPhone with Issy at home in London to discuss seductive, hideous objects; misshapen pop; eavesdropping on horny Porsche chat rooms; why she left Mark Ronson’s label, and more …
Blackbird Spyplane: You often take found images that were originally meant to be enticing, of supposedly alluring objects, and you paint them in a way that ends up feeling a bit eerie, a bit grotesque, maybe even sinister. What’s the relationship in yr art between the seductive and the nasty?
Issy Wood: “I can’t really say what it is I bring during the painting, because it feels beyond my control, but I guess it starts from the source images — especially the ones from auctions, which are often the result of events like divorce and death. Those start with a sadness built-in for me. But there’s something quite sad about any sales image: There’s a neediness to it that I’m thrilled to meet halfway. I take these things out of whatever fake context they’re in, and give them even less context.”
Blackbird Spyplane: It struck me that one feeling you somehow capture is this queasy byproduct of the urge to buy things…
Issy Wood: “Yeah, there’s an ever-thinning line between maximalism and just hoarding, between loving and cherishing something vs. selling it, and the different moods it takes you through. It’s maybe my sadness you’re picking up on. But I try to leave the paintings open to interpretation. They’re Rorshach blots in a way — people have told me so many crusty experiences they’ve had in cars as a result of that series.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Did you say crusty experiences?
Issy Wood: “Ha ha, yeah — meaning unpleasant, maybe unclean. Hearing those stories, for me, completes the work. I surrender any of my personal intentions for it once it leaves the studio.”
Blackbird Spyplane: I was doing an image search for your car-interior paintings, and in the results Google served up these insane computer-retouched images of car-seat covers on Am*zon (below), like it thought they might be your paintings. I could see an affinity… What sources do you look at when you make those?
Issy Wood: “For a lot of them I go onto these very masculine automotive forums where men share, you know, the upholstery on their Porsche 911s — there’s no other word besides horny to describe the kind of conversation they have about cars and what they’re doing to them. There’s a spirit of genuine male support in there. I feel like an intruder reading them. But I like hearing men talk when it’s just men. That’s why I loved listening to Cumtown. R.I.P. I haven’t listened since Stav left. I switched to Tim Dillon, and it’s fantastic. I don’t particularly like his comedy, but on the podcast he’s funny and angry. He really hates his aunt.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You gesture to pop on the new album, but there’s also something misshapen about the songs. As a listener it’s fun to be kept off-kilter like that.
Issy Wood: “I find confusion one of the most flattering reactions. As far as the songs feeling misshapen, I’m not sure when that’s me intentionally breaking rules and when that’s just me being a novice. It’s painful making music. It’s all recorded at my kitchen table, so it haunts me all the time — I’ll be cooking and look over at my equipment and say, I should be making music. I f**king hate it. Except when I have a good song on the go — then everything changes.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Mark Ronson signed you to his label, Zelig, a few years ago — but the album’s not coming out through them?
Issy Wood: “No, f**k no. Absolutely not. It’s over. When I signed my contract, I didn’t know s**t about music labels — you sometimes hear musicians saying ‘I get no money,’ but it’s true. I got Sade’s lawyer, through a collector of mine, and the best deal they could get me was, the label gets 87% of anything I make and I get 13%. That was shocking. And Mark started as a kind of mentor, but then that relationship went to quite a bad place, I don’t know how.
“I was also shocked by how little the label and I discussed music — they handed me off to a social-media manager who just wanted to teach me how to use hashtags. I was, like, ‘I was born in 1993, I know how to use hashtags.’”
Blackbird Spyplane: That’s a bummer to hear, especially about an artist-run label...
Issy Wood: “Well, it was Sony’s money, so everything had to go through them. Also they wanted me to post more thirst traps, and I posted zero thirst traps. Even the photos that I sent you — I have difficulty when it comes to pictures of my face. It’s an eating-disorder thing, and I modeled a bit as a teenager and it was grim. But it’s also that artists are gifted with anonymity if we want it. Why waste that? It’s so beautiful — if you do it well you can be loaded and respected and you don’t have to have your face out there. What better?”
“But now that I’m off the label, music can be a hobby again, which is thrilling. Don’t make your hobbies into jobs. That might sound slightly elitist or something, because it’s a dream to get paid to do something you love, but —”
Blackbird Spyplane: I know what you mean. Professionalizing a passion and putting it into the market can deaden what you love about doing it.
Issy Wood: “That’s right.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You sent me pictures of objects you cherish, and my eye went straight to this enormous cow bench… I once sat in the grass about 20 yards from a group of cows in this beautiful wilderness near where I live, watching them through binoculars for 45 unbroken minutes, as they grazed and socialized. I felt like I was tripping — there was an element of ego death to it. I really got into their rhythm.
Issy Wood: “That sounds nice — you got onto ‘cow time.’
“That bench was bought during quite a low moment. Me and my friends would call it ‘the mentally ill’ choice. The eBay algorithm served it to me, like it knew I was at my lowest. It was a dark Christmas during Covid, disgustingly cold in London, and I’m not gonna say how much it cost because I’m deeply ashamed.
“It was the culmination of me looking at a lots of pictures of cows and cow-based things. It was about a very dumb realization I had, which is, I’ve struggled with anorexia and bulimia in my life, and my therapist told me that the etymological origin of the word bulimia is ‘the appetite of a cow.’ I found it so offensive, but also I said, Yeah, I can kind of see it. So this came from California, it took 6 months to get to London. It’s meant to be outside, and it’s very heavy. It eyes me every time I walk into my studio. I’ve never sat in it and I have no plans to.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Take me on a tour of these shelves. What’s the red, art-deco-ish thing?
Issy Wood: “It’s a novelty teapot, which I think means you can’t use it. It’s a fake Memphis, Ettore Sottsass type thing. I’m a sucker for Memphis furniture and items. I don’t own any but I’ve painted a few. The teapot cost like 20 pounds, and it’s a pleasing, sensible shape, as opposed to the banana-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Those are from the ‘40s or ‘50s, made in Japan. They’re very good at anthropomorphized animals and fruit.
“The peanut is a gift from a friend, you can store things inside it, or it would make a nice ashtray. The paint-can thing is a teapot, too, and the paintbrush is the handle for its lid. I had a big novelty teapot phase. I keep all these in my studio. My home’s relatively spare — I can’t bring that s**t home with me.”
Blackbird Spyplane: I mean this in the most-neutral possible way, but a lot of these things are gross. It’s like when you see old paintings of clowns, where people at the time apparently saw them as pleasantly decorative, but from our P.O.V. they’re disturbing. Like, the eyes on so many of these figurines feel f**ked up —
Issy Wood: “They have f**ked-up eyes. Dead eyes. I’d love to meet everyone who made these objects, and ask if they had a good time making them.”
Blackbird Spyplane: On the bottom shelf there’s a Judith Leiber purse in the shape of a swan. I don’t know much about her stuff besides this mix of high-priced luxury and kitsch and the fact that wealthy old ladies cop it…
Issy Wood: “I found out about her bags, which are called minaudières, a kind of ridiculous word, while I was trawling auction websites. They range from like $1000 to $2000. I started painting them first, and when I got a bit of money I bought one with a friend in an Upper East Side consignment store, which felt like a perfect place to find one. It was made in the ‘60s, and the Swarovski crystals will come off in your hand. But the story of Leiber — this holocaust survivor going into bag-making — is interesting. I was just thinking about how Monica Lewinsky made bags, too. Maybe there’s something redemptive about handbags. Or the opposite.
“The swan is from when Larry Gagosian was trying to get me to show with his gallery — he sent me that as a gift, as a way of showing me he knew me. It didn’t work.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Is there a difference for you between an object that calls out to be painted, and an object that calls out to you to be owned ?
Issy Wood: “That’s a great question. There are objects I’d like to both paint and own, but most of what I paint I have to find hideous in at least one way. For a long time painting was how I’d convince myself to not own something, or it was a way to ‘own’ something in a different sense. Usually, by the time I’m done painting things I’m sick to death of them and if I wanted to own them at the start, I don’t want to anymore.”
Issy’s new album, My Body Your Choice, is on Apple Music here and Spotify here. She’s on Instagram here.
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Fabulous interview! Thank you