Roswell Artist-in-Residence Cedra Wood’s exhibit opens
By Christina Stock
Roswell Artist-in-Residence Cedra Wood’s exhibit, “The Water Waxes Deeper Still,” opens at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, 1011 N. Richardson Ave., Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m., with a lecture, followed by a reception. The exhibit will be up until Jan. 12, 2020.
Wood graduated in 2010 from the University of New Mexico with a Master of Fine Arts degree with distinction. Since then, she has received various grants, fellowships and awards, such as first place in acrylic miniatures category of Masterworks of New Mexico and the Cathie P. Scott Memorial Award for detail, Masterworks of New Mexico. Wood’s art has been shown at Goddard Center, Ardmore, Oklahoma; the Forster Gallery, Austin College, Sherman, Texas; and the esteemed Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada.
It is in the nature of artists to explore deep emotions, finding connections that are easily overlooked. However, when it comes to using this artistic creativity, there are no boundaries for the medium used. In Wood’s case, her medium of choice is acrylics, its creation is based on and supported by sketches, sculptures and occasionally digital tools. The soft-spoken artist is eloquent, thoughtful and detail-oriented in her speaking, which is mirrored in her art — true, authentic realism with subtle messages she will talk about during her lectures.
“One of the things about realism is that it’s kind of a Trojan horse,” Wood said during a visit to her studio on the Roswell Artist-in-Residence compound. “No matter what the message is, people can always appreciate technique and feel like it’s meant for them. I think people are often worried that there is a trick with art, that somebody is trying to put something over them. While I want there to be meaning and depth to what I am doing, I also want to be clear that people are allowed to just esthetically appreciate the fact that there is an image in front of them, and that I worked really hard on it. They can share at least the labor and good intentions, even if they don’t absorb the content in them.”
Asked about her background, Wood said that she grew up near Lubbock. “My mother really has an artistic bent,” she said. “She never indulged it deeply, but it was always a part of our lives growing up. She wrote and illustrated small books for us. They are really darling. They always had a purpose, they were to learn counting, so she would illustrate a small child to learn to count on our fingers, things like that. She’s always been very supportive and my father, too — very supportive. He, when I was growing up, had a silk-screening and embroidery awards-type business. While he never considered himself an artist, I grew up around constant quick turnaround improvisation of visual information.”
Though art was surrounding Wood, it was not her first choice of study. “I went to school and initially double-majored in philosophy and English. I am not sure why I thought philosophy was such a better thing to pursue than art. I remember deciding that art was not practical, but I don’t remember deciding that philosophy was the solution to that,” she said and laughed. It wasn’t until her last year of undergrad in Austin College, Sherman, Texas, that she decided to pursue an art degree. “I might as well do something I really liked, if I was working on something that wasn’t hugely marketable anyway,” Woods said. “I very quickly took as many studio and history classes as I could to get the credits that I needed to graduate with an art degree.”
Growing up so close to New Mexico, Woods said that she drove through Roswell multiple times and knows the area. “This is the first time I’ve spent any concentrated time here. Prior to this, Christopher (her partner, graphic artist Christopher Baldwin) and I have been traveling for many years. He and I do a mix of residences ever since we got together four years ago.
“This is the longest amount of consecutive time we’ve spent anywhere. It’s been really great. Regenerative sanity-inducing to just have a place to land; a place to spread out and work on things. The pressure is really off. It is so conducive to development,” Wood said.
Asked about her time at the RAiR compound and the influence of her environment into her art, Woods said that these influences will show up much later in her work. The reason is her long-term methodical and meticulous preparation in bringing her art into the world. Even the smallest of her creations may take years to come to fruition. Such is the case with her miniature series that were influenced by songs. “It is based on Scottish and British ballads dating back for 500 or so years. I became interested in them in college. This other series of much smaller works that are interpretations of moments in those songs that have stuck with me ever since I’ve heard these songs many years ago. It usually takes longer for me to get an idea straight and then do all the practical elements to get it finished,” Woods said.
There will also be a variety of larger paintings in the exhibit. Each piece of these include a unique unnatural and alien — alien as in unknown strangeness — compound. This compound exists as sculpture, its material collected and created from the real location of the painting. Wood uses these sculptures as an artistic prop to show a solemn — often even disturbing — aspect in her paintings. It is a subtle nod to a tragic background story that she may share in the lecture, or may not.
“I want people to be free to react to them however they want, and it is really important for me, too. Just like in life, I want everyone I talk to — to feel as seen and comfortable with me as anyone else I may interact with. In the same way, I would want my grandmother to like this painting as much as my graduate professor,” Wood said.
The series of larger paintings belong to an overreaching project Wood was part of that took place in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada. One of these paintings shows a cave, specifically the Lehman Cave.
“Christopher and I would volunteer for their yearly camp for cleaning lint that humans deposit off of the formations once a year,” Wood said. “I collected that lint and made these objects. In a sort of reference and to anthropomorphize a monster presence, and then use them as props for paintings.”
One of the most disturbing, yet esthetically pleasing, sculptures by Wood is made of the bones of fish she collected that have washed up on the shores of the Salton Sea in California. The painting incorporating the sculpture’s image has an almost serene feeling to it, while the monster is not easily recognizable.
Then there is a cloak surrounding fire on a painting that shows an idyllic forest scene at night. This large cloak is made out of pinecone scales, which will be in the show.
“That is a first in a series and it took place based on a stay at a research station there at Bent Creek Experimental Forest, which is run by UC Berkeley (University of California at Berkeley). It is one of the longest operating field stations in the U.S. Their recent focus is on control and learning as much as possible about the danger of forest fires in California. It is a timely issue. They have been working on it for a very long time, just now becoming urgent in recent development. We got to stay there and see some of the burns they did. I took a lot of pictures of the fires and I wanted to make something out of pinecones for a really long time. I never wanted to take that much material out of a natural environment, I feel bad about it, but this was supposed to be burned so it was the perfect opportunity,” Wood said.
Another painting is strikingly different and shows a nebulous palace-like structure, hinting a crystalline transparency as if it was floating in and out of existence. Wood said the building does only exist in historic photos anymore. The construction had been destroyed decades ago.
Then there is a painting that shows a road ending in wilderness — it has a hidden story included in a technique I haven’t seen for many years. The technique is called camouflage. “That is something I have never done before,” Wood said. “Sort of an inclusion of an illusion. Being here (in Roswell), this is the first time I tried that, and I really like it. I have been working on it with drawings that are not here because they are getting framed. You’ll get to see them at the show.”
Wood has a surprise planned after the lecture for her audience, which will resonate with one part of the exhibit.
Wood said that she had enjoyed interacting with the other artists during her stay in Roswell. “It makes it really easy when you are surrounded by nice people who are also working. Having the extended community of the old Berrendo compound, and all the people there, is extra-nice, too — a satellite community expanding outwards. I am sure we’ll be back, too. We have been trying tentatively to find a way to stick around at least for a couple of months. Just so we don’t feel rushed or overly sad about leaving all at once,” she said.
For more information about the artist, visit cedrawood.com. For more information about the exhibit, visit roswell-nm.gov/308/Roswell-Museum-Art-Center or call 575-624-6744.