Visual Arts

Rodney Wood Has Made Art of Cars and Watches — Now He's Finally Showing Paintings

Artist Rodney Wood is finally showing paintings in Denver, after many decades and many ventures in the art world. His creative career started “during the old hippie days,” Wood remembers, when the Colorado native went to Colorado State University for a few years and studied art and art history — but his academic life was short-lived. “I went to something more practical,” he explains. 

Specifically, a bronze foundry. Although that wasn't exactly in Wood's area of interest, it was steady work that paid the bills. “I’ve always had something else going,” he says. “Most of my life has been a combination of things overlapping — usually completely nonlinear things.”

During his early twenties, for example, Wood relocated to Santa Fe, where he taught skiing in the winters and worked at local galleries in the summer, doing everything from “cleaning toilets to curating,” he says. Wood also picked up some teaching gigs there, and he continued with that when he returned to Denver.

Wood was teaching in everything “from private situations to college level, as the honorary adjunct guy,” he says, when he accidentally discovered another passion. He was offering art classes — mostly drawing and jewelry-making – at the Jewish Community Center when he saw a woman carrying fencing equipment to the gym.

“I’d always wanted to take fencing,” he recalls. So Wood asked if he could try the equipment, and within a few weeks he was training to be his new friend’s partner. He wound up working with her for five or six years, doing art on the side. “Art and fencing worked well together," he says. "They didn’t bump into each other."  Eventually Wood moved to Sedona, where he wound up teaching art, art history and fencing at a boarding school for another five or six years. “While I was there, connections were made,” says Wood.

As a result, when he moved back to Colorado, he opened a gallery in Colorado Springs, Thunderstruck. “It was all 3-D, with lots of jewelry, metal-snipping, sculpture and wall art,” says Wood. He found a new niche there: making industrial watches that were “part Mad Max, part The Terminator.” Life was good — until Western Pacific Airlines went bankrupt, taking many of his gallery customers with it. 

Wood did a stint in Manitou Springs — "I've moved a lot," he admits — where he directed the Business of Art Center, now known as the Manitou Art Center. And then Wood and his partner, Susan (the artist says he’s too old to call her "a girlfriend"), went on a 120-day road trip across America in 2010. They were “looking for and finding outsider visionary artists, weird museums, abandoned architecture, roadside attractions and more,” Wood says. “Whoa! I mean, it really was incredible.”

During one stop, Wood discovered the Houston Art Car Parade. “It was crazy-cool,” he says, “wildly creative and silly.” During his career, Wood estimates, he's curated "conservatively, oh, 300 art shows." But this art-car parade, which drew hundreds of thousands of spectators, was unlike anything he’d seen.
After that, he and Susan settled in Trinidad, which has a "really affordable pro-arts community,” Wood says. And when he was asked to create a signature event to attract tourists to Trinidad, he pitched the concept of an annual art-car parade.

So in 2013, the wacky, family-friendly ArtoCade festival debuted, with art cars, motorcycles, bikes, trikes, scooters, tractors and golf carts. Wood had hoped to get thirty floats in that inaugural festival and ended up with a whopping 52. “This year, I bet we sniff a hundred,” he says.

That lineup will include two cars that Wood worked on for three months with inmates at the Trinidad Correctional Facility. He also contributes other vehicles to the parade, including a 1985 Dodge lovingly nicknamed EyeVan the Not So Terrible and a Toyota covered in chalkboard paint, with frames for spectators to draw inside.  

ArtoCade has been such a hit that it won the Governor's Award for best festival last year. The fourth annual edition will hit the streets of Trinidad again on September 9 and 10.

“The ‘art car guy’ is one of my more noticeable hats these days, but I do wear other, less silly ones,” Wood says. “In reality, I am an artist within a quite different genre than the world of art cars.

“I’d always been a sculpture guy,” Wood continues. He specialized in 3-D and whole-room installations and did some photography, too — but recently he switched to painting. “I’ve never taken a painting class; I’m on the learn-as-you-go plan,” he says. 

Painting was “a complete divergence,” he admits. But he finds it better expresses his voice as an artist.
Wood's subjects generally fall into magic or emotional realism — dark, mysterious and just a little bit allegorical. He says he has an overly active dream life, and the ideas for many of his paintings start there. After that, Wood photographs models — make that muses — in an initial brainstorming session when the muses often weigh in with their own ideas.

Finally, the artist paints his idea with “hyperactive, tiny brushstrokes,” he says. “Most of the art-curator people I know say my work looks like Old Dutch painting.” That's not just because of the brush work; lighting from multiple sources give the pieces a “magical and impossibly light reality," he adds. “The lighting is done in a matter that adds to the drama or the mystery. You don’t see everything, and you wonder what’s going on in the background.”

The finished products are often bizarre and tend to provoke conversation. Wood gets a kick out of listening to his viewers process and interpret pieces. “I never tell anyone what the pieces mean,” he says. “I want people to explore their own emotional reaction — that’s the payback.”

And there's been plenty of reaction to Kindred, the show Wood is sharing with Rebecca Yaffe at Next Gallery. This is the first time he's shown paintings in Denver; the exhibit will be up through July 17.

For more information on Wood and his work, visit his website
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Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase