Mark Woods (b. 1961, Surrey) is a British artist with a background in contemporary jewellery production and in boat building, he produces highly elaborate artefacts that blur the boundaries between jewellery, fine art, fetish objects and items from a cabinet of curiosities.
“I grew up on the Isle of Wight, went to a catholic convent run primary school, run by nuns, they were kind people, I have fond memories of them, however, I refused to be confirmed, an early act of rebellion, perhaps…
As a small boy I used to hang out with my Dad in his garden shed workshop, where he would make all sorts of things, he was a natural ‘maker’. He could knock up furniture, carve drift wood into figures, made primitive guns.. He had a fascination with explosive chemistry , which came to an abrupt end when he fumbled an acid fused bomb he had made, which blew up in his hand, removing all the flesh off the ends of his fingers. He spend some weeks in Hospital having skin grafts & was very lucky not to loose the use of his right hand…finally finding luck in being left handed..
My father was a Prison Officer, stationed at Parkhurst Prison, though he rode around on a tractor, in overalls, as he was the head gardener.Sometimes, he would smuggle some prisoners out in the back of the prison Landrover & bring them home for lunch!
My mother read endlessly..
When I left school I got an apprentice joiners job in a Boat building yard, after a couple of years I moved on to working in a shipyard that made lifeboats for the RNLI, where I learnt to work in metal.
An opportunity came along to work as a deck hand on a private motor yacht, owned by Mike Batt, made famous by ‘the Wombles’! He planned to sail around the world with his family, I met a few music biz legends , Paul Mcartney being one of them.
I returned to the island after this episode, started a band, playing guitar & writing songs. I left the band after a few a few years, though it broke my heart to do it, then found my way into Art college in Southampton, where I learnt the basics of jewellery making, then left before finishing the course, & got on with it, making & selling silver work, sometimes at Glastonbury festival, but mainly from a cellar studio under a vegetarian cafe called ‘The Flying Teapot’, in a rough part of Southampton.
In those few years there, living rather hand to mouth I made pieces of jewellery which I presented to the assessors of a degree course in contemporary jewellery, who offered me a place at Middlesex polytechnic, in north London.
I made the move to London a couple of months before the course started, setting up my workshop equipment in my bedroom of a shared house in Tottenham, & carried on making. One afternoon i found myself wandering around the department store ’Liberty’, stopping to examine a concession stand named ‘Cobra & Bellamy’, run by Veronica Manussis & Tania Hunter, who noticed a piece of my work that i was wearing, they invited me to meet with them at their Sloane st. Gallery, where they commissioned me to make around a dozen pieces of jewellery. Mainly brooches, but some rings & a bracelet or two…this is around 1988.
Once college started, I found I didn’t enjoy the structure of the course at all, I learnt some useful things, however, didn’t stay there long.
I Moved to Woodgreen, north London, where I didn’t have such a good time of it, didn’t work much, got a bit lost for a while, had a bad year, but turned the corner after getting evicted from a shared house in Palmers Green high st. It was a big old Victorian building, had a Bank occupying the ground floor, the top floor was painted out Matt black, with a Matt black ‘four poster’ bed in the middle of the room which was used for making ‘Porn movies’. We named the building’Rose Cottage’!
I stayed in London, & carried on making, moving into a squat in Hackney with my workshop equipment, then found work space in a ceramics Studio, run by the potter Kate Malone, stayed a couple of years, eventually meeting other Artists, found a studio space near Hoxton, a fabulous old victorian warehouse on Southgate road, by the canal.It was cold & draughty, but it was wonderful!
This was around 1993, when I got noticed by Barbara Cartlidge, director of Electrum, the seminal contemporary jewellery Gallery, where she sold my work, & introduced me to Isabella Blow, amongst others.
So! I was in Shoreditch at the most pivotal period of ‘Brit Art, Where I managed to be oblivious of who the ‘Brit Artists’ & associated characters who I was rubbing shoulders with were…
Meeting my future wife, the painter Rebecca Scott at a party in Pitfield St, next door to the infamous ‘Charlie Wrights’ bar changed my life profoundly, I have been, more or less, very happy since!
“Mark Woods’ highly glamorous and «transgressive» objects are beautiful fetishes, reminiscent of sadomasochist sex toys, but their softness, delicacy and beauty surpass any remote functionality. While packed with feminist, masculine, sexual and even religious ideas, the attractiveness of their execution and the nobility of the materials immediately capture the viewers’ senses. Woods’ sculptures seem to echo to perfection the fraudulent simulation phenomena of a society increasingly obsessed with glamour and pornography – a super-profitable industry ultimately responsible for the supply of new concepts, images and fantasies of our private sexual lives. It is certainly ironic, for a society always looking for new excitement and extreme pleasures, that the more we search for transgression the more we turn into play-acting.”
– Mónica Sánchez-Argilés