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Ginger Wolfe Suarez



Alison Woods is a painters’ painter.  Woods enrolled in an MFA program when she was 54 years old.  She made work quietly. Her work consists primarily of paintings, and installations that involve paintings. Her work explores the relationship between scale and the human body, between size and perception, and between sensorial conditions and the psychology of our complex cultural associations of what painting could be. Woods says her work is “haunted by the future”.[1] The concept of the future, of the grief and hope our generation may have regarding the future is a topic I have discussed with her during readings of Italian theorist Bifo Berardi.[2] How can the future be addressed in painting? Her work makes me wonder how can the future of painting be addressed in painting?

Many of her paintings involve pouring paint while the canvas is flat, but they also involve a system of extremely layered mark making. She both paints over and sands down her work. There is both an accumulation and a removal of material and process in the same work. It seems to me there is a painterly activity in this kind of ‘accumulation’. One that is both conceptualized and immediate in terms of both its making and its viewing.  I have often wondered about her work’s relationship to the urban landscape, to what she would probably call a painterly digital landscape. When asked to describe her painting, my then six year old son, described it as ‘the most beautiful pile of trash’. Yet to me these works are still about the urban landscape. To her the same painting might have been about patterns of conspiracy theories in the financial meltdown. Perhaps the work embraces all three of these interpretations, and readily so.


We are a society that must accept that artists come from different places and different backgrounds. Artists, especially women, frequently spend years caring for children and supporting their families. Many of the artists whose careers I find most interesting are women who have non-conventional careers. Lee Bontecou is an artist who comes to mind in this capacity.  


I would describe Alison’s paintings as; involving a psychic-sensory phenomena, and a mediation between technology and labor. She writes in her artist statement that her work “generates new codes and new patterns of complexity”, and I feel that her work rigorously explores aesthetics. While Woods was at the San Francisco Art Institute, she studied with San Francisco based painter Amy Ellingson, and with me. Upon graduation, she enrolled in The Critique Program an experimental post graduate art program which I was a founding faculty member of; where she was a founding student. I’d say the tone and the scope and rigor of her work was important to the development of the program as a whole. During that time she studied with painter Robert Olsen (1969- 2014).[3]  Robert spent a lot of time with Woods work, visiting her studio which she shared with artist Nancy Ivanhoe in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco for hours at a time.  Robert shared with her a relationship between painting and its complex history, regarding mark making and time, and also regarding the post-modern urban landscape that both of their work investigates.


Woods was a graphic designer most her life.  She worked with her husband, designer Paul Woods, and had a son. Her business, at one time, was thriving, and they have had a role in some major design concepts of our lifetime. She was actively involved as a designer during the period for several decades, and even worked for Atari in 1983. She raised her son, who is now a musician in New York. Music seems important to her work- both music as a series of codes and music as a kind of visual lyricism.


What is the role or importance of the biography of an artist? I used to say not much, I used to believe in the stark objective interpretations of artwork without a biographical context. This is how I was taught (within a traditional educational system) to decode and create critical reflections about art, but I learned that system is outdated. Art cannot be void of the human and cultural conditions surrounding and creating it. I think in this situation, the human context of Woods’ career is relevant because as a community we need to support and expect artists with non-conventional career paths.


There are countless examples of artists who begin with large extravagant ‘ emerging’ practices and then fade out, eventually get other forms of employment, maybe have kids, and spend their lives doing other things. It’s not a very thoughtful or functional way to create concepts of value surrounding art. Woods career has developed with an inversed narrative. I think many women have this narrative. This narrative is just as relevant, and creates work with the same amount of complexity and rigor. Woods has said to me that she feels on some level like an emerging artist, and her comment makes me reflect on these definitions. They are so trivial and create pressure where there should be none. Where I’d even say the market does not support one, nor the ethics of our community of artists.


Woods now lives and works out of her home and studio in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she recently started an informal artist residency. The work she is making now is the some of the strongest painting I have seen in Los Angeles in many years.




[1] See artist statement on her website

[2] See essay on The European Collapse in Franco “Bifo” Berardi The Uprising, On Poetry and Finance (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2012)

[3] Woods says Robert Olsen’s lectures and slide presentations were very moving. Some images and discussions stand out for her including conversations on artist Ed Ruscha, and dead pan photography. She remarked to me that working with Robert opened up “a new or different way of seeing things”.

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