Bruce Wood

Chicago Filmmakers

Bruce Wood is a master at the creation of an individual frame—photo, film, or painting made from photo. He uses images in all three media which are black and white with amazing variations in gray tones and compositional variety. These images originate in an initial filming of, for instance, two square inches of curdled Hershey’s syrup or ashes mixed with broken glass behind a magnifying paperweight. Ultimately scaled up from miniature to gigantic size, such a source might then become the mirror of some great rippling pool with dancing light beams on a screen. In a subsequent photo made by shooting the film frame positive and cropping the composition for intensity the very same image presents hovering surfaces and trembling foregrounds ready to travel beyond the photo frame. And lastly, in a medium-sized painting made by projecting a slide from the film frame onto a sheet of paper and air-gunning paint or India ink over the light pattern. that same old image is generally flattened into a further expression of Wood’s growing attachment to the interesting image he initially produced.

Many of Wood’s individual frames also involve several different overlays of separate exposures. He really is most crucially involved with producing the virtuoso “moment.” It’s an understatement to say that his films Frozen Flight and The Bridge of Heaven, whose respective 15 and 33 minutes’ running time juxtapose hundreds of these complex, hinged-together compositions, are overloaded with startling, intense, undeveloped information. After a while, all these topic sentences minus paragraphs become a kind of torture, one after another after another. Will the pounding ever cease? As inspiration for this fantastic pace, Wood refers to the densely packed, rapidly paced segments in a TV program which, he says, routinely condition a modern viewer to want to be bombarded with unextended, exploding information. I don’t agree that any television program can change a thinking human being into a starry-eyed robot, but even kids’ shows do in fact rely on closeups, side views, whole scenes, etc., which are variously interspersed, and Wood allows for little such relief.

In fact, if Wood’s images were more simpleminded, I might like his rapidity as a way of speed replacing meaning. However, as it happens, Wood’s images invite contemplation—and consequently it is not his films, but his photographs, which present single images from the films in a static format, that stand up as art which is internally sensible. They allow the leisurely interaction which the films schizophrenically seduce and prevent.

Wood’s compositions do relate to the kind of nonhierarchical painting in which equal value parts are whole compositions within a larger overall composition. Unlike the modules in pattern painting, his “modules,” or single film frames, may be structurally unrelated; but still they are all equal-value flashes, hundreds of whole complete parts in a long, nonhierarchical whole.

Wood’s subsequent progression from film to photo to painting curiously carries on his fixation with the virtuoso moment even further. He replaces the risk of inventing new images, or extending the original images into other aspects of themselves, by a contentment with “hanging onto what I’ve got.” His scrupulous, work-oriented image building, I thought, would be particularly suited to the medium of painting, but by the time his images have reached the stage of projected light pattern on the watercolor paper, something has become undone—likely the images have died from overuse.

C. L. Morrison