Swag Surfin (2023) by Qualeasha Wood.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Kendra Jayne Patrick

Fast-Rising Artist Qualeasha Wood Blends Textural Fuzziness with Digital Frenzy

After the Philadelphia talent became one of the youngest artists in the Met’s collection, she continues her rise with a solo show at Kendra Jayne Patrick

Qualeasha Wood. Photo: Darryl DeAngelo Terrell

Qualeasha Wood has 63,000 photos on her iPhone, and 23,792 of them are screenshots. The number is less than surprising, given the artist constantly explores her own resources to layer seemingly endless digital imagery in her tapestry works, one of which was acquired last year by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Along with Airdrop notifications, error alerts, and stream-of-consciousness Notepad confessions, Wood juxtaposes her own likeness in her woven Jacquard tapestries. The fabric’s soft fuzziness encapsulates her direct gaze into our eyes, or she delivers seductively divine—á la Mary—gestures. The Philadelphia-based artist’s wall-hung tapestries hold the woven permanence of textile, monumentalizing the digital’s fleeting immateriality.

“Working in textile is a way of archiving the fluidity of the online,” Wood tells Galerie. “This is an attempt to cement something that can still shift, because the weave continues to stretch over time and the beads move.” Screenshots have along the way become her way of compartmentalizing an access into her own memory, like the diaries she used to write as a child around when the 27-year old had her first computer.

Dirt Off Your Shoulder - Jay Z (2023) by Qualeasha Wood

Wood’s first solo gallery exhibition in New York, “Manic Pixie Magical Negro,” at Kendra Jayne Patrick gallery featured her most recent large scale woven Jacquard tapestries decorated with glass beads, along with a group of small scale tufted wool works. Frayed edges frame weavings which capture the chaos of the cyber realm with piles of countless tabs, lingering cursors, and the “close” icon popping around. Amid this cacophony, Wood performs to the screen, testing various playful gestures which are either determined or coy.

Swag Surfin (2023) by Qualeasha Wood Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Kendra Jayne Patrick

Each tapestry contains a particularly controlled disarray with the backdrop of Windows XP Bliss desktop background. “This calm imagery which is adapted from a California vineyard encapsulates my entire childhood when I started using a computer,” Wood recalls. The glitched landscapes she orchestrates today with desktops and herself pays homage to those early days, “a way of recreating a form of nostalgia,” she says.

Scattering around countless open tabs from her own device conveys a confessional language, too—whether she exposes a Notes app list with reminders of skin serum and anti-bloating pills, or she wraps her arms around her breasts to perform a moment of seduction. “I am seeking vulnerability with hundred plus layers deep files; I am in an intense relationship with the machine about how much it or I can corrupt,” she explains.

In Swag Surfin (2023), many of her selves are intertwined, with her face looking up or down and her arms dancing around. There are yellow halos around, as well as a System Task tab and a suite of apps lined up at the tapestry’s bottom. Between the viewer’s gaze and hers towards us, Wood hides her own process of looking at the camera and being looked by it. At the studio, the artist puts on Erykah Badu or Solange, pours some wine, and enters what she calls “a ritual of taking selfies” for hours while recording herself with a camera and capturing photos with another. The duality of documentation allows for “more honest and candid moments,” along with deliberate posing.

Past My Bedtime (2023) by Qualeasha Wood. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Kendra Jayne Patrick

Keyboard Warrior (2023) is a force of analog and digital alchemy in landscape format. Wood stands in the center, hugging a desktop keyboard like baby Jesus. A heart-on-fire emoji pokes through her corset while a cursor approaches like the Cupid’s arrow. Her mellow gaze upwards adds onto the matriarchal holiness, completed with a large halo which also resembles a sunrise, emerging from the hilly vineyard backdrop. The scenery is awash with fragments of her face and body, visible hazily inside glitched tabs. PC’s “start” button is peppered around, as well as other familiar icons of a Windows experience.

In her orchestration of online whirlwind, Wood knew from early on that her work had to be tactile and dimensional. She started off with digital and later silkscreen print collages while studying for her MFA degree at Cranbrook Academy of Fine Arts. “I was still looking to stretch the image to new textures,” she says. Touching her grandmother’s blanket with photos of her grandchildren pushed her to the materiality of a soft, woven, surface. “I realized whatever I was doing would never be sufficient without being something to hold onto and hug even.” Wood considers the work as an extension of the body, like the family blanket that inspired her, as well as her exploration of Christian iconography and paintings of Caravaggio which she had chance to firsthand encounter this past summer in Italy.

Peep Show (2023) by Qualeasha Wood Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Kendra Jayne Patrick

Wood is currently busy working towards an institutional show which opens in May at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture in Charlotte. Beauty, she has noticed, has become a growingly crucial part of the work through her own self-awareness and the viewers’ comments about her own imagery in the work. Wood in her upcoming body of work is particularly interested in exploring the voyeuristic aspect of the process through POV angles with mirrored images of herself. “The idea of regaining the control of being seen is what I am after,” she explains. “I’ve been interested in what everyone else sees, but I aim to revert the consumption of voyeurism.”

Cover: Swag Surfin (2023) by Qualeasha Wood.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Kendra Jayne Patrick


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