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Real Meets Surreal

Denver artist John Woods paints the moment with expressive brushstrokes



When he was 4 years old, Boulder native John Woods painted his first self-portrait. Hundreds of canvases later, the purveyor of a vibrant idyll confesses to “struggling with that voice that whispers: ‘You really can’t do this.’” 

How do you overcome the sort of panic that induces painter’s block?


Cottolene Hydrangea

“You show up,” says Woods, disavowing the notion that art owes much to luck or temperament. “It is showing up that creates a finished painting.” To that end, Woods keeps a weekly calendar that forces him to paint four hours a day. “If I didn’t do that, I’d do something else. Let’s face it—it’s much easier to go to Starbucks than to paint for four hours, not knowing what will come.”


Soda Bottles
“I spent most of my life moving too fast. I missed things. Art helps me to be present.” 
— John Woods

Tall and silver-haired, Woods looks like an aloof college professor, but his demeanor is quite the opposite. Welcoming, humble and driven, he’s always with a work in progress and eager to challenge his hard-earned wisdom. He credits his Norwegian mother, Marion, with his love of botanicals, and his wife, Sandra, for his fascination with vintage Americana in the form of tins and bottles. He recounts the day when he came home to find on the dining table a half-dozen soda bottles filled with gerbera daisies. “That’s how the soda-bottle series started,” he smiles. “Sandra has a tremendous gift for styling.


White Tulips & Gumballs

Sanka Coffee

From Limonade Geranium to Villa Park Orchid, nature flourishes under Woods’ brush. His flowers are rooted in America but owe much to the values of Frenchman Édouard Manet, whom he quotes, and who believed that still life is the touchstone of painting. Looking at Woods’ Figs, resting in a glass dish, the near-palpability of their ripe skins beckons you to action: You have the urge to reach inside the bowl. Instead, you look again, searching for the ghost third dimension that teased you into craving that fruit in the first place.


Green Cabbage

That is how you know it’s art—and that the nagging whispers Woods hears don’t carry even a sliver of truth.  

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