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CHild's Play

September 24, 2000|BARBARA THORNBURG

Jessika Wood can't remember a time when she didn't draw, paint or make small sculptures. At age 5, living on a chicken farm in the Australian outback with her mom, landscape designer Susan Wood, she decorated their barn door with stars. Wood also recalls childhood visits with her father, German-born artist Roger Herman, in his Oakland studio "with all the paper, pens and paint a kid could ever dream of."

As an adolescent, Wood was inspired by the Hernandez brothers' "Love & Rockets" cartoon of two punk rock girls. Two years later, she encountered the drawings of Matisse on a trip to Paris with her dad. "His work totally inspired me . . . the way he used one line. It was totally simple and totally beautiful." By age 16, her paintings, as well as her ceramic vases and plates, were selling in Berkeley coffee houses and cafes. "My friends called me Scribble: I was always the youngest artist in the group."

Three years ago, Wood, now 25, began to tackle her largest canvas--a first home. "My dad found it for me," she says of the one-story 1922 residence in Solano Canyon. "We can each see the other's house," she adds, laughing, "which is sometimes a mixed blessing." She recalls one early-morning incident shortly after moving in: "My lights went on at 4 o'clock in the morning because I hadn't figured out how to work an automatic timing device, and my dad called and asked, 'What are you doing up at 4 a.m.?' And I said, 'Why are you watching my house at 4 in the morning?' "

Wood's small bungalow had charm but needed major tweaking. Inside, each room featured a different pattern of linoleum except for the living room's wall-to-wall shag carpeting. A low ceiling made the room feel cramped and tight. "I had to have all new plumbing and electrical installed, take out the old drop ceiling, drywall every room in the house and paint it inside and out."

She began by stripping the faux-brick facade on the house and painting it in colors that soon resembled "the 'Cat in a Hat' house"--chartreuse yellow with red trim. Inside, the once dirty-white walls sport unusual colors similar to those in Wood's paintings, which often feature adolescent girls in colorful, stylized interiors. In the living room, an off-green color she calls "milky avocado" defines the room's high wainscot. The three bedrooms are painted "Home Depot's 'Lake Blue' with lots and lots of white and some other colors I don't remember." The kitchen is a bold mix of yellow and pink cabinets with red trim.

The decor--what her friends call "Bay Area hippie"--consists of thrift-store finds. A '60s floor lamp with a safety-orange shade arcs over a floral sofa that Herman traded her for one of her paintings. A flower motif brightens furnishings, from pillows and upholstery to a kitchen tablecloth. "I love to paint flowers," says Wood. "They're just so uplifting . . . even when they're polyester."

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What Inspires Jessika wood

Comic books.

The fantasy of love.

Eloise, "my half-calico, half-Siamese cat."

Old churches and desolate places.

Adelaide Donnelly, who wrote "Sorrow Mountain."

Patti Smith's poetry.

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