Wood was born in Knowsley, near Liverpool, and in 1921 he went to Paris to study at the Academie Julian. He entered effortlessly into fashionable artistic circles, meeting Augustus John and the Chilean diplomat Antonio de Gandarillas, with whom he began to live. As well as providing financial support, Gandarillas introduced Wood to Picasso, Georges Auric and Jean Cocteau, and to the use of opium.
By 1926 Wood was in a position to make designs for Romeo and Juliet for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. When these designs were abandoned at the last moment, he concentrated on England, becoming a member of the London Group and the Seven and Five Society. He exhibited with Ben and Winifred Nicholson at the Beaux Arts Gallery (April-May 1927), becoming close to them personally and artistically. Wood’s friendship with the Nicholsons is at the heart of English painting between the wars and the weeks that they spent together at the Nicholson’s home in Cumbira, Bankshead, in 1928 and then at St Ives later in the summer had a powerful effect on all three of their careers.
The Nicholsons presented Wood with an idealised image of English creative life – the truth of their relationship was of course more complex, but what Wood saw was a matched and mutually supportive partnership that seemed in sharp contrast to his own lonely isolation. He longed for something similar for himself, but despite his search for this sort of happiness Wood had neither the character nor lifestyle to make such a relationship stick and he was always drawn back to a life of opium-fuelled bisexuality in Bohemian Paris. His friendship with the Nicholsons though was one of the few certainties of his short life.