08.12.2018 – 09.02.2019
‘Water Me’, Jody Paulsen’s exhibition at SMAC Gallery, sees the artist extend his practice into a new direction. His last solo, ‘Pushing Thirty’ engaged with the pleasures and anxieties of aging. This show appears as desire by Paulsen for personal growth.
His medium, fuzzy felt, is a potent choice. It’s a textile associated with children’s playtime and early learning experiences, but when transferred into the contemporary art space and paired with Paulsen’s thematic explorations it creates a tension between content and medium. Unlike previous work though, in this show the tension is less apparent, with the exploration of adult concerns, desires, and interpretations of life connecting easily to the child-like medium. The felt acts as a guide to learning about oneself and unpacking the different versions of self we inhabit as we get older.
The title for the show ‘Water Me’ plays on the strong presence of nature in the works, through floral still lives, animals and figures surrounded by natural elements. It is a direct comparison between the artist and plants in their need to be nurtured in order to grow. This comes across powerfully in Soul Cycler – a text-heavy piece that anchors the collection. A beautifully excessive paradise space is created, with renaissance-inspired Italian sculptures alongside palms trees and Bambi. These visual elements frame the textual references literally and figuratively, accentuating their meaning. In conversation with Paulsen he explains that the phrase ‘Find Your Beach’ is taken from both a Zadie Smith essay and a Corona campaign. The essay explores the life of people in living Manhattan now, with this embodied by Soul Cycling moms being fed mantras in classes about finding one’s limit and pushing past it. This speaks to the artist’s own aspirations to be limitless, and yet simultaneously acknowledging the humanness that places a border around the full achievement of this. The work also signals aspiration being used as a kind of marketing tool; a gateway to buying into a lifestyle, as can be evidenced by the Corona campaign reference. The desire to live beyond limits is one that is often connected to commercial agendas and requires a facade of perpetual productivity and faux peaks, although genuinely rooted in wanting to embrace one’s full potential. The work points to the constant need to be working towards the next goal, catapulted by posts on social media. Paulsen highlights the sensitivity involved in this push and pull.
“You can never be at your beach. You have to keep going and have to embody potential in all moments. And I think that was something I feel within myself and within other people around me. It has become quite a normative space to exist within. Always the next thing and not really feeling here, present,” Paulsen expresses.
And yet Soul Cycler also communicates the idea that we are always enough in whatever moment of life we occupy.
Lonely in the Canyon, presenting a new scale and formalistic connection to painting, allows viewers into the intimacies of Paulsen’s anxieties about the future. Inspired by his love for David Hockney and images of the artist in his garden in his later years, these are also images of a man alone. As the only work displaying a male figure, and with Paulsen confessing to the kind of loneliness that can comes from being a solo artist working in a studio, it comes across as a Hockney-slash-potential-future-Paulsen. This act of projection is present in all our lives in some way, adding to the intimacy of the work.
More More More is a visual eruption that breaks away from the traditional still life, speaking to cravings about feeling alive and in the moment. Every part of the piece is worked, creating a densely vibrant image. The title, taken from the 70s disco track of the same name, calls to mind ideas around 70s excess. However, the work is less a reflection on excess and consumption as Paulsen has done with previous work, and is more about a living a full life charged with positive energy. This shift becomes apparent when connecting the work to the larger message of the show. The ‘more’ in this context can be seen as a kind of request to the universe for a showering of experience to contribute to this path of personal growth, as if unintentionally channeling the spirit of Josh Radnor’s movie Happy. Thank You. More. Please. The individual letters shower the exploding bouquet, again signaling the overall intention behind the exhibition.
The female figures in works such as Career Woman and Girl on Fire symbolize versions of himself that Paulsen would like to embody. They point to a confident and deliberate personal evolution.
‘Water Me’ is another demonstration of how Paulsen’s work goes beyond the formal qualities of collage, by merging seemingly chaotic and disconnected visual and text references to create new totalities that reflect on contemporary moods. This show speaks to a generational feeling connected to the pressure of having to continuously think about the next milestone, and the concerns associated with an extended young adulthood. In this, the overarching desire for personal growth is delivered with a playful potency.