Greeted by bright yellow walls, Jody Paulsen's works hold focus–they enclose and encompass the passerby, with figures towering above and flowers abundantly tumbling out of their vases–flourishing amidst the chaotic pulsations of colour that attempt to contain them. Even with the limitation of chromatics, Paulsen's floral arrangements sprout wildly out of their vases like sheaths. Paulsen's work is a cross section between the contemporary and the traditional–still lives as colour studies, flower arranging as meditation–taking the form of Ikebana–the ancient Japanese art of 'making flowers alive', a practice that dates back to traditional arrangements made for altars. In keeping with this, Paulsen's nudes speak back to the idea of a virginal Madonnas enmeshed with their modern-day contemporaries when the trope of the bond girl emerging from the ocean on a deserted island meets the characters we come across on reality TV shows, such as Love Island, and Ex on the beach, where the desire for virility transcends the need for innocence in a chosen one.
Paulsen's visual code picks up on the world around him. On entering his Artist Room, we are confronted by a trifecta of women assembled from fruit cocktail slices–the holy trinity of saturated sunburnt hues. The Juicy girls emerge from the shimmering ocean like a mirage. The water behind them quivers in their heat as Lizzo's Juice echoes in their memory, 'No, I'm not a snack at all. Look, baby, I'm the whole damn meal'. Paulsen's paradise is constructed through mimesis. A by-no-means 'natural' red-head is flanked by two box-blondes–they stand alongside each other as one unit–like a nativity panel in a church looking down from its heavenly perch. The Juicy girls glorify the notion of the nubile woman emerging from nature as an icon of purist femininity–where the further away it moves from the natural and toward the obscure the more these women become parodies of themselves–with eyelashes so heavy they can barely blink. Within this arrangement, the smart girl trope, Tasty (2020), watches the panel of Madonnas from the corner of the room like a wallflower. With pears and coconuts for skin, she is an edible version of Jackie O, wrapped tightly in a pussy bow, beaming from pear to pear. 'She doesn't need the others, she's going to be just fine,' Paulsen comments. She is exonerated from the pack.
Clique culture springs forth again in Paulsen's coming of age montages, spanning outwards to explore the vulnerability of boys and their almost inevitable descent into gangsterism on the Cape Flats. Brothers with Imperfect Timing (2020) references a documentary on Abdullah Ibrahim, a pianist and musician who hailed from Mannenberg–making note of how he associates the loss of innocence with the place he grew up in, eventually leaving South Africa. Paulsen collages gang signs alongside military insignia, pointing out the convergence of violence across cultures, speaking back to how colonial rule and its legacy have influenced the current landscape of toxic masculinity in South Africa.
4 Spoilt Boyz (2020) is a coming of age drama, engaging in multiple acts. Paulsen describes the work as encompassing 'Coloured boyhood nostalgia' complete with the Jumpman from the original Nike Air Jordan's campaign. Here, the Jumpman is beheaded midair by the words 'Dead or Alive' strung across his waist like a literal checkerboard finish line that cuts both the body, and the artwork in half. The visual symbology of the lower panel's diorama is encased in a stamp-like trimming, distancing the imagery both in space and time. It is removed from the present but brought into focus with the depiction of the Kramat of Mohamed Hassen Ghaibie, situated in Cape Town on Signal Hill. The image is placed front and centre as a site of memory and spectacle, tying together religious rituals with other boyish ritualistic followings with the likes of sports teams, souped-up cars as status symbols and the depiction of the fast and the furious. Live fast, die young is the pervasive narrative of the vernacular–words often written in vinyl on the back windshield of the car, with prayer beads or a tiny plastic Jesus swaying over the dashboard.
A Thing of Beauty (2020) focuses on a building which used to be called the Luxurama, located in Park Road, Wynberg in Cape Town–a mixed race cinema that served multiple generations over the course of the apartheid era as a meeting place of civic duty and a hub of political awareness. In its peak, it had the largest screen in the country while also functioning as a theatre for performances of various kinds. For Paulsen, the Luxurama is reminiscent of the nostalgia as experienced by his mother for whom the space was a gathering place and held many good memories. But the Luxurama was more than that to many, as a space that instigated public awareness of the atrocities of 1985, the year in which student protests resulted in the arrest and conviction of seven youths aged between 14 and 18 who were detained, charged with treason and imprisoned in Pollsmoor, a maximum security prison, for two years as a way of making an example of them. The incident sparked a shift in the political climate, which banded communities together who were previously pitted against each other. The physical space functions as an icon of solidarity and community–Paulsen's work is an ode to the space as a memorial and proposition of the building as a heritage site.
Paulsen's felt collages are politically aware and have a way of exploring culture through its visual footprint with nuance and ease. In flattening images, he summarises, in his caricatures, he levels the playing fields, even in his loudest works, his palette is limited. The works present as odes to brighter days, postcards to the past and to the future that bear witness to the barrage of visual media that assault us in our everyday commutes. Paulsen takes note of the language of the memoir, and translates it into tapestries of billboard dialect, ready for instant consumption, enticing in the softness of the folds of the felt, and the familiarity of repetition.
Press release courtesy SMAC Gallery.