Artist Nicola Jackson: Painting the unbelievable

by Lisa Scott / 20 April, 2017
Photo/ Isabella Harrex

Watched over by Mary, Jesus and the Ace of Spades, Nicola Jackson’s studio is a carnival of many creeds: a Venus flytrap of colour that ensnares the eye. “I’m lucky,” says the Dunedin artist. “It can make my day seeing two colours together.”

Lord knows, then, what it does to her seeing so many at once. Space in the studio is at a premium in the lead-up to her exhibition, The Bloggs, a collection of papier-mâché artworks and customised furniture at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery through to June 5. 

Inspired by anatomical papier-mâché models and the domestic museums of the Victorian era, Jackson’s work both dazzles and delights. On her workbench, a crocodile – an object of longing for any self-respecting Victorian collector – awaits painting. “I thought yellow,” she says. “He certainly can’t be crocodile-coloured.”

As a student, her favourite place was the anatomy museum at Otago University, where you might find a skeleton, a tongue or a phrenology head. But probably not a dead Mexican wrestler, as you do in Jackson's studio, or masks – 50 of them – each representing a country and all cast from her own face, to represent the concept that “culture is just put on top of you. We’re all the same underneath.”

Each piece tells a story and reveals Jackson’s love of the absurd. It tickles her that half of our DNA code is shared with the banana, 70 per cent with slugs. “I find something unbelievable and do a picture of it,” she explains.

Her plan drawers contain small portraits, not of beloveds but awful tortures, with hidden puns for those who dare to get close enough – and serious social commentary that blossoms amid all the bright distraction.

“I don’t know what people will get from it,” she says. “People are mystified by contemporary art. The main thing I want them to feel is wonder.”

 

 

This was published in the March 2017 issue of North & South.


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