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MiArt | 2023

JODY PAULSEN

Fair Portfolio

MiArt | 2023

JODY PAULSEN

13.04.23 - 16.04.23

Milan, Italy

Text by Rory Kahiya Tsapayi

Stitching figures and portraits together from cuttings of painted canvas, colored fabric and thread, Jody Paulsen is building bodies. The artist has adopted the role of a queer-coded Doctor Frankenstein, assembling and reassembling limbs -- a swirling pink thigh, a dappled yellow forearm, a blurry fragment of eyebrow and cheeks. Using the array of materials on hand in his Cape Town studio, he constructs a vivid and seductive cast of individuals that brim with aesthetic variety. The figures are predominantly male and naked, each man, Dreamboat, or Boy With A Limp Wrist set alone in a color field. Jody obsesses over the composition of the figure, its shape and posture. Starting with pencil sketches of men sourced from porn stills, celebrity snapshots,and his own loved ones, hescales up the image to a just-larger-than-life painting which becomes the basis of a collage threaded together with cuts of textiles.This mishmash of fabrics chronicles Jody’s history as a maker. In the mix are materials like richly dyed Egyptian cotton from a half-realized project, a digitally-printed monotype on poplin developed with AKJP Studio, and fragments of paintings, a practice almost forgotten since Paulsen’s earliest BFA days.

Despite nodding to the past, this new body of work marks a decisive step into the future of Paulsen’s practice as one material is conspicuously scarce in this latest solo presentation: felt. For little over a decade, felt has been the Jody Paulsen signature, used in witty, Poppy, busy works that commented in all-caps on gay-pop culture, consumerism, and globalization. But at what point does a signature style become an obligation for an artist? What are the limits of a given material? When is it time to move on?

Paulsen has aged-out of felt and these new works are proof of maturation. The complexity of colour and its application onto the surface attest to the expansive control and experimentation that painting allows. And the imperfect edges and loose hanging threads indicate a disillusionment with maximalist dazzle and an honest embrace of the beauty in the messy and the actual, even the grotesque.

The portraits and figures present themselves confidently to the gaze, with many of the large, full bodies pictured with their arms folded behind their heads and backs, suggestively pushing their chests and groins out in a masculine gesture of Open Arms. This is an invitation to desire and to admire, to bask in The Heat and the Soft Pink light. But, sexy as they are, these works are not about sex. The figures embody confidence, knowing the power of one’s own form. Paulsen sees eroticism as integral to queer bodies and aesthetics, unspectacular even. By taking the figures’ sex appeal for granted, he makes room for a formal and imaginative engagement with the body itself, independent of an often limiting sexuality politics.Though gay porn is among the artist’s source materials, so is a twee 1966 sketch of a naked man by David Hockney and a haunting pair of nude women by painter Miriam Cahn. Jody, now 35, thinks he is finally old enough to depict the nude body honestly, and insists that “it’s not always erotic, but sex is in the room.”

SMAC
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