Situated between reality and the surreal, Nicole Gordon‘s works are a whimsical wonderland of phantasmagorical landscapes. Leaning on the whimsical and somewhat grim, these landscapes combine beauty with the horrors of real-world change and transformation. Through bright colors and a wide range of out-of-place objects placed in elaborate sceneries, the artist presents us with highly stylized and unnerving alternate realities. As powerful metaphors of our contemporary culture, these images reflect the way we experience the world today.
Gordon’s latest body of work is titled Despite the Fantasy (on view at Corey Helford Gallery from November 2 to December 7), and the exhibition brings together 14 stunning new paintings dealing with the ongoing battle between time, nature and civilization. As the artist explained, the series “depicts the awkward beauty of our continually evolving landscape and a curiosity for how those who inherit the ruins will persevere.”
On the occasion of the show, PRØHBTD chatted with Gordon about the concept of this latest body of work, her multi-layered realities, the approach to beauty, going beyond reality in painting and much more.
Could you tell us something about the concept of your new show Despite the Fantasy?
I enjoy the process of inventing unique narratives within each painting. There are always certain themes on my mind that slowly fade away as I work them out, but one that really made its way into this series is the complex set of feelings that you experience when something that was once great has lost its luster due to time, but continues to press on.
The horrors of the real world as it changes and transforms is a recurring subject in your oeuvre. Which issues concern or inspire you the most?
It is strange because I’m a very optimistic person, but you are right that I do explore imagery that can sometimes be uncomfortable, especially the more you look at it. Sometimes those images are dark, but sometimes they are shiny, and it is suspicious in contrast. In a way, I am a gawker when I create artwork. I love watching cold case files, horror movies, and am drawn to uncomfortable humor. When I was a child, the teachers reported to my parents that I tended to laugh at inappropriate times. I grew out of that, but maybe still do it through my paintings.
The new body of work features skate parks, aquariums, carnival rides and other forms of amusement, often in various states of abandonment or decay. How do these settings play into the narrative you explore?
The idea for the settings is that they were once grand, but now they are barely hanging on. Usually there is another layer forming over them with a new set of characters that don’t remember their past glory and have their own concerns and ambitions. I like the idea of the two dramas on two separate time scales playing out at once.
In these new narratives, the human figure seems to be taking a more active role than before. Could you tell us more about this shift
In my last body of work, the figures were often on the sidelines, in black and white, looking in at the unfolding narratives. I was interested in creating scenes in which we were looking at the inner worlds of the figures in the paintings. In much of the new works, the figures inhabit these worlds, and we the viewer are seeing them directly instead of through the eyes of a character within the scene.
These dreamscapes weave in a range of contrasting elements that create an interesting dynamic. How do you think these multi-layered realities reflect the complexities of our contemporary human existence?
I guess one thing that I’m touching on with the contrasts is that we forget or can’t understand the complexities of the past human existence. The memories of the people fade first and then over time, even their monuments. This will, of course, happen with us as well.
Your compositions are equally dark and sinister and whimsical and pretty. How do you think your work transgresses conventional notions of beauty?
Conventional anything, beauty included, tends to be boring. The most powerful forms of beauty to me are cases where it surprises and that can only happen against adversity. But I also find beauty in strange places, like awkwardness. I’d rather watch a wedding speech with a mic squeal and crickets than one that checks off all the goals for a great wedding speech.
Your art tiptoes between reality and surreal. Could you tell us something about the working process of creating these both thrilling and terrifying alternate worlds?
In my mind, the point of a painting is that you can go beyond reality. Otherwise, a photograph would be a much more efficient medium. However, when you go too far into the surreal, I believe that things lose their tension. Reality has all these rules, and there is no breaking them. Surrealism and abstraction have few rules and, therefore, nothing really to break. Anything goes. It is that middle ground that interests me. My paintings are usually set in places that seem to have rules, it is just that they can vary from one to another and within.
There are many art historical references in your work. Which artists inspire you the most at the moment?
I have always loved artwork that speaks across time and space that creates a dialogue between the past, present and future. I have been taking a closer look at artists such as Dorothea Tanning and Remedios Varo, and I love the storytelling quality of Nicole Eisenman and Lori Nelson’s work.
What is next for you?
I have a solo exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue, Washington that opens January 24, 2020. This is an exciting show that incorporates both my paintings and installation work in which parts of my paintings are recreated three-dimensionally so that the viewer has an immersive experience while interacting with the work.