When Jody Paulsen begins a new artwork, it’s a pensive process. You could say the same for most visual artists, but the thing about Jody is that his process is everything. And it spends a good while swirling around in his mind before it even begins to materialise.
Born in Cape Town, the 29-year-old artist has had an impressive career thus far. After graduating from the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Arts where he studied print media, Jody scooped up a few awards, put on a host of exhibitions, and soon teamed up with fashion designer Adriaan Kuiters for a collaborative range. Since then, the smac gallery artist has gone on to achieve a tremendous amount, having recently exhibited at the FNB JoburgArtFair and participated in the Generation Africa fashion show in Italy.
Jody’s medium of choice is felt, with which he creates vast and elaborate tapestries and collage works. The works, as colourful as they are engaging, often posit a unique cultural zeitgeist of sorts. Amidst the shapes, colours, logos and fonts, you’ll find stories of capitalism, globalisation, gender, sexuality, self-love, identity and more, often all in one piece.
Jody was recently awarded an Arts and Culture Trust ImpACT Award for his notable success throughout his career. We caught up with him to discuss process as catharsis, storytelling through collage, and how all good works start out as journal scribblings.
Looking at your intersections of art and fashion, working with felt seems a logical decision, but when did you first know you wanted to work with the medium?
I started working in felt during the fourth year of my bachelor’s degree. However, I have been making collages since I can remember. I started working in felt for a number of reasons. The aesthetics of felt are so loaded with meaning. The most common association people have with felt are fuzzy felt packs, a popular children’s pastime created in the 1970s. This medium is attached to themes of craft, hobby and play, which are all themes I address in the content of my collages. I use felt to address very adult ideas and subjects similarly to the way a child would use felt to make sense of the world. This paradox creates a very particular kind of twisted humour which I thoroughly enjoy. I also use felt because of its practicality. I use felt to make collages because it is a pressed fibre that is easy to cut. It’s an easy fabric to manipulate and create the layered imagery and overworked surfaces that are present in my work.
Your artworks are all intricately layered, but give off a very simple and pleasing aesthetic. Can you take us through your process of creating these works?
My process is really laborious but it does not feel very laborious when you’re in the thick of it. I tend to have obsessive thoughts which I record quite meticulously in my diary every day. I collage these thoughts into a text similarly to the way one would write a poem. Once I have resolved the text in my diary, I start recreating the text in felt. I give the text another edit and then I start sourcing imagery that resonates with my text. Once I have all of these elements, the work becomes a puzzle. Sometimes it takes a few days to resolve and sometimes it can take up to a month. It all depends on how disciplined I am.
You favour fonts in your work too. Where do you get ideas for the fonts you include in your works?
I do love using all kinds of fonts. I try not to overthink my use of fonts because my choices are usually made quite instinctively. I get my ideas for fonts from all kinds of sources like advertising, books, malls, magazines, newspapers, the internet, billboards etc etc.
I imagine working with such process-heavy and layered works can be incredibly cathartic. How do you find your artworks influence your personal life?
I spend most of my time alone in my studio working all day. I try to work ten hour days five to six times a week. This means that I can’t really go out drinking or socialising during the week. When you are working on an exhibition or a collection you become an athlete. I believe in locking yourself in a room and not leaving until you have something on the wall. Without this kind of discipline I would struggle to get anything done because I am so easily distracted. 70% of my material tends to come from my personal life and the other 30% comes from contemporary culture (fashion, books, food, films, television, music etc). So it’s imperative for me to take holidays because it’s the only time I have to focus on my personal life and interests outside of art.
What’s the most challenging aspect of working with the medium of felt and why?
I have not really experienced any challenges working with felt. I feel lucky to have found a material that has given me so much work and new ideas. I think the laborious nature of my work can be quite challenging but I think that working in this kind of fashion is something that is entirely self-motivated. I believe that my work will always be obsessive regardless of the medium I choose to use.