AN INTERVIEW WITH NICOLE GORDON:
THE 22 MAGAZINE: You studied in both Italy and Michigan correct? Can you tell me a little about how you ended up in both of these places?
NICOLE GORDON: When I chose to study art at the University of Michigan, I was looking for an art school experience encapsulated within a university setting. I was looking for a well-rounded educational experience, but at the same time, I wanted my primary focus to be art. I found a few universities, both large and small, that had stellar academics as well as art schools with good reputations. While there, I knew that I wanted to study abroad in Italy because of the country's rich artistic and cultural heritage. I think that my interest in art history really came out of this experience.
THE 22: Many of your work have a sort of uncanny reality quality to them, looking like video games or online environments. This is really prominent in you "Asylum" series particularly. Can you tell me a little about this series and the impetus behind it?
NG: To be honest, video games and online environments have never been an inspiration to me. The title for the show, "Asylum," was chosen because it represents how a single environment can simultaneously be a loony bin and also a treasured sanctuary and safe house. The work incorporates art historical elements that have inspired me over the past decade, mashed up with playful imagery that represents my life as it is now (mother to now 3 year old twin boys). The large paintings are the central works from which the entire exhibit unfolds. There is a combination of imagery ranging from a hunting lodge complete with wood paneled walls and mounted trophy head to a decedent scene of inlaid marble flooring, gilded frames with detailed murals. The murals contain imagery inspired from the last decade of my work, ranging from Persian miniatures, North American totems, and Flemish tapestries. The trophies represent parts of personal history that an individual may want to memorialize or in some ways relive. In the overstuffed chair in one of the paintings sits a lonely penguin, surrounded by paintings of himself, yet in the end, left in isolated thought. This isolation can be seen as a sanctuary at times, and at other moments can lead to utter insanity. This was the first body of work that was completed after my children were born and so there was an unmistakable shift in inspiration behind this work.
THE 22: You work is also really heavy on totems and symbolic figures (the weebles, Renaissance, and religious figures). What role do these figures play in your work? What significance do they have to you?
NG: My work draws on imagery from numerous historical references from Western European genre paintings to Persian miniature paintings, as well as scenes from contemporary life. I intentionally reuse images that, regardless of their original context, speak across time and space. Artists such as sixteenth-century painters Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch, whose work often explored the strengths and weaknesses of humankind, inspire me. Juxtaposing iconography sampled from Bruegel and Bosch's work with contemporary imagery establishes a framework for me to explore the complexities of human nature and to illustrate the consistency of the flaws and weaknesses of the human condition throughout history.
THE 22: Some of your works are based on the seven deadly sins or religious stories. What role does religion or mythology play in your life or work? Why the seven deadly sins?
NG: As mentioned before, I have been very influenced by the work of Bruegel. At one point I became interested in his "Seven Deadly Sins" series and thought it would be a good challenge for me to focus on a single subject matter for an entire series of paintings, which I had never really done before. I wanted to translate Bruegel's series into one that really reflected imagery and issues of a modern setting. I thought it could be a good exercise to focus on one aspect of "contemporary sin" and chose to explore each of Bruegel's sins as a metaphor for environmental destruction. Each of the painting titles is an acronym for the sin it depicts. Each title contains a city that can be linked with sinful behavior of sorts.
THE 22: You sort of switch between some sculptural elements and painting. Do you feel sculpture and painting are a force to be combined or are they stronger when they are separated?
NG: Incorporating sculpture into my work has definitely been a learning process for me. When I originally began working in sculptural medium, I was creating installations that echoed the two-dimensional imagery from my paintings into three-dimensional form. This allowed the viewer to physically enter into the narrative of the artwork and I was playing with the idea of eroding traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture. In my more recent work I have begun to create sculptures that don't rely as heavily on the interaction with the paintings. I find the new process gives me more flexibility to create more unique sculptural pieces that don't rely so heavily on specific imagery from the paintings.
THE 22: I don't think you would disagree that some of the work is a bit apocalyptic (in only the best way). Do you think it's curtains in 2012?
NG: I would say that my work reminds us of our flaws, but encourages us to overcome them. I attempt to create work that while dark and rather apocalyptic in many ways also incorporates ornate touches and decorative elements that serve to balance the somber and more serious imagery. These devices offer beautiful moments that happen alongside the often destructive ones and are meant to reflect hope and the possibility for change.