JACOBSEN - Convulsive Beauties
Hi Fructose Magazine
Volume 7, 2008
By Nathan Spoor
Entering into Chicago-based artist Gregory Jacobsen’s visual forum is a fascinating and beguiling experience. The effects of his self-ascribed “pile paintings” are nothing short of viewing a perilously crafted ballet of grotesques – each one set on view for an unsuspecting voyeur and would-be lover. These obsessive creations portray a sensual dynamic of grotesque making love to truth, resulting in a rare and passionate vulnerability.
Gregory Jacobsen, now 31, has the affect of one accepting life as each moment is presented. He is pragmatic, with heavy doses of existentialism and nihilism.
Although very sexual in nature, his works are not so easily classified as the dime store mainstreams of psychology one might assume. While the artist claims to subscribe to no one school of thought, his views of Freudian theories on repression and sexuality, as well as the mystical nature of Jung’s archetype (an integration of spirituality and appreciation for the collective unconscious) are of equal importance.
Jacobsen rarely works from sketches. These paintings are more immediate, though he’s reluctant to write them off as merely “automatic” and reject any simple-minded “symbol” reading of his work. Therein lies the enigma of the artist’s struggle. That amazing creative impetus being eternally locked in the struggle of the ritualistic deflowering of the surface in a grand performance of vulnerability and dignified ambivalence.
The limitations of Jacobsen’s work are not evident in the final products of his efforts, but they’re there. In his eyes, the laborious process of drafting, sketching, planning a piece is a confining yet integral process. “I don’t plan these paintings so much as feel them through the growth process,” he begins. “There are months of work under each surface. The failures of the past are all built up in this glorious movement of flesh. I’m fascinated with making flesh look more realistic. I tend to sand over months of work, several versions of a single painting even, to achieve a glimpse of what I’m attempting to paint. It’s the layers, though, those layers and layers of work that give the paintings their depth. I need more movement, more dynamic compositions. Compositions need the most work. While working in sketches the compositions have to be erased and reworked. But in paintings I can simply sand the surface smooth and have the added effect of the previous layers of mistakes to eventually lead me to the right place.”
Jacobsen’s paintings reflect a certain understanding of life structure within a constantly evolving landscape. As a youth playing in the fields of the New Jersey riverbanks, his curious nature took him on a particularly remarkable series of adventures. The haphazardly covered piles of waste dirt piled around the town made quite an impact. As he grew more inquisitive of the changing cityscape, he stumbled upon a place that would change his life forever – the ruins of an outlying community of vagrants and societal outcasts in the nearby woods. Being just beyond the fence of his back yard, Gregory found himself in his new playground constantly. This forest had piles of everything. Piles of trash, magazines, toys, appliances. Just piles and piles of discarded and unwanted objects.
These were the coming-of-age times of hope in a place of abandoned dreams and discarded fortunes. Fires were erected, offerings made, fluids exchanged. This was a new day and a new stage. Gone were the inhibitions of the outside forum. Here, no one imposed on him any opposition borne of someone else’s agenda. This new drama would stay with the Gregory as an ongoing fascination, culminating in the frenzied realizations of his paintings as well as its natural courtesan – music. "A lot of my work comes from music,” he states, “especially the newer pile paintings. With the more tableaux orientated pieces- I would say they come from Musique Concrete - creating a scene with disparate elements to create something new and jarring. This could be applied to sampling and such but Musique Concrete is much more theatrical with using everyday sounds that become animated and take on a life of their own. With the pile paintings, they are influenced by people like Xenakis and Stockhausen who created massive architectures out of compositional structures. The piles may look like masses of chaotic shit, but there was a lot of planning and trial and error to get them to their monolithic forms.”
That’s not to say that these challenging pictorials are too far beyond reasonable definition. The term bandied about most in Jacobsen’s world these days to describe such artwork is “Magical Realism”. This realm of painting presents artworks where the scientific and physical realities and spiritual human realities are fused. Here, the illogical can safely exist with the knowing that it is the viewer’s task to decode the texts hidden within each piece of art. And in this, Gregory cites French writer and doctor Louis-Ferdinand Céline as an inspiration for his optical forays. Céline (1894 – 1961) one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, developed a new style of writing. This style, which Jacobson hails so highly, was presented riddled with such dark humor, anxiety and pessimism. But it was done in a rhythmic manner that broke barriers in the field, managing to embody human emotion as literature. This rhythm that Céline blessed Gregory with has been a mainstay influence in his workings with his musical troupe and band, Lovely Little Girls. He’s been able to unleash his childhood torments growing up with fetishes attached to food and sex. Growing up with an unsatisfied desire for the readily available hamburger-helper-style fare with sides of potato chips and ding-dongs made for one gregariously rotund individual. “I was a fatty for a number of years,” he confesses. “I eat pretty healthy these days and my diet doesn't deviate much. I love trying new foods but rarely go out to restaurants because of the social fanfare that goes with it. My loss though. I have been a vegetarian for many years and obsess over meat, daring myself to eat it... something disgusting like McDonalds... but can never bring myself to do it. There's a little bit of sexual titillation in it because it is so taboo for me. This is where the food and sex come into the paintings.”
Jacobsen’s earliest childhood memory is attached to falling down the cellar stairs, but the next is possibly the more potent, if not more fascinating view into the course of his journey. “The ‘art and sex’ memory is from the day I was out painting the driveway gravel with the girls next door who I always had crushes on. I always envied the girls because they were always so much better looking, more interesting looking and got to wear better clothes. Another memory is sticking my sweaty socks in my mouth, being immediately disgusted and not being able to get the greasy taste out of my mouth for days.”
These memories are sandwiched together in a mind that could only chew on them in the most polemic manner besides painting – music. “I wish I had more time to truly develop the performance end of things as I feel I am capable of a lot more. In the past it used to be a sort of freak-out, a cathartic experience on stage...but as my painting has gotten more disciplined and thought out, the music/performance followed suit. Right now we as a band, Lovely Little Girls, are working hard at creating something new that is very theatrical and somewhat ritualistic (in a disciplined manner rather than hippy-dippy soupy drones and chants) while also retaining a dark humor...which is how I would describe my paintings at times. One of our big influences is Magma, a French Zuehl group who created their own language and mythology and who (at least in their early work) had a malevolent sound and stage presence that resembled a Catholic Church ceremony.”
Gregory eloquently speaks at length about his dual-natured persona and its effects on his nature, laughingly enough. ”This of course is filtered through my innate goofiness. No matter how hard I try to fight it...I have always been pretty fucking goofy. But I have always approached everything (painting, performance) with utter seriousness...like Buster Keaton or Peter Sellers. I often find myself getting too damn serious about things and I have to whip out a bunch of drawings with spurting cocks and laughing animals (like right now).”
Besides pursuing his performances with his band, his fascination with the Internet and collecting avant-garde and outsider music, Jacobsen is most influenced by his surroundings in his Chicago habisphere. More specifically, the downfall of the old beautifully built but decaying buildings for the new gentry of yuppified living situations and nouveau riche neighbors. Even now, his beloved neighborhoods of Chicago, which have provided the home base for his 13 year occupation, are suffering the prefabricated affrontery of progress. The historic 1929 “atmospheric”- styled movie theatre in which he finds his gainful employment lies tense but untouched. “It’s the last remaining old building on the street,” he coos softly, “and I always wonder what it was like 70 years ago, and am conscious of how many people have passed through.”With these thoughts demanding all precious and relevant soapbox momentum in his ongoing realm of the bizarre and intimate, Gregory Jacobsen maintains focus. He holds fast to the belief that the personal as well as the larger world issues deserve equal footing. “I think these pieces are some of the most personal,” he begins. “It has a lot to do with growing up in New Jersey and hanging out in the dumps and the woods where there was always shit washing up downstream from the river, there were always piles of garbage. Also, there was always the 'lesser than' feeling of being 'the shithole next to New York' (which can be extended to my current living situation in Chicago where Mayor Daley seems to be inviting a terrorist attack just to validate Chicago as an important city). The piles hint at a history and a little bit of a narrative. They were obviously constructed by someone and were either built really half-assed or someone came in and fucked them up.
The works have been his imminent aggravation and eventual salvation, echoing his needs for an effective and safe respite from the daily chaos of life. The current pile paintings are found to contain immense thought as well as the tender and passionate hand of immediacy. “They actually came out of severe frustration with painting, sanding down, taking a chisel to the masonite and finding a form from there,” he comments. “I have always been drawn to monolithic architecture, food photography and scientific drawings and these mistakes developed into something that was a combination of all three. I often get frustrated with the human form because it has been taken in so many different directions by people who have done it so well. I want to paint figures like Ingres, but I know I will never be able to. So these piles are a bit liberating.”
These are works for the faint of life, for the uncommon, unseen and unheard. Out of the basest elements of recollection and the severe natures of creation come the images of Gregory Jacobsen’s sweet lament for the idiotic and the obscure. His is not a question of choices, or of becoming another version of some distant puzzle. These are the glorious obsessions of mystery and wonder.