I’d say being high and Nicole Gordon’s paintings go hand-in-hand, but her work is so imaginative and otherworldly that it acts as a psychoactive on its own. Her paintings look like a cross between an extended-version of the Alice in Wonderland universe, and a bad acid trip. Some of her artwork carries social and political undertones; all of it will put you into a trance. I caught up with Gordon to find out what inspires her artwork, how to best tap into the creative flow, and what lies beneath the psychedelic chaos.
In your work, there’s often one person included in each piece, painted in greyscale, and you almost never see their full face. Is there a significance to this grey figure amongst a sea of psychedelic color and fantasy?
It’s my way of signaling that the narratives are dreamscapes and worlds that exist within the figure’s imagination. I intended to give them a contemplative tone.
Do all of your paintings depict different scenes in one singular, metaphysical world? Or do you imagine each painting to take place in different worlds?
My latest works deal a lot with subconscious musings, so each world is independent. However, when your mind drifts and contemplates, certain things tend to repeat- memories, cultural icons, fears, desires, and other abstract connections.
Many of your paintings depict consumer items like televisions, cars and IKEA-style furniture afloat in an almost apocalyptic nightmare. What does this mean to you? Is there social or political commentary embedded in your work?
Eternal forces frame the temporary things. Whether it is erosion, graffiti, fire, or even a flash of light on the horizon, a common theme that I have explored quite a bit is the inevitable struggle between what humans construct and resisting forces. We all know in the back of our minds that we are temporary, so I find it interesting to present an image where that point is conceded.
The first thing many people think when they see your work is “she must have painted that on acid.” Do you ever use drugs to inspire your work, or compose your work with the expectation that people will contemplate your art while on drugs themselves?
I understand why my work might give that impression. What I will say is that when I generate ideas and flesh out concepts, I am purposefully leaving my logical mind behind and am accessing a personal place that others access with external help. In terms of thinking about an audience, I try to avoid that and operate on the premise that I first need to create something that is unique and that I would enjoy if it weren’t mine. The biggest compliment that I can get from someone who viewed my work is that it caused them to get lost in it and that it triggered their imagination.
You’ve written that “When a child has the time and freedom to go into their self-constructed worlds—that is, through their own looking glasses—fascinating things come about.” Do you think that adults forget how to dive into their imaginations properly?
I am not an anti-technology crusader, but I do feel like there has been an unattractive transition in the last 15 years in certain areas. While everyone has become connected, and the World has effectively shrunk, people now have everything at their fingertips in terms of information and entertainment. When you have everything, you tend to lose the ability to cherish anything. Yesterday’s well-worn LP is today’s streamed single. When you combine that with trends like overscheduling and having employers always in touch with their employees via email and text, the ultimate result is that there is very little downtime and very little reason for most to use their imaginations at all. If driving were a metaphor for life, we are all now following the blue path on our phone instead of looking out the window for the 2nd dead tree past the barn.
What is your ritual for opening up your imagination, to let the creativity flow?
I have always been a natural daydreamer and am pretty good at tuning out the world and going into my head. I don’t really have a conscious ritual, but I experience bouts of imagination in quiet moments, like driving or showering. I think that I am like most artists in that it comes in waves. When I’m inspired, I develop ideas and sketch out concepts that I can work on later, even when the creativity tide goes out.
Which one of your paintings is your personal favorite, and why?
It’s not really possible to answer that definitively. The truth is that I always paint what is most interesting to me at that point in time and they are almost always a part of a larger series. Each series may take a year or more to create. So, I tend to think of them in groups, and I generally am most excited about the most recent creations because the ideas that inspired them are still relevant to me.
If you were to prescribe one song, one drug and one place to experience with your artwork, what would they be?
For the place, I would choose Eureka, CA. It has an out-of-time feel about it that I think would put you in the right mood. What I would be listening to The Past is a Grotesque Animal by Of Montreal on a nice pair of headphones.