PSYCHEDELIC FLORA BLOOMING FROM THE MOUTHS OF CRYSTAL-EYED SKULLS AND GOOEY, NEON MONSTERS ARE SOME OF THE DRAWING FORCES BEHIND NEW ZEALAND-BASED SELF-TAUGHT ARTIST, JORDAN DEBNEY. JORDAN CREATES HIS PASTEL TRIPS USING A FUSION OF MIXED MEDIUMS OF PRISMATIC COLOURS, HOLOGRAPHIC PAPER AND UV ACRYLIC PAINTS TO MAKE HIS CREATURES COME TO LIFE IN THE DARK.
INTERVIEW: NIKKI RUSSIAN
You describe your style as ‘lilac infused prismatic death’. Could you expand on what that means, and what it means to you?
I was quite a fearful child. I was constantly convinced something terrible was seconds away from happening. Over time, my mind naturally found ways to cope with this, and after my teenage years, I was considered a pro and artwork helped me a lot with this too. You (and I) could see it as an overcompensation with colour from all the madness in my mind. If I had any say in the way I die, I would like it to be a spectacle.
What inspires or influences your unique style?
I like to play with the idea of visual contradiction. I take elements that are considered ‘dark’ or ‘macabre’ and flip it in a way that you can’t stop staring at it. Bright, comforting colours with hints of opposing, offensive hues, almost as if you can see the moment that I got carried away and took it too far. Floral-framed, pastel pink skulls show you the hidden elegance in death or something just as ominous, like it’s luring you in, telling you there’s nothing to be afraid of. I like my work to be distasteful, but like you can’t stop going back for more because it feels so good in your mouth.
How has your style changed over time?
Around this time a couple of years ago I was drawing in mostly black and white. I wasn’t really a fan of colour, and on the off chance that I did use colour it would be heavily desaturated. I didn’t have much direction and I just drew whatever I felt like drawing as if I had a lot to say and didn’t know how to say it, so the artwork repeatedly ended up being stories that had no end and half-truths. Today I like to challenge myself. I like to find possibilities in the ‘impossible’ to literally give weight to whatever I come up with in my head. I still have a lot to say but I’m still inventing the language I will one day say it with.
“Bright, comforting colours with hints of opposing, offensive hues, almost as if you can see the moment that I got carried away and took it too far.”
Some of your paintings are on custom cut wood, could you run us through that process?
I forced myself into the habit of planning an entire painting perfectly at each stage of the creation process. I begin with a sketch that I work on again and again until its lines and shapes are fluid, then sketch it up onto the piece of wood. Before I even touch a power tool I make sure that I know exactly where I am going to cut. By the time I am good to go, my adrenaline is so pumped I’m not even thinking and the whole process is automatic. Once the first line is laid the thing pretty much paints itself. Most of the time I don’t remember doing it, which is a good thing seeing how tough it is on the back.
"I like my work to be distasteful, but like you can’t stop going back for more because it feels so good in your mouth."
- JORDAN DEBNEY
How did your use of UV paint and holographic paper come about?
Because I live in the dead-middle of New Zealand, our winters can get quite dark. I will leave for the day while its overcast, and I’ll come home and it’s pitch black. This always has a serious impact on my work and therefore my mental health. I needed to find a way to paint in the dark and not be reliant on natural light. The holographic idea came around about the same time to give my work that extra contradicting angle. Using new colours and mediums was challenging and frustrating and I loved it.
What are some challenges you face as an artist, in your career, or when creating your art?
The hardest thing I find personally is getting my hands on the right tools and mediums. Wellington does have its own art community and many shops that have a large amount of stock, but sometimes it still isn’t enough. I’m trying to do things I haven’t seen a lot of people do, if any, so finding the right equipment in the area is a challenge, and everyone knows the nightmares involved with purchasing art supplies online, as well as the self-inflicted bankruptcy.
What’s next for the future?
I’m currently working towards my first solo show in Wellington. Not to give away any secrets, but it will include playing with an interactive use of ultraviolet light.