Gregory Jacobsen‘s artwork is weird, disturbing and kind of gross, yet simultaneously intriguing and captivating. It’s an excellent example of how the grotesque can be alluring. Jacobsen’s in particular is ripe with tongue-in-cheek satire, skillfully combining horror with humor and ugliness with beauty.
Attraction and repulsion are two conflicting yet simultaneous reactions Jacobsen’s work arouses in the viewer. Beyond the technical talent he has for painting, the ability to provoke such innate feelings that are so strong and so at odds with each other is a major part of what makes his paintings so interesting.
“I paint figures, focusing on the little bits that obsess me”, Jacobsen explains on his website. “A little flab hanging over a waistband, ill-fitting shoes, overbites, noses, teeth, and flesh. Either through portraiture or busy tableaux, I create a world and vocabulary of characters that live and embrace their so-called faults. Over the years, this work has developed into piles that are corpulent and visceral stand-ins for characters. Meat, junk, pasties, and genital-like fruit and vegetables are constructed into heroic yet pathetic towers. These piles also act as a sort of forensic evidence and cataloging of awkward sex, gross gluttony, ridiculous masturbation rituals, and endless humiliation and failure.”
Deformities and disfigurements, a recurring theme in Jacobsen’s work, are clearly explored and playfully manipulated to evoke abject reactions as well. Like a medieval Fukushima orgy, or something out of The Hills Have Eyes, the way apparent genetic disorders are mixed up with sexual imagery leaves an indefinably off-putting taste lingering in the mouth as well. Jacobsen, of course, is well aware of this reaction: “I try to start painting nice people, with regular features. Then I look at it and it doesn’t have the emotional impact I want, so I have to go in and scratch out their nose, and mess their face up a bit”, he says. “I don’t know; it might be a sort of expressionism–it conveys this intense emotion, like maybe the peak of climax or the moment before death. There’s also this patheticness, and for me, sex ties in with being very pathetic. I mean, sex is really silly; it’s just thump-thump-thump.”
Like Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights or Harmony Korine’s Gummo, Jacobsen’s art is similarly creepy-but-addictive. It might make you want to take a shower afterwards, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can tear yourself away in the meantime.