At Home With Jody Paulsen

Home is where the art is

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

Jody Paulsen is wearing his usual uniform: skinny black Acne jeans, black Cos knit and adidas Stan Smiths. He looks great in this, sure, but then he has the type of whip-thin body that would look good in anything. Not that he doesn’t work for it – doing yoga in the mornings, ballet in the evenings, and driving himself crazy with work in between.

And then – because crazy is the only type of driving that Jody does – he needs to be within walking distance to everything from the Kloof Street apartment that he shares with jewellery designer Katherine Pichulik, a space he’s been in since their first year at Michaelis.

"The views are amazing," says Jody, who is perched on a day bed surrounded by plants. “I don’t have a lot of time to sit here and appreciate it as much. I’m more grateful that there’s a Woolworths next door, and how it takes me exactly ten minutes to walk to my studio. The shop (Adriaan Kuiters) is across the road, my yoga studio is in Strand Street and I spent my entire Master's year at The Power and the Glory. I’m not partying as much these days. Now I go to the Planet Bar for a dirty martini.”

Katherine is in Tuscany at the moment, which explains why all the cushions are turned back to front. They are an odd couple, and where Jody is into a clean, stark look Kath’s into a much more embellished India-inspired aesthetic. Everyone in the lounge is squinting – it's that bright – and Jody jokes that he has to put on sunscreen the minute he wakes up. The plants are thriving though, despite Jody not being that great with looking after things. Himself included.

So how different would Jody’s space be if he didn’t share it with his best friend, Kat? 

“Well I don’t think I’d have as many plants without having to get someone in to look after them… I wouldn’t live in a white box either, because I like art too much. Georgina Gratix did those paintings over there. Nico Krijno shoots my campaigns, and that's from the last one. Daniella Mooney made that assemblage for Kat for her birthday. Julia Rosa Clarke gave me that piece for my birthday. Doktor and Misses gave me the lamp and coffee table in exchange for a collage that I did for them.” 

Why is there none of Jody’s work in here? 

“I don’t actually like having any of my own work in my space. I live with my work every day. That’s why I usually like my space to be clean because my studio is completely the opposite. When I moved back in here everything was so full and we’re slowly removing things and getting more precise.”

Now the reason why Jody is living with Katherine again is because he broke up with his boyfriend, Adriaan Kuiters collaborator Keith Henning, last year. This is worth noting as it means that their next collection will be the first that’s created as friends, not lovers.

“It was tricky in parts, but the intimacy didn’t stop and because we still love one another so much we make it work. For this collection I wanted to bring it back to the last one. Met with graphic designer Ben Johnson, who does all our prints and our website and is just very on it, and the idea for the summer collection was to keep everything clean and then add colour to it.”

Jody’s bedroom looks onto a nunnery and is as chaste these days, mainly used for reading. In the lounge area there are the books: a decent collection of art books as well as feminist literature, and everything in between – from Bridget Jones to Chelsea Handler, Zadie Smith, Joan Didion… He’s a bit embarrassed by the mismatched wire and plastic hangers hanging from the clothing rail, and says that he’s been meaning to steal wooden hangers from the shop. Like the rest of the house, Jody’s bedroom is filled with art, even the bedside table has been considered – a Doktor and Misses edition of three, where the rock was sourced from Botswana and the smoked glass swivels and holds things like sunglasses, fragrance and other bits that are as carefully curated as a knolling shot.

“Most of my books are in the studio, but I’ve got some here. The first artist that I ever fell in love with was Tracy Emin. I love Barbara Kruger. I went through a philosophy stage where I fell in love with Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida. I’m currently reading A Lover’s Discourse. Whenever I get a cheque I’ll go to Exclusive Books or wherever and buy some books. I’m trying to build my own library because I don’t have access to the Michaelis library anymore.”

In April this year Jody lost his representation. His galleriest Elana Brundyn joined the director of the Kering group, who has the biggest collection of contemporary African art in the world, Jochen Zeitz, and his Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa at the Waterfront silo. 

“I’m really happy for her and it’s quite good for me actually. They had their first gala, based on the Met, and they used my aesthetic to do the invitation and the event.”

The day after our interview, Jody will fly to Johannesburg in order to see which direction his art career will take next. One option is to do his debut solo show next year February. The other would be to break away from how his career was being managed before, work with different curators, and while still doing the tapestries that he’s known for, take the dance and ballet that’s he’s interested in and for the first time physically put himself into the work.

“Keith and I broke up in London last year while we were doing the Edinburgh Fashion Festival. We broke up knowing he’d go on holiday and I’d come back to work on the Joburg Art Fair. Then when he came back I went to Lisbon and met a guy there who does theatre. A writer-director. After he finished The Nutcracker he came to SA to see my world, but the sad truth is that he’s in a career where he’s in a different country every two to three weeks. He taught me everything about dance and the history of dance and opened my brain to the theatre of art. He’s ten years older than me and the most intelligent person I’ve ever met in my life. Our fights are intellectual debates that cause us to sleep in different rooms. There’s still a lot of tension there. I might go see him again.”

Jody might also put his art career on ice to see how far he can push this whole fashion thing.

“I was at a dinner party the other day, having one of those career conversations, and saying that I didn’t know what to do now that I didn’t have any representation. David West said, ‘You should just work for Marni.’ Which made a lot of sense.”

The 27-year-old's biggest problem is that he has too many options. A celebrated artist, a darling of the design world and, despite having hung up his Z-card, he is now the new face of an adidas fragrance.

Still, it’s all a bit too much sometimes and Jody talks about his post-art school melt down with the type of ennui usually associated with characters in a Bret Easton Ellis novel. It’s quite easy to make the comparison: Handsome boy, partying, excess, early successes falling into a gallery and a relationship-slash-partnership at a fashion label…

“The minute I hit a snag I started acting like a kid again. I’ve stopped all that now and my life is a lot more stable. My therapist is my rock. Fridays at 9:30am. I initially thought that I'd go to her about my art stuff, that she could be like a supervisor of sorts, but now we’re in a place when she picks up patterns of my behavior and holds a mirror to that. I grew up with a single mom, had a lot of daddy issues, and she shows me everything and tells me to deal with it. She’s a very important part to me. If you can afford it I’d highly recommend it.”

A lot of the time Jody feels like a child still, and admits that he struggles to take full responsibility or take care of himself, often allowing other people to do that so that he can focus on his work.

“Which is why I’m still so close to Keith. He makes sure that I shower. I bought a teddy after my breakup. I needed a teddy to sleep with. The best part of the yoga is the meditation part. To not think about anything for twenty minutes. I started in school because I needed to work on my mental health. It’s my religion. My church.” 

The photographs are done but we don’t really want to leave, and feel that Jody would be happy to talk for hours, no filter, unguarded. Unfortunately we must, as he’s very busy on the S/S16 Adriaan Kuiters collection, which will show at Cape Town Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at the end of the month. 

“The first batch of patterns have been done and everything has a particular shape. I just need to sketch now.”

Which is the perfect metaphor for his life right now. The basic framework is there, there’s a solid foundation, and it’s just up to Jody to choose what details he’d like to fill in – or, more true to his character, leave out…