It’s been said that the easier it is to pinpoint what a work of art means, the less interesting that work becomes. Anyone who subscribes to this view is likely to find Santa Cruz-based painter Mott Jordan’s work particularly compelling. Mott’s art is unquestionably powerful—some might even say inspired—yet when it comes to its meaning, your guess is often as good as his.
While there’s no shortage of recurring images in Jordan’s work—birds, bees, opium poppies, infinity loops, bombs that bear a suspicious resemblance to breasts—the artist claims that these aren’t necessarily symbols of anything in particular. “I use repeating motifs, but in a way, it’s not always so much about a meaning,” he explains. “If I like the way something looks, I’ll incorporate it.”
Mott sometimes gets ideas for paintings by looking for Google images of objects he’s interested in, such as tin toys, spinning tops and animal skeletons. Unexpected things can happen when he combines and juxtaposes such images. For instance, in Idea Man, an insect whose body looks like a lightbulb appears next to an actual lightbulb. The implied comparison of these two forms might seem deliberate, yet the painter claims, “That was a connection I didn’t make when I was drawing the sketch for it. That snuck up on me.”
Jordan often chooses subject matter that allows him to explore the potentials of novel materials. For example, the act of painting Full-Bore Boar, an eye-catching work whose centerpiece is a weather-beaten skull, gave him a chance to work with Kroma Crackle, a crackle medium that he’s especially enthused about. “This stuff cracks just like a dry lake bed,” he offers. Similarly, his piece Our Diving Heroes shows off the virtues of a tool used to make paint look like wood grain.
Another material Jordan is fond of is a hard-drying instant papier-mâché medium called CelluClay, which he adds to carved plywood to give many of his paintings their unusual shapes and contoured surfaces. “I wanted to break out of the rectangle,” he offers, referring to the stretched canvas that most painters favor. “In the age of computers where people are doing reproductions, there’s no way one of these can be a reproduction if I make them shaped and three-dimensional.”
One of Mott Jordan’s most impressive shaped paintings is a work-in-progress called Wilkommenwagen (German for “welcome wagon”), which the painter names as the piece he has probably spent the most time on. “Even before the first paint stroke went down, I was shaping that thing for dozens of hours,” he notes.
Jordan, who makes a living as a graphic artist and animator (samples of his animation can be seen here), frequently creates mockups of his works in Photoshop before turning them into paintings. “And then the challenge becomes to change it so that everything’s got the same light source and the same color cast to it,” he explains.
While the images found at Jordan’s websites, mottjordan.com and mottjordan.net, convey the overall feel of his work, these paintings need to be seen in person to get the full effect. A visit to his 17th Avenue studio is highly recommended.