Jockum Nordström

Excepting the sex, Jockum Nordström’s tastes run to life’s colorless side. This survey of seven years of work was brimful with caricatures of George Stubbs–like horses, spineless modern architecture, birds that are nothing special, brigantines in fair weather, soulless families, and jazz trios in crew cuts and plaid jackets. Were that not tedium enough, his drawing/ collage style, which an admirer has called “outmoded,” is reminiscent of early David Hockney, with too strong a fellow feeling for outsider art.

Nordström’s style is indebted to others and his subjects are largely throwbacks to blasé society life, but that doesn’t mean they register as bland or unadventurous. His gift is for gossiping in visual whispers with lots of loose ends; he never meets you more than halfway in his stories, so you have to go the extra distance yourself if you want to find the ending. This manipulative technique tempts us to concoct our own innuendo—and never more so than in his sex pictures. In Nordström’s world, sex is a legendary, highly idiosyncratic, and languorous—but still charismatically mysterious—affair.

With blunt sincerity, Nordström describes a ritualized life of privilegedclass peccadilloes. He has the diarist’s touch with sexual particulars. And however uncouth his sex scenes become, the devoted concentration of his museum audience moving trancelike from picture to picture told me that everyone would grant Nordström at least five, perhaps ten more chances to end his naughty storytelling before they stormed from the museum.

Drawings of horses, ships, and birds provide the ambience of advantage. The sex pictures are therefore lent total license to be fringe-fantasies from a dark but posh world of indulgences staged on considerable estates in drawing rooms where the furnishings are sparse but old-school resplendent, the portraits are of ancestors, the music live, and the liquor abundant. These are clubby affairs accessorized with cards and snooker; interspersed with the tuxedos are uniforms of military officers and the clergy. Women, in pictures like One More Lap, 2001, have their own élan for fashion. Dressed for ease of use, they wear heels and thighhighs or, elsewhere, panties around their knees. They passively submit to any form of copulation that qualifies as alternative. Yet what most enchants Nordström’s aristocrats, as we see in The Tomb of the Lonely Soldier, 2000, is women who are inert, their vulvas and anuses revealed for contemplation only, or perhaps the odd spanking experiment.

Nordström is a connoisseur of whimsical if languid upper-crust sex. He stands in fairly interesting company, from Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) to the rumored sexual cheekiness at Yale’s Skull and Bones; perhaps we even toss in Helmut Newton’s photographic cocktails that stir together equestrian equipment and women. Nordström’s art is a collection of drowsy fairy tales for adults, which, by the way, starkly play the foil to his five children’s books about Sailor and Pekka, an old seaman and his dog, published between 1992 and 2003. In Nordström’s pictures sex is compulsive but not convulsive, and in place of the voyeuristic pleasures of carnality at the edge are occasions to weave various bits of unfinished business together, creating an elegantly impious if torpid picture of an enchanted land inhabited by dozy Dionysians.

Ronald Jones