2018 E.A.S.T ARTIST HIGHLIGHT | Nicole Jeffords

Nicole Jeffords

We're exploring the world of the dozens of local artists featured at MMAC’s 2018 EAST gallery and their mediums. The goal of this series is to shed light on real-life Central Texas artists exploring what & why they create.

So, you are an artist, a writer, and the founder of ArtProfiler. Tell us more about these creative outlets for you.

I’ve been a writer all my life. As a kid I always wanted to make up stories about my dolls and I think that’s how it began. I wrote a novel when I was nine. When I was thirteen I was put in a class of handpicked writers (there were five of us). The teacher made us write extremely difficult compositions each week plus read Moby Dick (the only book we read all year). That was the beginning of a long training that took me through graduate school, and eventually the publication of stories, poetry, a novel about getting sober, a memoir and an episodic novel that was my attempt to write fiction online (A Secret Grave). All that sounds like a normal education for a writer, except that I went to art classes the whole time I was in college. My mother was a painter and if I wanted to be with her as a child, I had to hang out in her studio where she’d set up still life exercises for me, teaching me slowly how to draw and paint. I never really had a compulsion to paint, but I was fully trained and at the time of my mother’s death in 2005 something pushed me into starting portraits. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

ArtProfiler began in 2013 as a personal website, showcasing my work. I had a motto then that by marketing other people I’d market myself, so I did a lot of interviews and portraits of friends, but eventually I got sick of that. I wanted to be writing again and so I started with serialized fiction in the form of a blog. The result was A Secret Grave, the story of a controversial healer rumored to be murdered and buried beneath an artist’s studio in Austin, TX. By then my talented co-creator, Randi Turkin, was working with me. We started doing crazy videos to promote A Secret Grave and pretty soon we had a following and outgrew the site. So we decided to build a bigger one, an online cultural magazine that we would open up to other writers, painters, creatives and Voila, here we are now, two editors working on something way bigger than we are.

After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the site had no direction to go but political. We began making SNL style homegrown videos. I could do a Czech/Russian accent and had the high cheekbones so I put on a wig and played Melania along with a friend (Leigh Downing) who played Trump but could also double as my bodyguard. Up until then I’d been doing portrait commissions and normal stuff, but in the spring of 2017 I painted Trump as a sad clown, which we made into a meme that went viral. After that, with so much in the news, I started pumping out portraits of the whole toxic administration, painting one or two a week. People asked how I could stand it, but it was my personal form of political resistance -- a need to honestly chronicle the dark times we live in.

So to try and answer your question about creative outlets, my life right now is a constant balancing act between being in the studio and being at my desk. A Secret Grave closed after two seasons and I’m currently distilling the story into a series of novellas that will hopefully be completed by the end of 2019. But working for Artprofiler means a ton of writing -- articles, reviews, a blog. It’s a little like having young children: at the end of the day, one’s work is never done.

A lot of your work seems to be politically driven, what kind of message or story are you looking to communicate with your work?

I just want to tell the story of our times. Ideally I’d like to hook up with other political artists and put together a show that travels across the country. There are so many ways to depict the horrors, hypocrisy and lack of transparency going on in our politics right now that I think the result would be fascinating. Mostly, however, I’ve been pretty selective about whom I choose to paint. Trump’s an easy one, but I’ve resisted Pence whose face is singularly uninteresting to me. The one person I really enjoyed painting was Emma Gonzalez. I wish I still had that painting but it was sold to a man from Australia -- too far away to borrow back for exhibits.

Since this is the East Austin Studio Tour, how do you think your art impacts Austin or East Austin specifically, or on the flip side how do you feel being an artist in Austin affects you as an artist?

When I was at Pump Project, people use to come into my studio during EAST and say: “Oh you’re a real artist,” I guess because I was a classically trained figurative painter and they weren’t used to seeing so much detail. I was flattered by their remarks and began to see myself in the tour as a kind of oddity from a previous time because people weren’t looking at contemporary realism so much. Now, thank god, things are changing, but because my work has become so recognizably political I see myself as part of a movement that says, it’s okay to stand up and resist.



Big Medium's East Austin Studio Tour (EAST) is a free, annual, self-guided art event spanning two weekends in November. EAST provides opportunities for the public to meet the artists and artisans of Austin in their creative spaces.