Jody Paulsen Pushing Thirty

Pushing Thirty: The Art of Adulting

Self Portrait with Banana


In October 2017 artist Jody Paulsen will be 30 years old. Those of us born in 1987 are part of the last generation to remember life before the internet and embrace its many iterations since. We witnessed the birth of reality TV, social media, influencer-culture and clickbait. Through headlines, humour, logos and slogans Jody taps into, and mirrors, the experience of the perennial millennial wrought with anxiety, distraction and the pop politics of the day.

For his first solo show, Pushing Thirty, his text-based felt collages, self portraits and captions reflect the media consumed and the connections sought by this generation. He uses his own coming of age as a point of departure to acknowledge the passing of time in general and to explore what it means to be alive at this age in the world today.


Going behind the work, we asked the artist to look back at his life
comparing the fears, relationships and the conversations he had at 21
with those on the cusp of turning 30:

Jody Paulsen Pushing Thirty

Mirror Men

Self-image at 21:

When I was 21 I grew into myself. I was lucky enough to do part-time modelling throughout my student years. I never exercised and lived on fries. I had no body issues but I did have occasional acne which drove me nuts at the time.

Self-image at pushing 30:

At 30 I spend so much time trying to look effortless. I can finally afford my yoga contract, a psychologist, medical aid, skin creams etc. trying to somehow resemble my 21 year old self. As I get older it takes more and more effort to look presentable.


Fears at 21:

I remember coming out as gay when I had just turned 21. I started dating my first boyfriend and I worried about what others would think of me because I was so confused about my sexuality at the time. I feared that everyone close to me would think I was weird, or a liar, for coming out so late. At age 21 I learned the importance of authenticity.

Fears at pushing 30:

My fears lie in all the doubt I go through whenever I need to make new work or important life decisions. I’m so scared of failure and losing momentum in my career. I’m also scared of how much I neglect my health and personal life whenever I’m working on an exhibition or collection. At the moment I worry about balance between life and work.

Jody Paulsen Pushing Thirty

Self Portrait (I)

Relationships at 21:

Relationships at 21 are heaven because they are so full of hope. My first boyfriend and I started dating and I lived in bliss for about one and a half years. When I was 21 I was completely unaware of heartache or the dilemmas of co-dependency. After two years we had our issues but I fell really hard for him. At 24 he left me for someone else and I mourned him for about two years. I allowed the failure of that relationship to ripple into every other sphere of my life. I was bone broke and had never felt such excruciating pain before, so I partied all the time and fell behind at school. At 21 I loved more recklessly.

Relationships at pushing 30:

Relationships at 30 are a mystery to me. I’m scared of spending too much time dating because I’ve finally got my career on track. I’m a lot more careful about falling in love. Once you’ve had a few disappointing relationships, you tend to question everything a lot more. When you reach 30 you become cynical.

The Love Algorithm

Jody Paulsen Pushing Thirty

Selfportrait (III)

Conversations at 21:

At 21 I spoke about wanting to be an artist all the time. I remember endless conversations about being an artist which heavily outweighed the hours spent making actual work as an artist. At 21 I was quite a slacker.

Conversations at pushing 30:

At thirty you still have anxieties about being a full grown adult except you learn how to manifest your goals as opposed to talking about them in bars.

Jody Paulsen Pushing Thirty

Emotional Ninja

Work at 21:

At 21 I was desperate to feel adult emotions like love, success, failure, sorrow etc. I tried to live a chaotic life so that I could have material for my art. At 21 I was delusional about how much actual work and responsibility it took to be an artist.

Work at pushing 30:

By 30 you become a lot more aware of how you spend your time. Once you’ve experienced failure, you learn from it (although you don’t realise it at the time). I learned how to be disciplined enough to achieve whatever goals I have set out. I’m a huge fan of Nora Ephron, an American filmmaker and writer. ‘Everything is Copy’ was her philosophy and it became a turning point for my artistic practice. ‘Everything is Copy’ means that whatever happens to you in life is fair game to discuss in your practice. As Ephron put it, “If you slip on a banana peel you’re the joke, but if you tell somebody that you slipped on a banana peel, the joke is yours.”

Jody Paulsen Pushing Thirty

A survivor’s guide for millennials becoming adults:


Everything by Nora Ephron – all the books and films etc.

All of Roxanne Gay’s non-fiction and every lecture by her online.

The same with Zadie Smith (although I am yet to read ‘Swing Time’).

Podcasts by Vogue, New York Library, BBC’s desert island series, Lena Dunham’s ‘Women of the Hour’.

Netflix and its crime documentaries.

The Wendy Williams show and The View for some daily comic relief.

I also went through a brief obsession with ‘British Monarchy’ and ‘Bridget Jones’ when I started the body of work.

Reading non-fiction by Rebecca Solnit, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nora Ephron really helped me to achieve the literary tone of my work.


Artwork Copyright Jody Paulsen.

Images Courtesy SMAC Gallery, South Africa.


See Jody Paulsen’s solo show Pushing Thirty at SMAC gallery, Cape Town until 25 March 2017.