In a windowless room on the second floor of Spaceworks’ Creative House, Gillian Nordlund’s art erupts in pastel and neon bursts. She works in the corner of the small studio that she shares with her partner and fellow artist, Isaac Olsen. Fluorescent lights bounce off laminated letters spelling ‘C O M E F R I E N D I A N S’ strung triply in a banner across one wall, near a desk stacked with spools of thread, notebooks, paints, and a fortune-cookie note-adorned sewing machine that reads ‘choose your own path.’ When meeting Gillian—whose smile is as big and wild as her teased-out hair—there is never a doubt that this is her mantra.
Born and bred in Tacoma, Gillian (GeeGee, as she’s known around these parts) struck out for the School of Art Institute Chicago (SAIC) after graduating from Tacoma’s School of the Arts. But at the fresh age of 19, the Windy City felt large and overwhelming. “It’s an artsy city, but I had no idea how to break into it.” University life exposed her to a variety of materials she had never worked with before. She began creating pop-up books, animations, and short films, which led to the creation of an oversized comic detailed in black in white titled “GEEGEE vs. Garba-GEEGEE: the Battle of a Lifetime.” She describes the book as a product of feeling sad and contemplating her evil-villain and superhero sides: “You got to trick your brain, you know? I call it the battle of a lifetime. It’s what we all have to do. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Her battles with inner GEEGEE and Garba-GEEGEE crop up in much of her work: from masked and mustachioed characters representing Garba to the undulating bodies of Poopie Crumbles, outfitted with their own weapons. GeeGee says that they’re in a gang. “I don’t know if they’re really mean, but they do have weapons that could hurt you, and they don’t have guns. They all have weapons that they have to use force with and commit to instead of pulling a trigger.” During opening night of Poopie Crumbles at local coffee spot Lift Bridge, GeeGee gave away paper weapons like broken bottles and switchblades to the first twenty people to arrive.
Even when characters aren’t the primary focus of her pieces, the saccharine mixed with a gut-punch thread unites them. Lately she’s been dabbling in embroidery. Some of her collection includes fluorescent tombstone-embroidered canvases with phrases like “Have Fun,” “Live a Little,” and “Aced It.” She credits being able to work anywhere as one of the reasons for transitioning from paint and ink to a more tactile medium like fibers. She carries her tools around in a giant denim bag with a single zipper. “I’m kind of a vagabond, so this is my studio too.” She comments about her doctor not approving of her schlepping a giant bag around on her back all day, but she enjoys clocking off then working on a project while surrounded by friends.“You just stitch and bitch,” she says.
Apart from her eight hour workday in the service industry and her stitching and bitching, GeeGee attempts to wake up early and put half an hour into her art after breakfast. She refers to this time on either side of the regular workday as her ‘second job’ (the countless unpaid hours of art making), and admits to how difficult it is to juggle them both. Still, she says, “If I’m always working I’m pretty happy.”
GeeGee is now focused on embroidered clothing, sewn and stuffed weapon pillows, fluorescent flags adorned with banners of middle fingers, and dozens of miniature stitched characters on canvas. She has recently been awarded a 10th Foundation of Art Award given by the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. Her work is on view at the Spaceworks Gallery, along with the other award recipients, from September 4th through October 19th, 2017, and you can view her Instagram featuring her art and self here.