Nicholas Jagger

Artist’s statement


Most of my work is one giant project on the Vanitas theme, which can be described thus: A still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the worthlessness of worldly goods and pleasures (Tate online). I take a more humane approach, but whether it be a self-portrait or a museum study, the emphasis is always on the effects of time, invisible in itself, but always at work. Art is a means of taking stock, of meditating on certain events and objects, and provides the structure of life in itself.


The corpus is a tour around myself, a kind of journey, but with no sense of an ultimate moment of enlightenment at its end. A series of surfaces perhaps, any psychology the product of the painting and not its impulse. Sometimes there is a double portrait element, or a composition within the composition which creates a tension. Each painting has a reason for being, and the titles hint at this, such as Terrain, which can be understood as the square of stool which I cling to, the smallest space I can occupy, but also as the mountain-like body with the head a kind of summit.

Studies from the Antique

Certain characters in Greek drama have the capacity to change between kindly and aggressive. Looking at the same idea from Freud’s theory of the uncanny, objects and places can simultaneously attract and repel because they seem both familiar and strange.

I think of these uncanny sculptural figures as metaphors of the human, particularly in the way they show a relation to time, because they are often obviously damaged, something which is often absent in the constant present of a human life. In many cases the figures are the only remaining fragments of a larger group, and therefore no longer fulfill a particular function, but are carved or cast in a pose which leaves the figure in a perpetual state of waiting, and all that that implies. Other pieces seem to have an indecipherable quality, looking on at the people of the floating world, without seeming to belong to them.

In this light, I also think of them as a visual metaphor of memory, in which the museum space mirrors the many episodes, characters, moments, which make up a life of fragments, which, though vivid, have a final and distant quality that separates the present from the past.


It is no surprise, with such an emphasis on the sculptural, that I make sculpture, always as an end in itself, and yet that it is absorbed into the painting, and becomes a double element, and both object and two-dimensional image.

End of Day Paintings

Having made it to the end of a day’s work in the studio, I have a look at the palette to see if there’s any interesting colour left. If there is, I add it to an end of day painting, which is always non-representational, often quite small, and are a release for the pent-up gestures and spontaneity held in check during the day. I don’t acknowledge a division between representation and abstraction, and enjoy attending to another aspect of painting, though there is a huge failure rate and only about a quarter or a fifth are completed.