James Hillier AKA Nordacious is a Brisbane-based visual artist who engages in an audaciously queer approach to pop culture. His works pop out from their frame screaming for attention as he creates intricate portraits of celebrities and politicians that require concentrated hours of preparation and are digitally reworked before appearing on badges, mugs, prints, t-shirts, shower screens, fridge magnets and other objects.
The artist’s style is instantly recognisable with a consistent focus on combining fun and frivolity with powerful social commentary. Each of his works transforms pop culture into objects of desire.
The brilliance of the artwork lies in the portrayal of the star’s emotional state. Britney Spears, for example, exudes a desperate longing for both sexual gratification and constant attention, depicted as if she is bursting out of the confines of the drawing. His Scott Morrison series of works depicts an idiot politician stumbling and falling onto his sword while Pauline Hanson’s drooping ugly clown cheeks and goggled eyes appear above the words ‘F*ck off Pauline’.
In his satire, there is a profound irony that exposes discrimination and promotes acceptance of individual differences through the manipulation of consumer culture. The artist critiques the very system that fuels bigotry and prejudice, using humour to reveal the absurdity of societal norms.
There is a parody in each of your works. Are your intentions based on highlighting the ugliness in notoriety?
I’ve always been obsessed with faces, being able to capture likeness, and reveal something magical through portraiture. The pendulum often swings wildly between celebration and criticism of my subjects. But irrespective of my approach, I always endeavour to make them engaging, visually arresting and conversation-starting. There’s a lot of glamour and probably even more of the grotesque. When you look at queer culture what social/political commentary informs you?
The new right wing culture wars, which have largely been imported from US style politics, have inflamed prejudice, miss-information and just fear mongering sections of the queer community. I just feel compelled to say something and illustrate my perspective and express these emotions and injecting it into my art is really beneficial for me and the likeminded queer community who follow me on my website.
What was your upbringing?
I grew up in a conservative evangelical Pentecostal upbringing and I was closeted, I knew I was gay or queer since around 11 years old. It was an unfortunate overlap of my queer awakening and religious experience, the two were accelerating at one hundred kilometres head on in conflict with one another. It was a lot of pain and a lot of mental health issues all from my adolesces because I was closeted and fighting my so-called inner demons. I came out at twenty-two. For so long I’d been silenced and afraid to speak up so reconnecting with my art-after that experience really became a way of reclaiming my voice and reclaiming my power as a gay man.
I can’t see much queer content in your work specifically, but the controversy in your images is based on celebrity catchphrases and social/political commentary. Is this your queer way of expressing queerness in popular culture?
Whilst I make a lot of pop cultural/political references, a lot of my work still has some pretty explicit queer themes – some of them include references to gay conversion therapy, protecting trans lives, the drag queen/groomer controversy, the “inclusivity rainbow” controversy at the AFL, plus a bit of homoerotic stuff.
In saying that you also donate 50% of the proceeds from your Down the Rabbit Hole series to Trans Lifeline, which is a peer-support hotline, staffed by trans people, for trans people. What other queer groups have you donated to?
Proceeds from pieces have also been donated to the Grace Tame Foundation (over $12,000), The Indigenous Literacy Foundation ($525), The Red Cross ($6,884), and Bravehearts ($713) and Trans Lifeline ($345)
How do you make so many different items, such as your Ceramic Tiled Arches of Prince, the George Michael shower curtains, and the can coolers?
A lot of my works are printed by a third party vendor, however I have a select handmade range, which are crafted in my home studio. My partner, artist Aaron Darcy casts the plaster arch tiles, which are then hand painted and feature my original work on top. They come ready to hang and make really special, bespoke additions to anyone’s walls. I’d love to create more handmade pieces like these in the future.
In years to come will your David Bowie tiles or the George Michael shower screens become collector’s items, for example you said that Elton John commissioned you for his latest album, will it be of value and why?
Only time will tell! I like to think so. I know that everything is temporary. RE: Elton John – In September 2022, a piece of Nordacious’ was chosen to be used on an official limited-edition CD single cover for the physical release of Elton John and Britney Spears’ single “Hold Me Closer”. It was selected by the label after winning an online vote from fans. I got to meet Elton in January 2023 backstage at his Brisbane show.
Your name is James Hiller but your site is called Nordacious, are you playing with the irony of provocation and assuming to be audacious by rhyming your AKA name with Nordacious?
I created my online pseudonym “Nordacious” when I was looking for a name that reflected my creative ambitions. I wanted to be more audacious and bold in my work, so I smashed the word “audacious” with “Nord,” the brand of a keyboard I’d just bought, and was in love with. I was also very into Nordic music at the time, so it seemed like a good fit.
You mentioned that your art was based on pointillism work, where each mark on the paper is made by a simple dot on the canvas to build up the image, how long does each of your drawings take?
The pointillism process is a labour of love. Pieces in this style can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks to complete. It’s a very slow and deliberate way of creating art, but it can also be quite cathartic and meditative.
Have you thought of Andy Warhol’s process of making money from your art because your website seems to be a store?
I’m familiar with Andy Warhol’s business acumen. He knew how to market his art, and I admire his ability to translate his creative practice with commercial success. However, with respect to your questioning, commercial success is not my main driver. Art is primarily a critical form of self-expression for me. Whether it’s being able to convey rage at the world’s injustices or celebrating the things in pop culture that spark joy, it’s an amazing tool of self-expression, as well as a great way to also advocate for those whose voices don’t always get platformed. I believe that art can be both commercial whilst still being meaningful and staying true to your artistic vision and personal integrity. I’m still learning how to do this, but I’m committed to finding a balance between the two.
I like the idea of your work worn by international stars; do you have to get their permission?
RE: seeking permissions, it has been a mixed bag. But as my career has progressed, I’ve been afforded more opportunities to work directly with some amazing clients.
Have you got into any trouble with your works that are politically controversial, such as your Scott Morrison works?
I haven’t yet had any direct run-ins with pollies over my characterisations of them. I’m generally more afraid of their voters!
Have you ever considered pushing the boundaries of work where they’re not merchandise but as art objects?
Yes – a lot of my works that touch on social-political commentary are not merchandised – they’re simply published online. Art can be a powerful tool for advocacy, as well as education. It’s a privilege to be able to lend my perspective and support to issues I care about through my art, and the conversations that follow once they’re in the online square. In the future, I’d love to create some more physical pieces – perhaps even mural-work.
Have you exhibited your works in a gallery?
Yes – I’ve had three solo exhibitions in Brisbane (2016), Sydney (2017) and Melbourne (2018). My solo shows were titled “VIDEO DRAMA”, which showcased a body of work inspired by the Australian film, Muriel’s Wedding. It was an incredible experience and I was fortunate to have cast members from the 1994 film attend the openings. My work has also been exhibited at the 2021 and 2022’s Behind the Lines political cartoon exhibition (Canberra, Australia) at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. I’m currently also doing work for The Brisbane Times (political illustrations).
What are you developing now and where can readers find you?
I’m focussing on opening a physical store! (In Gaythorne, Brisbane). That has kept me very busy (and very excited!) Also continuing with a lot of custom work, including album covers, podcast artwork, and film posters.
Check out Nordacious’ range at https://nordacious.com/