Born October 1st 1969 in Rochester, NY. Richard Nickel received a Bachelor of Science in Art Education from State University College at Buffalo, New York in 1996. The received a Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics 2000 at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.
In the fall of 2000 he began teaching Art Education and Ceramics at Valley City University in North Dakota.
Richard has been an active artist and educator. He has been published in several Lark books on ceramics, 500 Tiles: An Inspiring Collection of International Work Lark Books, 500 Animals In Clay, 500 Figures in Clay and 500 Bowls. His juried and invitational shows include, Tablets: text and Image in Clay Carbondale Cay Center, Colorado , Ink And Clay 34 Kellogg University Art Gallery at California Polytechnic, CA. Jurors: Darrel Couturier and Mark Greenfield, Forms & Shapes: Inspired by Architecture at Akar Gallery, Iowa City, IA , The George Ohr National Arts Challenge: Paul Soldner
The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, MS , he has been also awarded several Grants on research in Education and Ceramics, Faculty Innovator Grant, ODU Summer Research Fellowship.
At Metro Space Gallery, Richard Nickel thinks young.
by Mike Dulin
|“Everyone has a dream and they carry it with them.” Richard Nickel’s “Lost Labor,” wood and latex paint, 48 by 40 inches.|
We all begin as children: This simple, fundamental truth is at the core of new work by artist Richard Nickel.
His show at Metro Space Gallery, “Songs for Children,” features ceramic and wooden sculptures. It offers up unforced poetic images, as if a child picked up a storybook and told the entire story without ever being able to read a single word.
Nickel is the director of ceramics and art education at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Working from his campus studio and inspired by a recently revamped university woodworking shop, he’s evolved from his earlier work with ceramics to develop two-dimensional wooden sculptures as his new form. His shift to wood as a medium is a song from his own childhood.
“My dad was a woodworker with a shop in the basement of our house in Rochester, N.Y.,” Nickel says. “He taught me to use the lathe and the band saw and the table saw. I was reluctant to use the table saw — that thing can be scary.”
His evolution from ceramics is a way to break away from figurative, ground objects, he says. Each of his new pieces is constructed of individual wooden shapes attached to a wooden form and hung on the wall. Their colors are simple and the structures can be mazelike. The wooden sculptures carry original patterns found in his ceramic pieces.
“I really didn’t plan it out. I would just make a form and then make another form and let it dictate itself,” he says. “I would have all of these forms and rearrange them until I had the composition that worked.”
These final pieces also reflect his influence by self-taught artists and the obsession to detail he finds not only in their work, but also in their process. “They make art,” he says, “like cows give milk.”
The wooden and ceramic compositions are both filled with images of men, trees, babies, women, buildings and animals. “I have been fascinated with the idea of the mother and child,” Nickel says of one of his recurring themes. “The child was the symbol for the future. Everyone has a dream and they carry it with them.”
His current images deliver their narrative through the portrayal of action — simple snapshots of people working together and being together. “I want this dreamlike space where there is no up and no down,” he says of his arrangements. The scenes portrayed offer a wonderful story if only in a glimpse. He works without focusing on superficial elements that might add nothing to the story except for ego, vanity and distraction. In the art we find the beautiful bones of simplicity.
“I want my art to speak to everyone,” Nickel says. “In a lot of ways we are very much like children.”
“Songs for Children,” featuring new work by Richard Nickel, is on display through Nov. 28 at Metro Space Gallery, 119 W. Broad St. 307-9420.
Interview by Allison Byrne curator at The Contemporary Art Center of Virginia Beach
1. Can you talk a little about the layers of meaning behind the term “Magic Dirt”?
The idea of Magic Dirt started as a joke. People don’t know why clay works the way it does, it is not dirt yet it has all the minerals as any dirt or soil. Dirt is so common to find it magical is like finding air magical. It is, we forget about it. The composition of soil , the minerals ,the earth is almost the exact composition of any clay I use to make artwork. The earth is my media. Add fire and it becomes frozen in time. Magic Dirt! Well what is not taken or returned to this earth. Everything we have and exist with is the earth in one form or another. We as humans transform this Magic Dirt to cars, cans, planes, oil ect. We are the most Magic Dirt of all. We were formed and exist from this earth and return once more. That is the true magic. How did this happen. We model our behavior over this fact. We create because we have been created.
2. Since all of the work for this exhibition is very new and was created around the same time, do you see it as all relating to each other in terms of meaning, themes, concepts etc? What overall theme/concept would you use to describe this exhibition?
I would see the work relating as a whole, some more personal and specific than others. The overall concepts are the existence of humans on this earth and the truth I have discovered or stories I know after being here 38 years.
3. You depict a lot of women in your work and have mentioned that they are heroic figures – how does that reflect on the men depicted in your work and is there a gender struggle in the work?
Men are solitary figures, fighting real and imaginary battles. Most with themselves in my work. Men do not have the sense to disclose the fact that they need help and seek discourse with each other. A major weakness for men and this send them sailing the ocean and climbing mountains never reaching the top or the end of their journeys. Men need to learn to share ideas and not lead. This sometimes is the reason for gender struggle in my work. There are things women can tell men about living and men won’t hear it. Perhaps what they see as a weakness in women is the thing they need the most.
4. Can you talk about the role of the male in the Lumberjack and the Struggle pieces?
The lumberjack is another aspect or symbol of my desire to be an adult and the understanding the Lumberjack has with his labor. I love trees and would never cut one down. I have realized in my life that sometimes you have to clear the forest and cut down the things that you love to move forward. An unfortunate lesson of adulthood. The struggle is a classic Man vrs Man idea. it is my struggle with my bad and good ideas. The battle never ends!
5. Do you see these 5 platters as a series – is there a continuing narrative or order that the viewer should read them?
These are are not a continuing narrative in a traditional sense. No first and last.
6. Can you talk about the imagery you use of nature vs.. the city, city girls vs.. mother in the wild/lumberjack etc. Is there a conflict between the two worlds? Are the city girls happy in their environment or is there a longing for the country and vice-versa? Do you think about the role of mother vs. role of the city girl, are they connected?
City Girls- also a metaphor for a women who considers the host of others she contains. I think City Girls is my attempt a a complex portrait of a woman. Talking and conversing. On the move even though buildings stay put. She carries with her many others in her mind, considering them as fellow travelers and compainions.
7. Do you consider all of the women to be heroic and strong, and how does Weary Woman fit into the concept?
The weary woman is heroic in the way that work is never done. A hero does not quit. In sight of home she moves on knowing that home is rest and also work.
8. Family, friends, relationships are obviously very important and inspiring to you. Can you talk more specifically about how they influence you? For example in the piece What She Knew About Him, you seem to be referencing the ups and downs, mixed emotions and feelings that come with love and relationships..is that the right track?
Sure, living with one person for a few years gives you a chance to see many sides of them. I have been with someone in the happiest and saddest times of my life. Describing someone you know becomes complex. How could anybody put in words what they have known about a friend or a lover. I think thats why so many obituaries sound the same. It cant be written.
9. You have references to the cycle of life, birth, and death in a lot of the work, can you talk about how they influence and affect you?
Birth , the child, mothers are the hope of mankind. There is a chance we have in our lives to bring our hopes, our “children” to adulthood. We protect our dreams and that is another heroic effort. Sometimes the people who should be helping us the most can be the most discouraging. It is a heroic effort to hold on to our “babies” when the world says – nope not gong to happen, sorry. I know death – the real death awaits us all. I have had many folks meet him. Its is sad to see them leave and I know now more than ever in my life that here today gone tomorrow. No exceptions. So what is important to me now after understanding this? Friends, understanding people, love. All those things folks will think about on the death bed.
I’ ll never say on my bed – I wish I made more art.
10. . Can you talk a little about your techniques, constructions as well as drawing on the clay and finishing/glazing?
I use low fire clay. I hand build my forms using slab construction when the clay is leather hard. When forms are leather hard I use
Cold wax to coat the forms to begin drawing. I inlay colored lines through the slip. Most of my work is multifired, with copper washes over engobes- or colored slip.
11. You have mentioned Keith Haring, Pop Art, Inuit Art, Mickey Mouse as some of your influences, any others you would like to mention or have been looking at recently?
Donald Baechler, Bread and Puppets. Arthur Gonzalez