Monday, April 13, 2015

Her Kind: An Interview with Nicomi Nix Turner

Nicomi Nix Turner
Oakland, CA based artist Nicomi Nix Turner conjures delicate graphite drawings in her sunny loft, often with her beloved cat Luna in her lap. Each piece seems to take countless hours; I like to think of the meditative quality creating them must have, the solitude with one's thoughts such careful work demands. Strange &; yet familiar, the nature based works have been increasingly featuring portraits of women caught in moments of trance or wonder-filled reverie, coupled with flora & fauna and enriched by ancient symbols and texts.

I see bits of myself in these portraits, &; think of the poem by Anne Sexton, 'Her Kind', which has since become a kind of anthem for women living on the fringe of societal norms. My favorite couple of lines, in which she describes her self ( & unknowingly, so many others): "...lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. / A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind," feels  akin to  the moods imbued in the new work.

The 'loneliness' in these images in not so much a lack of love or friendship, as they seem so wholly connected to the natural world, but instead, perhaps a loneliness for God, as evidenced by the title of the show: 'No God For A Wanderer,' which opens in my hometown of Philly at Paradigm Gallery on April 24th. I was recently given the opportunity to talk to Nicomi about how she works, what books inspire her and her thoughts on womanhood in our modern age. 
Nicomi Nix TurnerAlthough your family is from Oakland, & that is where you currently live & work, you were raised in rural Oregon & had what appears to be a rather isolated childhood. Can you talk about how this solitude with nature may have shaped your path as an artist? Can you recall how your younger self felt communing with nature in such a way?

I grew up on a ranch. My closest friend was a bit of a drive from our house so I mostly enjoyed the company of the menagerie of animals kept on our 35 acres; cats, cows, rabbits, birds, dogs, a horse... Most of my childhood was spent outdoors by myself where I watched life, death, growth and decay. 

Nature has always been a central part of my art. I started to draw mushrooms and other flora growing out of flesh or on bone about a decade ago. I had recalled stumbling on a coyote carcass in a bed of ferns that was slowly decaying, collecting spores, insects, etc. and giving space for new life to take over. I wanted to capture that cycle coexisting with life and not just decay.

It goes without saying that my intense love of nature never went away. I’m still a loner collecting fern clippings and flowers.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

You entered the commercial art world at a very young age and moved up the ranks rather quickly, working as an Art Director for a the- known character brand 'Emily The Strange,' before leaving to focus on your personal work. What skills did you acquire during this time that you feel may inform how your work ? 

A couple months after leaving art school (I was paying for it myself at 18 and was not taking too much out of it at the time) I was hired to work for Emily the Strange as an Illustrator/Graphic Designer for the brand. I worked on everything from comics to apparel and learned a great deal about the business of art in the 6 years I was part of the Strange family. Emily will always be a little part of me and it was an honor to be a part of the legacy of the character. 

It was working on Emily that I realized how much dedication to art could pay off, visually speaking, and where I picked up my (slightly unhealthy) work habit: I’m always working. I feel weird or disconnected when I’m not drawing or writing/sketching out new ideas so I’m always keeping my hands busy. I firmly believe that with art (and not to sound cliché but life in general) you get what you put into it.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

I’ve read that you consider your technique ‘painting with graphite’, & also, that you don’t erase anything whilst working. Both of these ideas intrigue me, and as I own a couple of originals from you, I can definitely attest to their ‘pureness’ in terms of showing no visible ‘fault lines.’  How do you problem solve when a line may go wayward ? 

When I work, I draw a piece a few times before settling in on the final… pressing out parts I like and working out the part I don’t. By the time I get to the final piece I like to think of every line being there for a reason. I don’t erase my mistakes and if there are ones that stick out to me, I just integrate them into the fold of the story. I’m no stranger to starting all over if something goes terribly awry but all in all I just go as slow and meticulous as possible.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

In lieu of color, you focus on highly detailed natural textures and textile patterns for a dynamic depth within your compositions. This results in work that feels more nuanced, delicate. Can you talk about these obsessions ? 

Texture is king to me. I try to relay movement and deeper parts of a story with textiles and texture. I grew up being inspired by my Grandparent’s love of the Japanese culture. This affinity for patternwork has been something of a bridge to me between natural patterns and man made patterns (hexes, sigils, needlework…etc) and the equal or diverged significances.

You left art school after a brief stint and are mostly self taught, choosing to work on and with mediums that many don’t, as many galleries seem to push for works in acrylic and oil on canvas or wood. Do you feel freer to explore or do you brush up against limitations ? 

I don’t believe an artist should be creating art that caters to what galleries know they can sell.

I enjoy color and enjoy painting but exploring what can be done with graphite is thrilling. There are certainly limitations with any medium but I feel like its up to the artist to figure out how to work around those and make the medium work for them.

Nicomi Nix Turner

I know that you don’t work from photographic reference and instead rely on memory and experience for your work. Having spent time with many artists both in a personal capacity as well as for studio visits during my time at Hi-Fructose, I can say many artists rely on this, especially now with so many images immediately available via the internet. What strikes me is how you are able to conjure precise forms from nature etc.

 The idea of photo reference has always been a weird thing to me. I think that allowing yourself to trust and explore your hand as an artist can be just as interesting as referencing a photograph.

 For my work, I’m not trying to connect images to the strings of reality - only the tangible idea of a story. If I see something in real life or elsewhere I grasp on to parts that intrigue me (wide-set slanted eyes, markings, expressions…) and try to fold that into sketches. I do reference things but not in the sense of staring at an image and drawing it. I’ll bring plant clippings into the studio to study but what I draw from that is just my interpretation. I like to create things that may or may not exist.

 None of my work is perfect or meant to be photorealistic- I’m not aiming for that. I draw what I know.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

One of the things that most strikes me about your new body of work is the feeling of suspended motion. The moths flutter around your central figures, and yet are captured in time, frozen in a beautiful silence. This feels a bit different to me than previous pieces and for me, strengthens your work. Can you talk about this ?

That feeling when you fall in your sleep or watching a glass fall is both beautiful and alarming. I have been trying to capture that feeling in between movement and stillness- a weightlessness. This body of work centers on the idea of limbo- a place somewhere between a possible God and nothingness so that feeling of suspended motion is its own protagonist in this body of work.

Nicomi Nix Turner

Another thing that snared me were my two favorite pieces, ‘Of False Martyrs’ and ‘ And In the End, Silence.’ Both of the female figures appear to be connected and each share a strange expression, a kind of trance like, otherworldly reverie, as if they were occupying two worlds at the same time. This feels so different from the confrontational ‘sexy’ gazes seen in so many female centric works.

I loath “sexy” gazes. It’s actually really disturbing to me and you see it so much in art these days. The women in my works are strong, beaten down & crawling back up, knowing & savage- they have no need for pursed lips and sexy gazes.

I bring this up in every interview because it is beautiful and inspiring to me: a couple years ago I came across a story of The Asgarda; a group of Ukrainian women who have formed a tribe in the Carpathian Mountains. In an effort to empower young women they learn and hone skills in weaponry, science, public speaking, martial arts… These women go back to the forest in a claim of resurgence. Women are strong creatures and I try to depict that in my works.

“Of False Martyrs” and “And In The End, Silence” depict two different moments of trying to find God…communing with something that may not be there and the feeling of helpless silence.

Nicomi Nix Turner
Can you talk about your idea of the ‘Celestial Equator?’

Most of (not all) the women in my works have a thin line tattooed across the bridge of their nose. This is a line I put on the women in my works who have in a sense, gone through hell and back and found their center or equator, if you will. Not all of the figures I draw have found that so in turn, not all of them have the line.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

You are also an avid reader. Can you talk about any books you feel changed you or inspired you in a way you hadn’t been before ? Now that the work is complete for your show, can you list the books you are most looking forward to delving into, or do you always carve out time for reading ?

Franz Kafka’s story Metamorphosis definitely had a great influence over myself and my works. That feeling of being an insect… being cast out and abandoned… waiting to die… being forgotten. I get chills thinking about the protagonist on his back, writhing.

I have hoarded a few new piles of books to dive into when things calm down for a minute. I found a used book store that is filled with so many good books that I am ready to just hand over my wallet.

So far my piles include:

King Lear - Shakespeare
My Friend Hitler- Yukio Mishima
An Alchemy of Mind - D. Ackerman
The Goat Foot God - Dion Fortune
Paris Spleen – Baudelaire
Ada - Nabokov

 I like to read at breakfast… Its quiet and the only time I really make for “me time”.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

Can you give a written visual tour of your workspace? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with ? 

My space is ever changing. Right now for this show, I have a wall of preliminary drawings for each piece behind me, a variety of plants soaking up sun, beetles and moth parts on my easel, bones and critters, Murphy’s Law equation written on a scrap of paper, a stack of sketchbooks, torn notes of passing thoughts or ideas and Luna.
Nicomi Nix Turner

Occasionally you take sojourns to Europe and elsewhere to soak in art and be inspired. What do you take away from these experiences, and how are you able to transmute them into your work? { I bring this up in synchronicity to the title of your show, the idea of the 'Wanderer' }

Because I spend so much time working and not really leaving the house much, I like to enjoy trips that soak my brain in new sights and stimulus. Prague was one of the most inspiring places I have been yet. A lot of what I take from places is the tone of the setting and cultural history. Prague was old, dark, romantic, startling… It has inspired my work since I left it.

What would you consider to be the true heart this new body of work?

No God For A Wanderer is about belief and death. I lost my mother when I was a teenager- this started my internal conversation of belief. I lost my grandmother last fall and have spent the last few months grieving and wondering if they are both wandering around somewhere.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

lover's eye.

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

I always love it when Tim Walker photographs Tilda Swinton. I imagine her being a kind of muse to him; her ethereal cool and willingness to explore being a surreal font of inspiration. I like to think their visual collaborations are akin to Klimt's portraits of Sarah Bernhardt, & wonder how his images of Tilda will stand the test of time.....

On a related aside, I play this song featuring Tilda, almost daily. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

the unthinkable thought

Polly Morgan

I wouldn't have ordinarially thought to pair artists Polly Morgan & Kate MccGwire even though they work primarily in the 'taxidermy' genre. Polly's recent unsettlingly beautiful serpentine series really snagged me though, when I came across them while down the research rabbit hole for my new collection 'Darkling, I Listen', & I began to think of Kate's feathered 'serpents' that I had always meant to write about here. There is a palpable kinship between these works; the sinuous shapes of snakeskin and feather, abstracted from life and yet still retaining 'life,' a somber yet beautiful evidencing of what is left behind and what has gone away. Both works are bodily & visceral and poetic in their quiet non-linear narratives....& yet, still born from death. (I do believe that Kate's feathers are collected but still see this as a kind of death from the body.) I love synchronicity like this.

As I work on this collection, mostly inspired by Jung's ideas on 'inner alchemy' & the process of individuation and how it symbolically relates to ancient alchemical processes, I've been thinking a lot of my own looping internal landscape. I think of the darkness I carry inside me; how I often seem to repeat myself, the way I obsess over insignificant moments or 'signs', the way I have circling thoughts, & my nearly life long desire for some of this static to be lifted. I think of the shapes of my thoughts and the shapes of these works, and how they relate to the snake both literally ( as in Polly's work) and visually ( as in how Kate coils her feathered shapes); of the snake as an ancient symbol, eating its own tail, the Ouroboros. I think of the threaded philosophy in 'True Detective', the Cosmic Horror Lovecraft imbued into his mythos, which seems to be running rampant in our collective unconscious evidenced by how many people seem to have been deeply struck by Rustin Cohle's philosophy on life: "Time Is A Flat Circle;" Nietzsche's 'eternal recurrence' which is likened to the alchemical Ouroboros, the eternal return. ( see, a lot of (perhaps useless) circular thinking is going on over here during this full moon)  

I'm unsure as to whether or not any of these thoughts were in the minds of these two artists or if I was in a different season in my life, if I would still view them with this strange dark lens. Whatever the reason is, it feels like little bolts of lightning to see them in this frame of thought. I live for these moments of connection.

Polly Morgan:

Polly Morgan

Polly Morgan

Polly Morgan

Kate MccGwire
Kate McGwire

Kate McGwire

Kate McGwire

Kate McGwire

Thursday, April 2, 2015

an interview with allyson mellberg taylor

bird watcher
{Bird Watcher}

I've never had the pleasure of meeting Allyson Mellberg Taylor in person, nor do I know the sound of her voice. We only occasionally share (heart felt) letters a couple of times a year. Despite this seeming 'unknowing' of one another, I have always felt a personal connection to both her work; its grotesque beauty, its Sci-Fi heart, as well as to the lady herself. A painting she made for the 'Spirit Board' show I curated back in 2011 remains one of my most treasured pieces in my home. 

Her newest body of delightfully strange paintings, 'The Planet of Doubt', opened last month at Galerie LJ in Paris, a large exhibition of over 40 new pieces that she managed to conjure into being despite her responsibilities as a wife, mother and teacher. This prolific nature is a huge inspiration to me, and her work, while retaining many of the similar themes and aesthetics of previous exhibitions, continues to grow in simple elegance and strength. I recently had the honor of asking Allyson some questions, & upon reading her responses feel even more of a kinship with this special lady.

the price of stillness
 {The Price of Stillness}

Do you imagine your figures living within the same narrative ? The same world?

I think the answer is yes. If not the same world, definitely the same solar system. But it’s a big space so there is a lot of room for individuals to wander and explore. Or maybe everyone is an introvert? Every once in a while I have drawings that include many figures so they get together now and again.

stink horn
{Stink Horn}

One of the things I am drawn to most about your work is the delicate beauty present, how your figures engage with others and their surroundings in such a gentle way and yet, they are often marked with diseased looking skin. Why make this “ugly” choice ? 

I have always been drawn to the grotesque especially when paired with a gentle, delicate quality –I’m thinking specifically of old medical illustrations of skin diseases where the beautifully illustrated figures are marred by psoriasis or pox, etc. They always look so dignified. I like the idea of my figures being passive, gentle observers who are able to integrate with their surroundings to the point of being covered.

gut feeling
{Gut Feeling}

Science Fiction, in particular, 'Dr.Who', has been a great influence on your work. Even the title of your new exhibition ‘Planet of Doubt’ is culled from a sci-fi short story involving space travel. Can you talk about these inspirations ? 

I have been a serious Doctor Who fan since the early 80’s when I watched Tom Baker as the Doctor on PBS with my big brother. Then, thanks to the internet I was able to go back and watch all of the very first b&w 1960’s episodes which I fell in love with too… and I love all of the new series as well… I also enjoy reading science fiction, Ursula K. LeGuin, Arthur C. Clarke, those crazy short story anthologies edited by Isaac Asimov… I love all of that stuff. The main reason it is inspiring/influential to my work is the ability of good science fiction to discuss real social and ecological issues in a way that is just enough outside of our normal existence that we can consider alternatives to our current reality without becoming defensive/unreceptive. Ursula K LeGuin is a great example of a writer who has explored how we deal with gender (Left Hand of Darkness) the environment (The Word for World is Forest), and the consequences of our actions/the actions of humanity (the Lathe of Heaven)… but there are so many more great examples. I also love Haruki Murakami so much but I think that his work is considered to be more surrealism than Sci-Fi.

face cultivator
{Face Cultivator}

 How important is your sketchbook to your process ?

I really need my sketchbook! It helps me think/plan/write/draw. If you went through my last two sketchbooks you would find mini versions of nearly every drawing in my recent show. And you would also find a lot of weird doodles, writing and lists. Having a sketchbook really helps me think. I also appreciate it more now that I am a Mom because when my daughter naps in the car I get a lot of stuff done in my sketchbook. Actually I think about a dozen of my newer pieces were drawn on good paper in the car, in a parking lot while M was napping. Ha! I am very particular though. My sketchbook paper has to be smooth, off white rather than bright white, and has to be able to handle ink. And it can’t have a decorated cover…. I would say that I am pretty superstitious about sketchbooks and have definitely left ones with bad energy empty on the shelf. I have no way of rationally explaining that, its just a feeling.

dirt shirt
{Dirt Shirt}

Nature plays an important role in your work and I know you care deeply for the garden you share with your husband. You even make your own inks and use antiquated methods such as egg tempera. Can you talk about why this is so important to you?

When I was in undergrad, several of my professors had health issues related to using solvents and that had a big impact on me in terms of non-toxic printmaking. Then I went to graduate school and met Jeremy and he was doing all of this really in-depth research on non-toxic, sustainable, and earthen pigments. It was a revelation to see what he was making and to really consider the effects of some of the materials I was still using. After learning all of this stuff from him, it was sort of like watching cows get slaughtered and then not being able to eat meat anymore… it's hard to go back once you know. So I purged my studio of anything toxic and found that I didn’t miss any of it. I am so grateful to Jeremy for sharing all of this knowledge with me and really being an inspiration in terms of making beautiful, smart work that is also not harming the earth. Once I started working without any toxic pigments/solvents, I remembered an egg tempera demo from undergrad and decided to give it another try. I found it to be perfect for me it was non-toxic (because of my pigments), dried fast, and had a beautiful clarity of color that I love. Our garden has been a great opportunity to grow pigments right next to our food and process dyes and inks our selves. We just moved so we are building a new garden right now, which is exciting and daunting all at once. Gardening is very important to our whole family, it’s a form of meditation, exercise, it's something we do together, our home really won’t feel like home until that is up and running.

mother salt
{ Mother Salt }

You also work in other mediums, including ceramics, papercuts and sewing soft creatures. How do you decide what to focus your attention on ? 

Sometimes I need a break from drawing/painting. Other times specific ideas just come to me in a specific material like wood or porcelain. I love being able to move between two and three dimensional work – I feel like I am always learning new things that way. Sometimes it also helps me get out of a rut…for example with paper cuts I get a chance to focus on shape and composition more than my drawings which are so much based in line. I feel like I always need a place to play and experiment and changing materials now and then helps facilitate that.


Often your figures engage with this strange landscape, & sometimes a shapeless mass that sometimes engulfs them. Can you talk about this inhuman presence?

A lot of that imagery comes from the idea of being overwhelmed. This could be a positive or negative thing depending on what’s in the mass and the perspective of the person within it. These masses started appearing in my work after I read a short story called “Parasite Planet” by Stanley Weinbaum that features some roaming cancerous masses called doughpots… More recently, for “The Planet of Doubt,” things have developed into more ephemeral forms that are like clouds or bunches of frog eggs. I like to think about being in nature as an observer, letting yourself be over taken… whether that is by a wave or a wind or fog or cold… just letting yourself be still within that. I am not very good at meditation (drawing and gardening are as close as I get to quieting my brain) ) In my new show I have a piece called “the Price of Stillness” where a woman has grown barnacles all over herself… This could be seen as an achievement in medication or a stagnation. I like that there is a duality that depends on the viewer’s perspective. One person’s gross out is another person’s idea of

{Advocate }

Your newest exhibition ‘ Planet of Doubt’ has a stunning 32 pieces in it. How do you manage to fit in time for making your work while raising a young daughter and working as a teacher? Do you have yourself on a schedule ? 

Thank you. Ha, so there are actually 42 pieces! She couldn’t fit them all on the walls so a few are in the Galerie LJ flatfiles. I was on a roll apparently. When I did my last solo show with Galerie LJ Margot was an infant… I have to say it was much easier to work when she was younger, napping more, napping on me in a sling or carrier… I used to be able to nurse and draw at the same time! For this show I had to be more careful about planning my work time. I did a lot of late night studio sessions after M went to bed and even then there is always the possibility of being interrupted by a toddler’s need to pee or wanting Mama or getting woken up by sirens outside… I always lay there in my daughter’s bed when this is happening imagining my cat out in the studio licking my egg tempera palette. Two other big factors are: first, my husband has been taking the brunt of childcare while I have been working on this show – I really couldn’t have done this show without his help. And second: I was awarded a sabbatical for the last fall, so that time off allowed me to have more free studio time. I would like to say that I have myself on a schedule but even with the predictable routines you have with a small child (naps bedtime, etc.) there is still so much variation and you just have to roll with it. That is just part of being Mama. I work whenever I can and when I have a big deadline I inevitably will have to pull a few all nighters to make it work. I felt guilty for a while when she was even smaller… I was late to finish some stuff, I even missed some deadlines because she got sick and there’s just no way to get anything done when your kid has the flu or whatever. It is a hard balance to strike. Moms get a lot of shit, especially in academia. I actually had another woman artist say to me, when I was pregnant, “Gee I hope you don’t quit making art once you become a Mom” and another female colleague advised me to wait until I got tenure to get pregnant. I really try not to let it get to me anymore. I feel like this time in my kid’s life, where she is so small and needs me more intensely is limited… it is already flying by so quickly! So I am going to be present. And be late on some deadlines. And miss some shit. But I am not going to miss shit with my child. The rad thing about her being almost 3 now is we can actually draw together. That is so fun.


Your husband Jeremy Taylor is also an artist. What is it like to live with another artist ? Do you find that you inform each other’s work ?

I feel really lucky that I get to live with such an amazing artist! Jeremy’s work has had an influence on me since we first met. He is brilliant and thoughtful and his work is so so beautiful. I think I am his biggest fan! We have had some collaborative shows and those are always my favorite – the Handplant show we did at Cinders Gallery is still one of my favorite shows I have ever been a part of. We did so much porcelain and gold work for that one. Now that we have a kid we definitely have to coordinate alternate studio time better. Jeremy just spent a few months helping me while I finished my show so now its my turn to return the favor and help him finish some projects he has going on. We are also working on a duo show for April at AVA in Chattanooga, TN.

slug woman
{Slug Woman}

A lot of this newer work has the figures engaged in a kind of entanglement or trapping, dark forms halo their bodies, veil- like nets surround their heads and hands. Is this engagement a binding or did you have other things in mind?

It is a sort of binding, and depending on the drawing it is both menacing and/or comforting. I like the idea of binding being comforting though… if you think of it as surrounding and supporting something – like a sprained ankle. It seems restrictive but it's actually allowing you to function. I was really interested with this body of work in themes of interacting with nature but also isolation, contemplation, and uncertainty. The Planet of Doubt story itself (where I got my show title) is set on a fog-covered planet being explored by two of Weinbaum’s recurring main characters (a married couple). Visibility is limited and immediately they deal with isolation, fear of the unknown, fear of being stuck, and not knowing how to interpret their surroundings/trust their senses. I found this story to be an interesting metaphor for dealing with chronic illness and anxiety. Of course in thinking about illness, I also started to think about healing, and spirituality. Specifically through creating personal rituals and communing with nature rather than spirituality via organized religion. So that binding could also be seen as a sort of conjuring or ritual for healing.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

the world belongs to ghosts.

pablo genoves

pablo genoves

pablo genoves

pablo genoves

pablo genoves

pablo genoves

pablo genoves

to continue with my speculative obsessions, artist pablo genoves  creates manipulated collages using photographs culled from historical obscurity. Imbuing apocalyptic disaster into each image ( devoid of humans and yet baring the architectural and cultural evidence of them) they hit a nerve about end of the world fears & remind me of scenes in dystopian movies where national landmarks are viewed upturned or people hunker in libraries burning book pages for basic survival. despite the conjured anxiety, each imagined ruin has a strange beauty, a familiar appeal that collapsed barns and abandoned houses or mental hospitals hold for me, and i think of the treasures & ghosts left behind, waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

hold me together.







speculative fiction is my favorite kind of writing to read ( & to write) so when i stumble across something that feels akin to speculative narrative in visual art, i am immediately snared. i found these works by markus shinwald via the endless rabbit hole of tumblr and fell in love. there is time traveling going on here, a strange journey to the past that is freckled with a kind of futuristic way of 'seeing.' what particularly hooks my heart with these are the strange apparatuses that sprout from the body, metal networks and heavy cloth that silence the subject or hold up their heads. These are the inclusions the artist introduces to the works that were painted long ago, merging two beings, two time periods into a final, seamless work that feels akin to collage to me ( max ernst, always.)