My work begins with an investigation of place, particularly the ways in which people engage, occupy and respond to the landscape. My practice shifts between surface, object and idea, as indexed through material, physical and human geographies. Growing up along the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, I was aware of the constantly changing terrain and culture surrounding this river and port city. This awareness of and sensitivity to water, land and city, light and material, and the patterns found within an environment, all help inform my work. My projects are often long term, such that sculpture, photography/video, and painting, are all utilized. Each medium informs the other, as I select materials in response to site, and as imagery guides documentation.
The sculptural series, Untitled (Dinghy), 2011-15, is an ongoing investigation into an object’s relationship to its surroundings, as well as a consideration of an object’s function and form. Each sculpture in this series takes the form of a 12’ sailboat built entirely by hand, which I then sail, photograph and film. This movement from raw material to object, and from functional object to image, speaks to the inter-relatedness of my artistic process. When inserted into the landscape, these sculptures evoke a boat’s timeless status as a vessel for transportation, exploration, commerce, war, and, more recently, leisure, while simultaneously encouraging an audience to rethink these associations and to reexamine the process of viewing itself. For instance, an all-white boat [img 10] with a white sail introduced into the landscape presents an immediately recognizable silhouette, but also a digital cut-out, suggesting a negative space hovering between water and sky. Even more abstract, a completely transparent boat with a clear sail [img 5], evokes both presence and absence, capturing light while simultaneously disappearing from view. A boat that utilizes camouflage [img 7] may blend into its surroundings, but also recalls how camouflage has been used as a survival technique to mask and/or disorient the viewer. This meditation on a boat’s symbolic value—as well as its function and form—is evident in many artistic precedents, from ancient and modern poets like Homer and Wallace Stevens, Impressionist painters like Claude Monet and conceptual artists like Bas Jan Ader and Chris Burden.
Using another familiar form as a vessel of investigation, a hand woven hammock [img 13] allows the viewer to reside, however temporarily, inside of a work, challenging any singular meaning and allowing a person’s own body, and the variabilities that shape their encounter with it, to define the work. My sculpture engages the viewer’s perception, rendering in three dimensions one of the great pleasures of art, setting signifiers in motion, unmooring ideas and images in kind of poetic drift.
Other works expand on this theme of drift, especially in the transfer of material and patterns into a two-dimensional image, whether moving or fixed. Photographs of road markings provide source material for silkscreened paintings [img 14-17], a medium that often includes accidental or incidental impressions and traces of the irregularity of surfaces. In my photographic and video-based work, the image captured through the camera lens suggests both the artist’s point-of-view and that of its audience/passenger. Filming from inside a boat documents the artwork and the landscape through which it passes, serving as a frame for both the camera and the viewer. Rather than suggesting that sculpture or video points to some stable, symbolic logic, placing different media in dialogue draws the individual into the act of creation itself.
Born 1980 Memphis, TN
Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY
2005 University of Memphis, TN
EAF15: 2015 Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition, Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, NY. Forthcoming September 2015 – March 2016
Another, Once Again, Many Times More, Four parts curated by: Walead Beshty and Kelley Walker; Carol Bove; Ryan Foerster; Robert Nickas and Virginia Overton, Martos Gallery, East Marion, NY
LAT. 41°7’N., LONG. 72°19’ W, organized by Robert Nickas, Martos Gallery, East Marion, NY
Street Trash, organized by Motoko Fukuyama, Aaron Suggs, and Virginia Overton, Memphis, TN
Creature from the Blue Lagoon, curated by Robert Nickas, Martos Gallery, Bridgehampton, NY
The 2011 Bridgehampton Biennial, curated by Robert Nickas, Martos Gallery, Bridgehampton, NY
Street Trash, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY
Road to Nowhere, with Virginia Overton, Wrong Again Gallery, Memphis, TN
Beckenstein, Joyce “LAT. 47°7’N. LONG. 72°19‟” Sculpture Magazine, March 2014.
Goleas, Janet, “inside outliers,” BLINNK Blog, August 18, 2013.
Zwick, Tracy, “Coordinates: Martos Gallery’s Summer Group Show on the North Fork” Art in America, July 29, 2013.
Rosenberg, Karen, “Wry to Whimsical, a Summer Eden for Improvisers” The New York Times, July 18, 2013.
Miller, Michael H., “Bob Nickas Curates Show in Bridgehampton One Last Time.” GalleristNY, May 22, 2012.
The 2011 Bridgehampton Biennial, exhibition catalogue, Martos Gallery, New York, 2011; illus.
Nickas, Bob. Catalog of the Exhibition, 2nd Cannons Publications, Los Angeles, 2011; illus.
Rosenberg, Karen “All Nooks, Crannies, Bedrooms and Trees Are Backdrops for Art.” The New York Times, August 8, 2011.
Miller, Michael H, “Learning From Bridgehampton” The New York Observer, July 12, 2011.
Emerging Artist Fellowship 2015, Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, NY