Letters from the Dead
Old postal car at the train graveyard, from a study for “The Fool”, Kimberly Nichols
On my road as an artist, I have been traveling for a long time in a place of curiosity. I am not one of those MFA-school bred wonders who had the luxury of being simultaneously schooled and allowed to roam and wander through luscious studio days and hours of critique towards pinpointing an exact medium and voice. It’s been thirty-something years of trial and error, self-teaching and raw, unbridled passion that I would never trade.
I started to draw the girls when I was around ten and by the time I was fourteen my mother stopped trying to banish me from scrawling portraits and figures all over the walls in my bedroom, knowing it was a lost cause. They became little autobiographies of me and ways that I could attempt to understand my place in this world. In my late twenties and early thirties I took this spotlight off of me and started turning my fascinations to psychology and the inner workings of influence, geography, trauma, and environment on a human existence, my art turning into conceptual stabs at the lives of women in general. Today, this has flushed out even more fully, natural in the course of directional evolution, to make me inherently hungry to understand our total human experience, not bound by the limitations of gender and to see how our individual lives can be connected by the shared commonalities in just plain being alive.
I was very lucky as a child to have three built in mentors in my grandparents.
My grandmother Jeanne Doucette Cooper was a traditional landscape and still life painter who worked in oils. By the time she passed away, her garage/studio boasted one beautiful work in progress on a canvas and a household of walls covered every square inch with years worth of light pastel paintings; an intimidating repertoire from the woman who so painstakingly tried to teach me the color wheel and the way of the oils when I would have nothing of it. I was prone to cut things apart and put them together in abstract ways; or to slather quick drying acrylics on top of board as a base for collage. I can only imagine how much patience it took for her to deal with me when we would make houses out of milk cartons at her kitchen table for Christmas nativity scenes and mine would always be slathered with the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy holiday cheer colors of black and grey.
Her husband, my late grandfather Bruce Cooper was my knight in shining armor who worked as a prison guard by day but would spend hours in the garage on weekends creating beautiful works of art out of stained glass jewelry; a hobby he taught himself and in which he became quite talented. I spent a decade of my teens falling asleep to the ballerina spinning around in one of his stained glass jewelry boxes to the tune “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin from my early favorite movie “The Sting.” He was the one who told me that I saw the world in my very own way and never to forget that or to let someone else tell me how I should see it their way. I never have to this day.
My Grandmother Milly Moen Dykstra, who is still alive and well in Iowa with her bee stung fuchsia lips and black beehive, is the one who I resemble the most out of my entire family and the one who taught me about the twitch. While I was growing up, she had a fully-equipped ceramics studio in the basement of her multi-story Victorian style home and I would spend every visit with her downstairs making molds, glazing figurines, and scraping seams off hot baked owls, ashtrays and mugs. I would get up in the morning and start to twitch because I couldn’t keep my mind on anything else but getting downstairs to choose the day’s project and paint colors. She would say, “That’s the twitch of the artist and it never goes away.”
Today, my art work still never fails to start with a twitch, followed by an emotion of pure bliss that is impossible to shake, just like it did all those years ago at home when I was cutting people out of magazines and prancing them around like paper dolls in the make believe dramas I would create for them. The itch is then followed by sleepless weeks and months of obsessing over the proper way to explore and present my vision. Over the years this has come out in many forms, from painting to photography to performance to mixed media and of late, my leanings have been pondering the primal, innocent and vulnerable connotations of the arts and crafts movement with woodworking and the exploration of pyrography in a nostalgic yet contemporary vein.
For the past two months as I have been in the beginning stages of new work, and concurrently needing to breathe and enjoy the process of discovery that has come along with the challenges in it, I have been experiencing a very interesting phenomena. It started with a dream of a vast universe in oils, lush stroke work covering an entire blackened field where my brush upon canvas started to uncover some interesting tricks; tricks that have never been known to me. It followed a few days later with another dream where I was presented with some large pieces in a gallery that consisted of a strange new version of what could only be derived from the annals of religious stained glass. Last week, the two forms melded onto one blank slate in another dream; a perfect blend of techniques that I could have never thought of in my waking life. And two nights ago it culminated in a step-by-step instructional lesson in my sleeping mind of how I could put all of this together in my waking life. Jumping from bed each time to hurriedly write down each memory, I couldn’t help but feel the presence of something else at work with me. Perhaps, Jeanne and Bruce are in collusion somewhere out there in the great holographic field of consciousness sending me juicy tidbits in forms that only the subconscious level can attain. I welcome it to continue as it’s certainly perpetuated my twitch along with the presence of a singular and wiry strand of kinky, grey-silver hair that now resides on my head as if shot straight out volcano style from the nether regions of my brain.