Archive for the On Being an Artist Category

Hermit Brotherhood of Artists

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

TheHermaphroditeForrest Bess, The Hermaphrodite, Oil on Canvas

I fell in love with the Forrest Bess show at The Hammer Museum recently and so I wrote about it for the progressive Italian art magazine Droste. I was at the Hammer for their annual gala and while most of the guests were staring at Jody Foster (at the adjacent table to me), Will Ferrell, Rita Wilson and Maria Bello, I was obsessing over the exhibition of Bess’ work that I had just seen during the cocktail portion of the event. Weird little paintings reflecting a rich inner world untainted by socializing in modern society in the ’60s and ’70s – paintings born from a self-inflicted hermitude and consistent interaction with the soul and the images that take place behind the eyelids that are completely clear to those who strive to seek them out. Images born in the purity of silence where the ego gets accustomed to turning off because it doesn’t think anyone is looking or listening. It brought up connections to other sisters and brothers who have eschewed polite modernity for the internal caverns of their artistry like JD Salinger, stunted from the horrors of war and his beliefs that adults were all unbearably tainted, or Richard Tuttle in the desert with his nail, hammer, wood and string. In my fortieth year, this way of life has become highly appealing to me: being alone with my paper and pencil, my keyboard and prose, my scroll saw and wood block, and a handful of friends and family I can count on two hands. Creating my own world and seeing things like the corner potato tree rather than integrating with the current world and being seen has slowly over the course of this past year taken over me. My love for humanity is still there yet my lust for material and creation has usurped my faith that I can ever, or even want to, change people – instead I articulate my hope through my work. which is the only thing that has ever continuously sustained me.

An Artist’s Eyes Are Her Own

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags , , , , , on January 2, 2013 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols


In progress, “Unto” (Kimberly Nichols)

It was a very intense year for me in 2012. Life as I knew it pretty much turned upside down by my own intentional hands. It started out scary but with perseverance turned out blissful; bringing me into the space of my authentic self in ways that I could have never imagined without taking the journey. One thing that froze was my art output but there was a reason for that.

I had changed considerably and I wanted to cut myself off from the impetus of just “making” from the trajectory from which I had come and simply give myself time to simmer in the present and ponder my identity as an artist. Doing this caused me to lose a lot of things such as a bevy of instant fans who loved what I appeared to be more than knowing who I really was; my old persona in my artwork that stemmed from my traumatic childhood and the workings towards figuring out who I was as a woman; and a lot of friends and connections who only really wanted to be around what I represented to them in their mirror projections rather than the gritty, primal person I slowly, over a 12-month period in a new and strange land, was nurtured into becoming.


Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait” on loan at the Norton Simon Museum

I also was struggling with the age-old artist’s insecurities of whether or not my work was good enough, something that plagues us all constantly. I started my new project nonetheless, only because it was impossible not to (nothing makes me feel more alive and full of meaning than laying out a row of color tubes and cleaning off the brushes in anticipation of what’s to come upon the blank cardboard), and the other day after visiting the Norton Simon exhibition to see an “on loan” Van Gogh portrait, I had a revelatory experience that has since set me back on my road to just doing the work and turning off the critical brain.

As I looked at the intense master’s brushstrokes and the weirdly blue skin tinges on his brow and the scattered way he viewed everything in his gaze, I realized that he was doing nothing more than laying down colors and shapes and impressions precisely as he saw them, and that is exactly where the magic occurs. When we show the world what we see, in the exact way that we see it, no one else can ever do the same and in that specific fact lay the genius of the art piece. I began to look at each painting in the museum’s great classic hall from the Degas to Lautrec and knew that each of them claimed the same thing. It didn’t matter that Picasso was making weird marks on paper and cubing up faces and torsos into odd juxtapositions because he wasn’t thinking that while he was concocting, he was simply translating his eye sight into his handiwork. I realized, that we as artists, are all just trying desperately to do the same and that instead of being so freaked out that I don’t fit into any mold with my art work, I should instead focus on continuing to represent the visions in my head exactly as they are because in that lies the beauty rather than in the end product.


Channeling Monet (Kimberly Nichols)

I walked up to the glass door that separated me in the Norton Simon’s Sam Francis room and channeled Monet. Instead of looking outside into the grassy gardens and seeing what everyone else saw, I decided to chunk the landscape up into color and landscape, noticed the way the yellow bush boldly threw its reflection across a tiny lake. I realized that seeing is our biggest advantage as artists and that articulating our sight is the only responsibility we carry – the pure thing that occurs once we actually bear evidence is the gold that carries the most weight.

I was able to go home afterwards and strike up the brushes with glee, no longer looking at my own creation as an outsider wondering where in the hell my work fits into the larger aesthetic scheme of things and thrown back into the beautifully raw basics of just wanting to put marks on cardboard and educe the emergence of what it is I was trying to relate from my particular brain outward into the world. And that is all that really matters at the heart of things.

So in this vulnerable fashion The Fool piece begins – first work an awkward and gawky, semi-translucent human, willing to work hard to acquire her own wings. Ruddy cardboard, the palette of traditional tarot cards, the notion that a person is ready to roam into finding when their heart is on fire, and the metaphor of love is all I have as I begin to walk along my very own and very long way …

The Fool: Mining The Underbelly

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

from a study for “Below,” from The Fool, Kimberly Nichols

In the body of artwork I am currently creating titled The Fool, I am exploring the experience of falling in love using the Major Arcana of the tarot as a developmental metaphor for the process from honeymoon phase to maturation. The Fool in the tarot is named in a trick-of-the-tongue fashion for he gets his moniker from his wide-eyed sense of wonder in the world and natural aptitude for blind faith and curiosity rather than the more negative connotations of the stumbling infant. The Fool in this case is about innocence and submission to the fruits of the journey that lie ahead, with eagerness and yet light of foot.  The series is not one to be rushed and I am enjoying the process of discovery that has unfolded with the conceptualization of each elemental piece. Before I even embark on the building of the actual work, I am hunting for, concocting, and discovering photographs that will lend themselves as inspiration to the final pieces while I reflect on materiality. Reflecting on these photographs – whether their subject matter were discovered randomly or composed purposefully by me –has become a surprise addition to the puzzle in that they have added whole new levels and depths to the thoughts already roaming through my mind at each stage. They have led me to understand that only a small portion of my art is about the making and the visual fruition of “the piece” and that a large portion of what I am doing is striving to observe and make relevant our social, spiritual and psychological common space. The piece becomes the vehicle and evidence of my archaeological dig.

At the moment, I am faced with the devil card and it has caused me to start rooting around in the underbelly; a place I have discovered that, although terrified me at first descent down the ladder, can actually be a rich pot of silver-mirrored glass for those who dare to look deep enough into themselves. It’s uncomfortable and it’s murky, but there can be no light without becoming familiar with its depths.

from a study for “Below,” from The Fool, Kimberly Nichols

What lies beneath? What is BELOW? In the land of myths, the devil card represents a place where the parts of us dwell that are left un-dealt with and in the very unresolved-ness of their nature, cause us to repeat patterns in our lives that keep us from growth. It is the place our lessons glint up at us from a primal core if only we are bold enough to look and take them in. It is the land where the underworld wolf lives, holding his hands out offering poisonous berries in one palm and tantalizing currants in the other. It is the land of liberation and experimentation, risk and trust, and getting dirty in the mud. It is also the land where those who have died reside still, pricking our hearts with sadness, memory, love and emotion. It’s a dark place full of the muck of life and its stench invites us to ponder the uglier sides of our selves with free reign, without which we would have nothing to compare the sunny side and without which we would only be stunted and idealized versions of ourselves.

from a study for “Below,” from The Fool, Kimberly Nichols

On the dualistic, fractured plane, we live our days with notions of conflict between good and bad, right and wrong, sinful and angelic. But on the unified plane we know that each side of all of these opposites wash each other out in a sea of equality because judgments are a man-made, ego based notion. Without value-attachments or preconceived notions, there is nothing to fear in the underbelly. When it comes to love, it is the place where all relationships that have come before lay in their beds, unkempt and unmade to offer up portraits of the parts of ourselves we wish to avoid yet have the opportunity to hone and refresh in order to evolve and endure. Dotted with vulnerability and insecurities the fields down there lie stark and bare, yet are refreshing in their raw grace.

I oftentimes find that my art takes me to places that I would avoid in ordinary everyday life; places that hit the raw nerve like the nether regions of my soul. But I also find that the process of facing my own inner humility in being afraid of and then embracing these places through the lens of creative exploration produces a catharsis that transcends the initial dread. One foot in front of the other and The Fool carries on…

Memory Series Pieces for Catalysts: Eight Artists on the San Andreas Fault – Group Exhibition at UCR

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags , , , , on November 3, 2011 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

80DK, 2011, Digital C Print on Watercolor paper, 44 X 30 inches

I was interested in finding out if memory could be altered in terms of emotional and psychological response to one’s most poignant and monumental moments in life if the environments in which the memories occurred were revisited and certain events portrayed from an aged and contemporary, adult perspective.

I began a series that depicted places of my past shown in their modern day reality, with a cast of mature characters re-enacting my memories. In most instances, the results softened the memories, making them less emotional and intense. In most occasions resolutions occurred and fondness was provoked for the human experience at large.

Til You Drop, 2011, Digital C Print on Watercolor paper, 44 X 30 inches

In one instance though I came into contact with a strange phenomenon of memory’s overall oeuvre. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we hung out at malls, which were almost synonymous with the word “babysitter” to latchkey kids. We spent most of our self-individuating years there practicing different identities in a safe controlled environment where we could be entertained culturally (in the movie theaters), sexually (in the back halls and food court alleys), physically (cheap food and the arcades or the ice skating rinks), and mentally (the trend parade that was the revolving storefront). I spent the better part of my early high school career riding the bus after class to the mall downtown with friends where we would stash our backpacks under the public restroom sinks and with false French accents, proceed to roam the place as if we were visiting from a foreign land. Perfume samples from department stores were free, as were samples of chocolates from the gourmet candy emporium. The skater boys out back always had cigarettes and beer if we were feeling rebellious.

When I returned to revisit this particular mall to make a piece for this series, I found it the exact same way I had left it, only in ruins. There were no brand new stores to reflect the natural passing of time, or seamlessly blend my yesterday with today to produce that desired sea of good feeling. There were no empty lots or new places in its space to further express the normal ebb and flow of the cycles of life. There was no evidence to assure me that things indeed evolve and change beyond those awkward and vulnerable years. Stuck deep in the formative tome of my teenage psyche, the place was an abandoned shell, indeed producing within me a sense of being shell-shocked.

I uncovered a limbo in the annals of memory that produced neither resolution nor dissolution of the original memory and was instead now faced with the unsettling sense of simply being frozen in time.

– Kimberly Nichols November 3, 2011

Wind as Soundtrack

Posted in On Being an Artist on April 19, 2011 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

Painting, at S.C.R.A.P. Gallery in Indio with Ryan. The 50 mile an hour wind is making the domed metal roof in this airplane hangar whistle and wheeze. You can hear it wailing around the place, a whiplash worthy breeze. My knees ache from crawling on the cement floor, cramp in my bones, but I am not going to stop. There’s paint to be laid, and brushes dipped in blackened water in old buckets, and pink in fling. The quietude of a mind fully engaged, eyes squinted every so often, looking at the work from various perspectives. Jumping up backwards on the table to sit and pen some words, two more hours of bliss ahead, I-Pod music, outside breaks, baby blue drops…

Wounded Man Series

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags , , , on February 20, 2011 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

I have recently started a collaborative arm of art with fellow artist and friend Dan Irvine. IN* Projects represents the work we do together when inspired by or common goals to portray social and political messages delivered to the masses via art. Our first project is the Wounded Man/Woman series, extrapolated from earlier work I had done in this realm, and made dual by our expression of both the wounded man AND woman.

Originally intrigued by the historical St. Sebastian image of the “Wounded Man”, we further researched this cultural reference. In our research we uncovered the fact that the “wounded man” was found in a variety of verbal and visual testimony over hundreds of years that, although different in cultural context, all weaved the same type… of experience of being wounded, cut, or “done surgery” upon by people describing their personal mind altered, religious, meditative, or other out-of-body experiences.

A stick-like man with arrows going into his fallen body was found on the caves of Lascaux where it is said shamans submerged themselves for periods of meditation and plant-aided hallucinations designed to go to the unseen realms and carry back pertinent spiritual information.

People who attest to being “abducted” by aliens oftentimes report being transported through their bedroom walls by rays of light that somehow allow their bodies to become molecularly diffuse and then report being taken to rooms where surgery is performed upon them. Another example of being transported n a mind-altered state to a place of physical manipulation in another realm.

This phenomenon is also reported in indigenous cultures that have used energetically elevated trance dance to again transport them to another realm where the physical is disengaged and pure consciousness prevails.

This has also been seen in religious, ecstatic experiences where people have been overtaken by rapture gaining access to visualizations and messages from “God” or “Jesus” and experiencing strange physical injuries such as bleeding from the eyes or hands.

The overall connotations being that when one is in touch with their non-ego spiritual essence, they are then cut, performed upon, healed by connection to this internal energy and forever transformed to realize the spiritual lessons that are elemental to our existence in the physical plane. Many people, after having these experiences, have stated they act differently in the world, see things with new eyes, no longer put such credence upon material things or dramatic negotiations between each other, but feel more of an overall connection to humanity at large. There is a sense that “we are all in this together” spurred by the glimpse into the spiritual realm, gaining access to evidence of a larger meaning to life than just the physical dramas that are acted out daily.

Expounding upon this with the idea that every human being is “wounded” by mere act of being communally alive in this world through the constantly shifting and perpetually relevant social and political arenas we exist within; coupled with wanting to impress upon the idea of us all being in this together, IN Projects has started the Wounded Man Series.

The series debuted on Valentine’s Day 2011 through a collaborative “plop art” project in Palm Desert, CA with two other contemporary artists named Ryan Campbell and Tim Shockley. The three of us decided to join forces, make our own individual “love letters” to the world, that we then plopped freely (without destroying surface or vandalizing) in public for anyone to find.

Dan created a male and female contemporary version of the Wounded Man graphic with the phrase “We Are All in This Together” and printed them on translucent stickers that were then adhered to random pieces of scrap wood, denoting totems much like the primal stick drawings on cave walls and wood surfaces. Raw and unpolished, these were then painted red and covered in a resin representing the fossilization of the pieces. We randomly set eight of these around a public street.

We will continue to create these random wooden totems and place them as plop art amongst our individual travels in perpetuity.


A Poetic Interlude

Posted in On Being an Artist on February 3, 2011 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

There are some relationships, and circumstances in life, that move in a circular fashion – more magical than practical and in perpetual evolution. Starting in one place, then roving through the metamorphosis of years, various incarnations and a refusal towards any complete stop lest the momentum die down. My friendship with Evelyn Posamentier is a keen example.

It began in my twenties while I was the fiction and poetry editor of a punk rock magazine called 3A.M. Magazine. I accepted her words into many issues and we spent many days on the phone – she in San Francisco as a feisty poet/librarian and me in my office/bedroom at noon in pajamas with a rebellious glass of Cabernet. Like schoolgirls we’d giggle on the phone about our refusals to ever become “normal” and “socially acceptable” women. I relished her small chapbooks that she would send in the mail to me. At least twenty years separated us but on the phone in the afternoons in the freedom of our literary minds and private spaces we were timeless; simultaneously girl, woman and crone.

I wrote this poem about our conversations that was published some time ago:


There are other branches
Other fig trees
Exasperating Donnas
Beautiful vixens
And the Jewish sense of order
That comes from moments
Of intense pain
(This I connect to).
There are other sex mates and
Fancy playthings
Coattails trimmed with animal
I know
This to be true, this is true.
There are cats that walk on keyboards
Wanting footprints+
Are no different from you or me.
(In the desert my voice is perfectly tuned).

A few years later we collaborated on a poem together when we were embroiled in the after effects of 9-11 and the Weapons of Mass Destruction facade; trying to hold energetic hands across cities that connected us to understand our fellow human man, inspired by official documents she was exploring in her world.


When the challenge of democracy
(her challenge)
is the start of a love affair. She
swoops down, the rebel
angel ecstatically diving through piles
of whipped cream and ugliness.
Molding big noses onto prom queens
lipstick grinned from ear to ear
thick hair sculpted white
white muddy
Islam is calling.
I am looking for the caliphate
And she loses herself on the way down
mixed message directions
no turning signals to signify
The ideological hay
the pursuance of justice through social cooperation
and mutual assistance
of whipped cream
and ugliness,
this world.
She learns to wield pliers.
Clipped wings; sewn shut
the wound gaping no more
but throbbing internally; red
pink vulnerable bruise
establishing a non-
autocratic, consultative method of
government and compassion
in social situations.
It hurts.
In the valley between her shoulders
blades gone but loss digging
in retrospect she institutionalizes mercy
and compassion sulks silently.
Mars is close to the Earth.
She will stand there
all night in the rain with one flame
and in one hour
she could burn
every last disco

When I finally met Evelyn in person, it was on the occasion of her reading live at the poetry series called LIVE OUT LOUD that I coordinated for two years at the Palm Springs Art Museum. She stayed with me during her visit and like long lost friends we traversed the high desert for retro greasy spoon meals, thrift stores that sold small ceramic animals and used book stores the smelled like must as pored through the stacks for hours. Like sisters on a wild getaway we indulged our heart’s desires, purchasing whimsical things like new pink erasers for a nickel a piece that reminded me of fresh blank lined notebooks on the first day of school just waiting to be laid with naughty poetry and prose.

As they do, a few more years passed by with nary a word. Until two weeks ago when, as I walked my dog in the morning with red dress dripping with fresh paint slashes, orange flip flops and wild hair, I got a call from Evy in her deep crackling voice to let me know she wanted to use my painting of Flush Bruise for her next book which was currently being published called Royal Blue Car. Of course I was honored, but even more happy to know that life can still move in circular streams and that certain relationships walk parallel on the path, bumping into you when you least expect them to and reminding you that there is a lot of magic in the dance of the unseen muses constantly tip toeing around the intersections of passion, reality and performance.

We try to understand the environment in which the behavior under study takes place….

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags on December 2, 2010 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind…It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery – isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better that anything else you can imagine…there is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
-Charles Bukowski

Slave of Wonders

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags , , on October 27, 2010 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

Collaboration is one of the highlights of being an artist. When working together with another, I am inspired to create something new formed of the union of the two that is separated and unique, away from my original voice, yet touched with the string of connection. The things that sprout forth from these efforts are wondrous in their spontaneity and the unwillingness to be predictable.

One of my favorite collaborations was done with a sustainable artist and architect named Nathan in Chicago. We never met. I was giving a reading at Quimby’s bookstore when my short fiction book Mad Anatomy published and there was an amazing blank book rack, much like a regional zine rack, that had blank books created by artists all over it. I chose one, that I purchased for a dollar, that was about five inches by five inches and made of white paper, butcher paper and small square white label stickers that formed a pattern on the laminated front cover. It was beautiful in its simplicity.

I went home and drew a comic strip in the book, covering each page. The piece was called Slave of Wonders, about the randomness of awe that alights our lives when we are least expecting it. Arrows in the heroine’s back become the sweet poison of roaming and mystery.

I sent the book back to this young man as my gift for his inspiration. He sent me another blank book made of black cardboard and stitched together with electric red ribbon. I have found it in a box after five years of sitting empty and I will be filling it with totems as I begin my next piece called The Gypsy Project. Over the next six months, I will visit a series of couches belonging to artist friends and other friends who I will engage in the process of art. All of this will be compiled into a short film called Life Is The Greatest Form of Art. Of course, I will be including teasers here along the way.

Biggest Dreams, Greatest Nightmares

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags , , on October 10, 2010 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

I took this picture last year when I went to the circus for the first time in ages and realized that it was one of the few places that we have as children where fantasy can be realized in the form of adorned animals, beautiful flying ladies, grotesque and scary clowns and the kind of spectacle that drives the human imagination. Going there as a adult, knowing better than to believe in fantasy, I was enthralled by the play of light and reflection and shadow that performers lent to the upper part of the tent. My photography is veering these days to capturing the things that we normally can not see, things glimpsed in the corners of our perspective while reality is taking place right before our eyes. I am fascinated by that place and the things that occur there. I recently started reading a book by Graham Hancock, titled Supernatural, that explores the historical weaving of illusions, visions, hallucinations, dreams, abductions, and lucid dreams to lend the strange and eerie evidence that since the beginning of time, people have been experiencing the same glimpses of things that lie in the shadows, on other planes of existence, or maybe purely just in our minds but that are brought out to reveal powerful subconscious messages. All of the photographs I take of this phenomena are beautiful to me because they are solid evidentiary captures of things that are molecularly unreal, substantially inexplicable, and extraordinarily beautiful…leading the wise to distinguish blind faith in lieu of perpetual curiosity and the journey of an open mind.