Penelope Gottlieb and Her Portraits of Extinction

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 17, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

One of the living painters I admire the most is Santa Barbara-based Penelope Gottlieb. She is half conceptual artist and half prolific draftsperson and painter. After spending time with her a decade ago, we completely lost touch and then we synchronistically ran into each other at The Hammer recently. I took the opportunity through our reconnect to interview her for my magazine Newtopia’s one year anniversary issue that launched this week.

Her portraits of extinct species of botanicals are what always enthralled me about her work. She discovered a world of forgotten plants and flowers while reading through old botanical records and painstakingly imagined their every part and petal and reconstituted them onto canvas, breathing lives into them once again and presenting a visual record of something that is no longer. For more on these, please enjoy the article. I find the paintings stunning and the meaning behind them seriously profound and touching.

Naked in Front of Strangers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 8, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

I am excited to announce my new column for 3 AM Magazine. I spent my early twenties writing a monthly column for 3 AM called Diary of a Californicator and now I am back a little older, a little wiser, but still Naked in Front of Strangers to pen another monthly poetry project. It’s good to be back embroiled in my French punk rock literary roots with Andrew Gallix and the gang.

Starlight, Starbright, Wish I May, Wish I Might …

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 25, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

from a study for “Stardust,” from The Fool, Kimberly Nichols, copyright 2012

Thoughts on the relationship between art and science…

This was a question asked of artist Bill McDowell about his Ashes in the Night Sky works that were beautifully articulated galaxies of stars made entirely of ashes. In a write up on the work in the Morning News, the reporter stated that the medium of ashes created a tangible connection to notions of death and what lies beyond our atmosphere. His answer was that art and science both embrace doubt and uncertainty.

I asked my friends to give me their own interpretations of the relationship between art and science and received the following responses:

You cannot live without either.

Life is richer when both co-exist.

Intelligence, insight, universal understanding.

Love lies between fact and faith.

After love and faith comes poetry.

And one friend recalled her father telling her about creation by explaining, “We are all made of stardust.”

The intersection of art and science has been winding its way into my own work, stemming from that very precious sentiment that we are all connected by cosmic substance and in fact, masters of our own creation. Choosing what to create is elemental to our individual journeys.

When the Fool encounters the Magician on the road, the Magician unfurls the Fool’s sack upon a table and the Fool is amazed to see all the contents of that which he has been carrying: swords and items of conflict, pentacles and tokens of hard work, passion and the pink hot hearts of love, and other mementos of other directions. He is told that he has the power to choose any of these items as a badge of identity, of which to hold proud and to let inform his own road. And he realizes that he has had these items all along, but that now he is ready to stand by his choices, with new found strength and unbridled wisdom.

At this juncture, I choose love.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 15, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

IMAGE: “Catharsis” by Kimberly Nichols, copyright 2012

In 2011, filmmaker Adam Haynes and I set out to collaborate on a short piece surrounding the concept of intense human experience. I was given eight words and told to expound upon them from my memory bank and to write freely without editing or fear of critique. In the end, I realized that each memory chosen could be connected, by dots to present a peripheral framing of my overall psychological, physical and spiritual narrative. In performing this exercise, and in the pursuant act of sharing it (naked in front of strangers), the psyche could then experience a cohesive sense of catharsis.

My performance essay that became the blueprint of the script can be found in this month’s Newtopia Magazine here.

Letters from the Dead

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 10, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

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.

The Fool: Hobo Ego

Posted in Uncategorized on September 7, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

from a study for “Unto,” from “The Fool”

I feel like I have been in an odd sort of limbo for the past 12 months. A year ago, I extracted myself from life as I knew it to venture out into the wild, blue yonder as an artist and writer. I had been showing my work for over ten years and had even published a book of literary short fiction but I had always done these things side by side with making a living and raising a child. This time I was leaping into the void without any guarantee and I knew with every grain of my being that it was the vital element in finding the fruition of my most core existence. Leaving a successful professional career and my comfort zone were the biggest ego f**ks of my life. It was a big swan dive into the vast and black unknown. The phone stopped ringing. The invitations stopped coming. I put myself into intentional hermit-hood and steeped in the blanket of silence that settled all around me. Little by little, shards of light started to perforate the veil around me, not automatically, but driven by time, contemplation, discovery and a true archaeology of the soul. A rebirth borne from darkness that could not be foretold in words, advice, instruction or guidance, but had to be felt and simply lived through with the blindest of faith and authentic conviction. And in the end, things started to happen: my face started changing, my flesh started molding, my roots started to ground, my solar plexus alchemized into steel, my voice started to sing, my skin started to fit, all fear fled my brow and in the end, I even found true love.

I endured a sort of baptism by fire in my role of emotional hobo, hobbling from place to place with nothing but my past in one small sack on my back; a room full of possessions – only the utmost necessary, and an intention to create.

I felt a little like the Fool in the first card of the major arcane of the tarot; wide-eyed and full of wonder, innocent and wandering, resplendent in raw vulnerability and the newfound ability to be naked in front of strangers free of pride. This precious little fool ended up coming to me in dreams and inevitably is what inspired the current work I am busy creating based around the concepts of becoming empty-handed in order to be poured fully, a hearty cup of magical new life and love. Over and over again, the process continues like a wheel that rolls …

From the Anand Sahib:

There is nothing more to seek and nothing more to gain. A blessed person who has ever tasted this Bliss once, will never run after material happiness in finite and perishable objects. All wanderings of the mind cease.

The In Between Times

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 1, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

ImageIt doesn’t happen often or it wouldn’t be as special, maybe thrice a year during moments of extreme production. I will be halfway through an ordinary day plugging along on the keyboard or in mid art trance and suddenly my funny bone will twitch and take me entirely off my pre-ordained track.

Last week it happened at noon while my eyes were going crosswise over some heavy research and I caught sight of my furrowed brow in the glare of my computer screen. I was somewhere in Santa Monica high above the sea and my body took over and leapt me up from my chair. Posture straightened and shoulders thrown back, I grabbed some white wine from the fridge and poured myself a glass. Looking out over the ocean, I felt compelled to roam with no concern to why I’d stray.

No clock. No list. No obligations. With just my feet on the concrete and the sun on my face in this in between time — this random crack in my slate, who knew what would spring forth and transpire?  No regards to why I yearned or what was next and then …

… a pink eighties sign in unrecognizable cursive came blinking out at me from above a door on Main Street and I ventured in to what appeared to be a regular old hair salon. I heard myself asking the woman at the desk if a chair was free and she nodded yes. Suddenly a man was washing my hair with a foreign voice and I asked him where he was from.

“Down South,” he said.

“Georgia?” I asked.


I told him I loved Mexico and then he started to cut my locks, seemingly one strand at a time, pulling it up with a comb, snipping the ends, and watching it fall into place on my neck. Things started to move in slow motion and I realized I hadn’t even looked around the place.

I noticed that all the people who worked there were dark and almost gypsy-like in their features and flair. A woman at the cutting station in front of me was thriving in a yellow silk coat like a peacock with a short fluff of red hair. She was prancing in front of the mirror looking at herself and winking unapologetically at her own gaze flirtatiously. Next to me was another woman who looked like an old crow, slumped over in her chair with wet matted hair all up in a spiny cocktail of black dye as an attentive neophyte teen applied inky strokes with a brush to her graying eyebrows. As the gentle man blew dry my hair I started to wonder if I had fallen down a rabbit hole. Everyone was dark and bold and I felt small and pale.

As he finished my curls with a swish of his brush and accepted my credit card to pay for the bill, he asked all the ladies in the salon to stand up and look. The crow-like crone told me I had the eyes of an innocent. The cardinal looking-glass dynamo told me I could bounce home now. The woman who had first sent me to my chair said I couldn’t make a return appointment because they didn’t plan that far in advance. The man who cut my hair asked me for a hug goodbye and whispered in my ear.

“You are a real live angel.”

A half an hour later I was home, sitting in front of my computer screen with new hair, a little stunned and unsure of where I had just been and whom I’d met there.

It’s the in between times like these that make me still believe in magic, like a little girl avoiding the lines in the sidewalk lest I break my mother’s back. Half in and half out of the world as I know it with a firm resolve not to groan under its weight.

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…

My Woody For Wood

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 28, 2012 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols


Tara, 1

I have fallen head over heels for wood. It’s always something I knew I could love, what with that surprising and voluptuous grain, furthermore enhanced by a piquant stain. But little did I know that I would end up at 39 falling in love with the actual act of building with wood. Today I find as much joy crafting a triptych’s worth of shallow boxes from a large slab of flat pine as I do drawing the India ink illustrations on cardboard when doing particular portraits of my muses as shown here in a piece I just completed, a commission for my friend Tara.

ImageTara, 2

ImageTara, 3

Recently, I attended the show Made in LA at the Hammer Museum, which is giving much deserved credit to a bevy of deserving Los Angeles artists of all ages. My favorite artist was one who was doing insane and delicate things with wood.

ImageTwo works by Zach Harris

Zach Harris stood out for me because of his use of wood. Not only does he meticulously (and with an artsy-craftsy yet primal precision) create, carve and build his base structure and framework for his piece as an integral and sculptural work in wood, he proceeds to paint and create the artwork on this base in a way that presents both as a cohesive final expression of duality yet wholeness. The intricacies of the surroundings meld with the articulated patterns and shapes rendered in paint and together they make a sort of patchwork quilt of juxtaposed familiar imagery – original scenic displays for a contemporary age.

I realize that of late I am drawn to work (whether in my own creations or in the work of other artists) that emphasizes material and a sense of construction. Maybe it’s because in the manual labor of making something out of nothing, I cull evidence of my own mark making on existence. Maybe it’s because in my conceptual brain, psychologies and the ethereal essence of philosophy are becoming more and more hard pressed to feed me that with which my flesh and blood craves in concrete fashion. Maybe it’s because I am growing more grounded and like the fortification of the solid, earth beneath my feet. Whatever reason, I have the inherent feeling that my relationship with the scent of sawdust in a garage filled with power tools has only just begun.



Mysteries of the Discarded

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2011 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

A few years ago in the desert, I was on a photo safari through abandoned buildings and I came upon a tattered pair of boxer shorts laying in a pool of leaves as if it had been hastily discarded by some random stranger. I took a photo of it because I was intrigued with the mystery of that abandoned piece of clothing and wondered who would stop in the middle of nowhere to take off their clothes. A young kid in the throes of prepubescent sexual experimentation in the middle of nowhere. A homeless person whose dirt had become too entrenched on a pair of shorts so that he had to leave them more than he needed the warmth to continue to wear them? Regardless, the subject fascinated me.

Since moving to Venice Beach three months ago, I have encountered this strange phenomena again. I live in a city of artists, drifters, bums and runaway teens looking for a hippie’s dream. It is the perfect environment for artistic exploration and in the process of writing my next novel, I go out into the streets daily to forage the world as one of my characters in the book. I pretend I am an old, cranky, homeless, drifter who lives under the Santa Monica pier who may or not be delusional in thinking that he is King Neptune. On my daily jaunts, I encounter an abandoned piece of clothing almost daily and have started to collect snapshots of these items in an odd pictorial scrapbook. They have become small gems in my travels, evoking wonder and musings on their back story. Sometimes hastily left in a lump on a park bench, sometimes posed like the above glove, waving at passers by who take the time to notice. Sometimes they are the fruits of a frat boy’s drunken revelry, like the pair of striped boxer shorts I found recently with a hole in the zipper center, that must have become too distracting to wear from pub to pub. Sometimes, they scare me, like a pair of denim jeans, cuffs rolled up, piled on the ground as if the person had simply been plucked right from them mid-chase.

Sometimes they are objects of beauty like this multicolored East Indian cape, left on the ground by some young “burner” wanting to rid herself of layers on a day when she happened to wake up with the luxury of sun.

To me, they have become small surprises; moments of beauty in an otherwise hurried world that cause me to stop and reflect on my good fortune and to respect the fantastic void of things unknown.