Those Who Profoundly Touch

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 22, 2013 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

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In the very early 2000s while I was struggling with my own identity as an artist I met a man who deeply touched my soul. My struggles were based on the fact that most of my work up until that point had been directly autobiographical – a process that was largely cathartic but that had propelled me to a new place of healing where I no longer needed to so deeply examine my individual experience. In this healing space, I became largely haunted by the disconnection of human beings from each other in the world, separated by divergent politics and ideologies with no readily accessible platform for conscious dialogue and debate with each other under the auspices of leadership, administration and the media. I was longing for emotional connection with my peers in other countries, convinced that the majority of them felt the same.

I met Ayad Alkadhi through a gallery we both showed our work at and learned he was originally from Iraq. His paintings at the time were large textural articulations with Arabic markings revealing an ancient poetic past that the artist still longed for beneath his home country’s explosive contemporary identity. We bonded over our common hunger for expression and I spent a few enjoyable afternoons in his small apartment that doubled as a studio while we discussed our global dynamics over bran muffins and tea.

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Over the course of the next decade, I watched with glee as his career exploded and took him back to New York City where he remains today, perpetually evolving his creative process. He continues to create amazingly poignant work in a world where the constant flux of political, economic and social change continues to inspire his profoundly personal yet universal paintings.

Read my interview with Ayad in this month’s Newtopia Magazine.

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Postcards from the Past, Present and Future

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 20, 2013 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols

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I was 14 the first time I left a random note in an airplane seat; this time for the elegant forty-year-old blonde who had vacated it for the restroom. I had been eying her the entire ride so far as she was so different than I who had been visiting my father in the humid Midwest and was now returning home to the hot desert for another molasses slow school year that I could not wait to escape from. I wished to be like the blonde – older, free and dressed in the same kind of beige on beige clothes that were made out of linen and hemp and so popular that year. I wrote a simple sentence to her about how classy she was and how much I wished I could be like her someday without any inky clue as to who I, the writer, might be. I didn’t watch as she came back to sit down but I knew she had to have seen it and it gave me a little sense of joy back then to know I had possibly put a smile on someone’s face that day.

This trait of wanting to randomly reach out and touch people has continued throughout my life. It has exponentially increased as my aging has coincided with the technological revolutions of the text message, email missive and Internet social networking machine. It’s so easy to take rich and whimsical communication for granted these days as we flitter on the periphery of dialogue and depth abetted by new tools, which allow us to blurt out one liners at any time in any medium we wish. The pensive musing, poetic note, and hand mailed letter have all but become obsolete – old-fashioned pieces of nostalgia and yellowing lined paper.  This coupled with the fact that I am a little perturbed that our memories of each other in person are being supplemented a million pixels a minute by the Facebook photo stream and Instagram hand to hand documentary weapon has inspired me to start a new project.

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My daughter bought me a box of postcards a few Christmases back filled with every Vintage book cover ever published by Penguin Books. I discovered them in a dusty box recently and was overjoyed to realize that every one I chose almost automatically reminded me of someone I knew the instant I looked at the title and illustration. So I have embarked upon another project in which I get to surprise others – one in which I draw an image or write a snippet of a poem that represents a memory I have with another person inspired by the particular book cover on the postcard and then I send it to them without signing my name.  It doesn’t matter if they never realize who mailed them this card. It doesn’t matter if they even recall the moment I am alluding to with my markings. All that matters is that a piece of them has been jogged from my stony brain’s bank and that my re-introduction of this piece of them to themselves on an otherwise ordinary afternoon will hopefully delight them on their jaunt back inside from the mailbox.

An Artist’s Eyes Are Her Own

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

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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.

Catharsis

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.