Archive for the fool

An Artist’s Eyes Are Her Own

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

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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 …

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.

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: 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…