Monday, April 13, 2015

Her Kind: An Interview with Nicomi Nix Turner

Nicomi Nix Turner
Oakland, CA based artist Nicomi Nix Turner conjures delicate graphite drawings in her sunny loft, often with her beloved cat Luna in her lap. Each piece seems to take countless hours; I like to think of the meditative quality creating them must have, the solitude with one's thoughts such careful work demands. Strange &; yet familiar, the nature based works have been increasingly featuring portraits of women caught in moments of trance or wonder-filled reverie, coupled with flora & fauna and enriched by ancient symbols and texts.

I see bits of myself in these portraits, &; think of the poem by Anne Sexton, 'Her Kind', which has since become a kind of anthem for women living on the fringe of societal norms. My favorite couple of lines, in which she describes her self ( & unknowingly, so many others): "...lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. / A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind," feels  akin to  the moods imbued in the new work.

The 'loneliness' in these images in not so much a lack of love or friendship, as they seem so wholly connected to the natural world, but instead, perhaps a loneliness for God, as evidenced by the title of the show: 'No God For A Wanderer,' which opens in my hometown of Philly at Paradigm Gallery on April 24th. I was recently given the opportunity to talk to Nicomi about how she works, what books inspire her and her thoughts on womanhood in our modern age. 
Nicomi Nix TurnerAlthough your family is from Oakland, & that is where you currently live & work, you were raised in rural Oregon & had what appears to be a rather isolated childhood. Can you talk about how this solitude with nature may have shaped your path as an artist? Can you recall how your younger self felt communing with nature in such a way?

I grew up on a ranch. My closest friend was a bit of a drive from our house so I mostly enjoyed the company of the menagerie of animals kept on our 35 acres; cats, cows, rabbits, birds, dogs, a horse... Most of my childhood was spent outdoors by myself where I watched life, death, growth and decay. 

Nature has always been a central part of my art. I started to draw mushrooms and other flora growing out of flesh or on bone about a decade ago. I had recalled stumbling on a coyote carcass in a bed of ferns that was slowly decaying, collecting spores, insects, etc. and giving space for new life to take over. I wanted to capture that cycle coexisting with life and not just decay.

It goes without saying that my intense love of nature never went away. I’m still a loner collecting fern clippings and flowers.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

You entered the commercial art world at a very young age and moved up the ranks rather quickly, working as an Art Director for a the- known character brand 'Emily The Strange,' before leaving to focus on your personal work. What skills did you acquire during this time that you feel may inform how your work ? 

A couple months after leaving art school (I was paying for it myself at 18 and was not taking too much out of it at the time) I was hired to work for Emily the Strange as an Illustrator/Graphic Designer for the brand. I worked on everything from comics to apparel and learned a great deal about the business of art in the 6 years I was part of the Strange family. Emily will always be a little part of me and it was an honor to be a part of the legacy of the character. 

It was working on Emily that I realized how much dedication to art could pay off, visually speaking, and where I picked up my (slightly unhealthy) work habit: I’m always working. I feel weird or disconnected when I’m not drawing or writing/sketching out new ideas so I’m always keeping my hands busy. I firmly believe that with art (and not to sound clich√© but life in general) you get what you put into it.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

I’ve read that you consider your technique ‘painting with graphite’, & also, that you don’t erase anything whilst working. Both of these ideas intrigue me, and as I own a couple of originals from you, I can definitely attest to their ‘pureness’ in terms of showing no visible ‘fault lines.’  How do you problem solve when a line may go wayward ? 

When I work, I draw a piece a few times before settling in on the final… pressing out parts I like and working out the part I don’t. By the time I get to the final piece I like to think of every line being there for a reason. I don’t erase my mistakes and if there are ones that stick out to me, I just integrate them into the fold of the story. I’m no stranger to starting all over if something goes terribly awry but all in all I just go as slow and meticulous as possible.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

In lieu of color, you focus on highly detailed natural textures and textile patterns for a dynamic depth within your compositions. This results in work that feels more nuanced, delicate. Can you talk about these obsessions ? 

Texture is king to me. I try to relay movement and deeper parts of a story with textiles and texture. I grew up being inspired by my Grandparent’s love of the Japanese culture. This affinity for patternwork has been something of a bridge to me between natural patterns and man made patterns (hexes, sigils, needlework…etc) and the equal or diverged significances.

You left art school after a brief stint and are mostly self taught, choosing to work on and with mediums that many don’t, as many galleries seem to push for works in acrylic and oil on canvas or wood. Do you feel freer to explore or do you brush up against limitations ? 

I don’t believe an artist should be creating art that caters to what galleries know they can sell.

I enjoy color and enjoy painting but exploring what can be done with graphite is thrilling. There are certainly limitations with any medium but I feel like its up to the artist to figure out how to work around those and make the medium work for them.

Nicomi Nix Turner

I know that you don’t work from photographic reference and instead rely on memory and experience for your work. Having spent time with many artists both in a personal capacity as well as for studio visits during my time at Hi-Fructose, I can say many artists rely on this, especially now with so many images immediately available via the internet. What strikes me is how you are able to conjure precise forms from nature etc.

 The idea of photo reference has always been a weird thing to me. I think that allowing yourself to trust and explore your hand as an artist can be just as interesting as referencing a photograph.

 For my work, I’m not trying to connect images to the strings of reality - only the tangible idea of a story. If I see something in real life or elsewhere I grasp on to parts that intrigue me (wide-set slanted eyes, markings, expressions…) and try to fold that into sketches. I do reference things but not in the sense of staring at an image and drawing it. I’ll bring plant clippings into the studio to study but what I draw from that is just my interpretation. I like to create things that may or may not exist.

 None of my work is perfect or meant to be photorealistic- I’m not aiming for that. I draw what I know.

One of the things that most strikes me about your new body of work is the feeling of suspended motion. The moths flutter around your central figures, and yet are captured in time, frozen in a beautiful silence. This feels a bit different to me than previous pieces and for me, strengthens your work. Can you talk about this ?

That feeling when you fall in your sleep or watching a glass fall is both beautiful and alarming. I have been trying to capture that feeling in between movement and stillness- a weightlessness. This body of work centers on the idea of limbo- a place somewhere between a possible God and nothingness so that feeling of suspended motion is its own protagonist in this body of work.

Nicomi Nix Turner

Another thing that snared me were my two favorite pieces, ‘Of False Martyrs’ and ‘ And In the End, Silence.’ Both of the female figures appear to be connected and each share a strange expression, a kind of trance like, otherworldly reverie, as if they were occupying two worlds at the same time. This feels so different from the confrontational ‘sexy’ gazes seen in so many female centric works.

I loath “sexy” gazes. It’s actually really disturbing to me and you see it so much in art these days. The women in my works are strong, beaten down & crawling back up, knowing & savage- they have no need for pursed lips and sexy gazes.

I bring this up in every interview because it is beautiful and inspiring to me: a couple years ago I came across a story of The Asgarda; a group of Ukrainian women who have formed a tribe in the Carpathian Mountains. In an effort to empower young women they learn and hone skills in weaponry, science, public speaking, martial arts… These women go back to the forest in a claim of resurgence. Women are strong creatures and I try to depict that in my works.

“Of False Martyrs” and “And In The End, Silence” depict two different moments of trying to find God…communing with something that may not be there and the feeling of helpless silence.

Nicomi Nix Turner
Can you talk about your idea of the ‘Celestial Equator?’

Most of (not all) the women in my works have a thin line tattooed across the bridge of their nose. This is a line I put on the women in my works who have in a sense, gone through hell and back and found their center or equator, if you will. Not all of the figures I draw have found that so in turn, not all of them have the line.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

You are also an avid reader. Can you talk about any books you feel changed you or inspired you in a way you hadn’t been before ? Now that the work is complete for your show, can you list the books you are most looking forward to delving into, or do you always carve out time for reading ?

Franz Kafka’s story Metamorphosis definitely had a great influence over myself and my works. That feeling of being an insect… being cast out and abandoned… waiting to die… being forgotten. I get chills thinking about the protagonist on his back, writhing.

I have hoarded a few new piles of books to dive into when things calm down for a minute. I found a used book store that is filled with so many good books that I am ready to just hand over my wallet.

So far my piles include:

King Lear - Shakespeare
My Friend Hitler- Yukio Mishima
An Alchemy of Mind - D. Ackerman
The Goat Foot God - Dion Fortune
Paris Spleen – Baudelaire
Ada - Nabokov

 I like to read at breakfast… Its quiet and the only time I really make for “me time”.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

Can you give a written visual tour of your workspace? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with ? 

My space is ever changing. Right now for this show, I have a wall of preliminary drawings for each piece behind me, a variety of plants soaking up sun, beetles and moth parts on my easel, bones and critters, Murphy’s Law equation written on a scrap of paper, a stack of sketchbooks, torn notes of passing thoughts or ideas and Luna.
Nicomi Nix Turner

Occasionally you take sojourns to Europe and elsewhere to soak in art and be inspired. What do you take away from these experiences, and how are you able to transmute them into your work? { I bring this up in synchronicity to the title of your show, the idea of the 'Wanderer' }

Because I spend so much time working and not really leaving the house much, I like to enjoy trips that soak my brain in new sights and stimulus. Prague was one of the most inspiring places I have been yet. A lot of what I take from places is the tone of the setting and cultural history. Prague was old, dark, romantic, startling… It has inspired my work since I left it.

What would you consider to be the true heart this new body of work?

No God For A Wanderer is about belief and death. I lost my mother when I was a teenager- this started my internal conversation of belief. I lost my grandmother last fall and have spent the last few months grieving and wondering if they are both wandering around somewhere.

1 comment :

dianne tanner dot co dot uk said...

I have become a HUGE fan of Nicomi after finding her on Instagram recently (I think via you actually) - I spend a LOT of time scrolling through her work. I wish I could visit her show. This interview was very inspiring and beautiful - thank you so much for sharing!