Categorized | Drawing, Painting, Reviews

Tucker Nichols @ Gallery 16

BR 1462, 2014, paint on panel, 11 x 14"

Followers of Tucker Nichols’ fabulously off-kilter schematic drawings and sprawling wall works will probably be surprised by this collection of small-scale paintings and drawings. Luxuriously displayed and unencumbered by the visual chatter (tape lines, post-it notes, color swatches and warped geometric grids) that normally accompanies his exhibitions, these standalone works reveal the quieter, more contemplative side of the artist’s personality.  They’re plaintive works on panel and paper that depict plants, cups, teapots and other still life subjects.  The absence, in this show, of his usual digressions and extrapolations probably doesn’t indicate a shift in orientation.  But by withholding them the artist provides what may be the clearest glimpse yet into his thinking and modus operandi.  These works — blunt, lyrical re-imaginings of things closely observed — feel intimate and comical. 

Tree and plant limbs he depicts as wayward, mutant appendages, intertwined in loose, watery, fast-drawn swirls, snaky open outlines and silhouettes.  Blossoms he renders as elliptical blobs, in solid colors.  Both appear against flat grounds painted in chalky institutional greens, grays and dirty earth tones reminiscent of Luc Tuymans.  From the flattened perspectives in these pictures one also catches intimations of Matisse and early Donald Baechler, as well as hints of Philip Guston in the lumpy, teetering vessels that serve as containers. 
BR 1436, paint on panel, 16 x 40"

Given the evident spontaneity with which Nichols creates these works, it would be easy to walk away with the impression that he tosses them off casually, when, in point of fact, he works and reworks them meticulously.  Evidence can be seen in panel paintings like BO 1404, where at the bottom, vestiges of a wobbly grid covered over in silver paint push out from beneath the surface, forming a pedestal for a bowl of fruit.  The artist paints it bright orange and sets it against an even brighter yellow background, in sharp contrast to the monochromatic and otherwise low-key color palette seen in most of what’s on view.  In total, there are 46 of these idiosyncratic works.  All are worthy of sustained attention.

I particularly admired the quartet of skinny vertical paintings mounted on the gallery’s longest wall.  One, BR 1436, depicts a tall shrub, but what it more closely resembles is an ice cream cone festooned with tangerines. mo1406, the first painting you see when you enter the gallery on your immediate left, is, ostensibly, a picture of two smokestacks.  But in Nichols’ handling of the emissions, shaped like thought balloons, the effect is closer to a pair of talking light bulbs. 
Nichols, it should be noted, has spent significant time contemplating the history of Asian painting; and while his work doesn’t call on those traditions directly, it embodies a firm understanding of the value of strategically placed, economically executed gestures and forms.  In fact, much of what he does is so droll, so unassuming, you could easily miss the humor.  But if you look closely, you can’t help but be piqued by his dry wit and generous spirit.  These are not qualities we find much of in contemporary art.  Mostly what we see is a glut of work aimed at predetermined market niches, aligned with or referring to established traditions. Nichols, I sense, works to please only himself.  That trait, coupled with his abundant and naif-like inventiveness, should endear him to anyone seeking authenticity.
Tucker Nichols:“New Paintings” @ Gallery 16 through March 6, 2015

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