Studio Visit – Matt Nichols

Next Friday the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will open its 2010 MFA Graduate Exhibition. Well timed to coincide with the Artropolis crowds and featuring over one hundred and twenty students completing the school’s MFA program, the event promises to deliver upwards of nine million dollars in tuition worth of art. Of that great big lot is a printer, painter and sculptor by the name of Matt Nichols, and while student workers patched and painted walls in the Sullivan Gallery a few floors above, Matt took me to catch a look at his studio.

Matthew Nichols

Matt Nichols

If you’re in the Loop/loop, you may remember Nichol’s street level installation on Wabash last year, a floor-lit install of bright green felt columns and flush white pyramids built out of the walls. You might have also seen his solo show The Brink at Thrones Gallery, the gallery space ran by Easton Miller, who also sent me Matt’s way after our studio visit last month. Unlike Miller’s basement workshop, Nichol’s studio – one of the many new canvas-curtained cubes on that floor of the building- was about as institutionally placed as they come.

Matthew Nichols

Matt Nichols

Once inside, however, the space got a little more complex. Nichols’ sculptures are naturally disruptive, and even when the content is focused elsewhere chances are a piece will have odd angles, height and scale shifts, and other geometric elements that complicate their environment. Surfaces switch between reflective chrome and gold and silver to dampened felt and matte latex paint, tape, and silkscreen ink.  There’s little middle ground – things are black and white or neon, meticulously fabricated or gloopy or chiseled in with claw hammers.

Matthew Nichols

Matt Nichols

For all the formal fun, the content Nichols described was psychological, analogizing, and representative, which I found surprising more for its rarity in academic art than for any incongruity with the work. In the corner was placed a large trapezium, its surface white felt onto which THE WORRIERS had been fire stenciled with tape and a candle. In parts, the flame had etched through the felt, revealing a chrome surface underneath. Nichols spoke directly about the experience of worry, here subverting popular iconography (in this case, the re-typeset tag from The Warriors) for the subtle switch from fantasy to reality, employing the felt as a material connected to childhood experience and the chrome for adulthood, and the felt’s burning as analogy to the effects of worry slowly eroding the one and revealing the other.

Matthew Nichols

Matt Nichols

The jumps never felt stretched, but it did feel strange to read into work in this way. Instead of using any traditional psychological mythology, Nichols makes his statements through the structure of the art itself, in a way co-opting the language of superficial art analysis/salesmanship and forcing those often inappropriate literalisms onto his viewer. Something like stepping backwards into complexity. Rather than letting a viewer look at a reflective object only as a reflective object and considering its formal utility in a piece, Nichols pushes the mirror’s illusion/escape content by hiding soft work behind it.

Matthew Nichols

Matt Nichols

Rather than letting an elevated and bubbly spray-gold cube just read comfortably as a mock exaltation of minimalism, he references it as a figurative work. Because it looks like a dude, I guess. With a gold cube for a head. Matt tells me its the same height as the tallest man alive.

Matthew Nichols

Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols

Check out these and more from Matt Nichols at the 2010 MFA Graduate Exhibition, which opens Friday, April 30th from 8-10PM @ The Sullivan Galleries, 33 S. State Street, 7th floor.

Comments 1

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    Posted 02 Jan 2017 at 10:56 PM

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