Nicola López: re-Printerview
The following a reprint of my interview with Nicola as seen in the ‘Printerviews’ column of the most recent issue of Graphic Impressions, the Journal of the Southern Graphics Council. Reprinting the interview here (with permission) seemed like a good follow up to the earlier post about her work.
I first saw the work of Nicola Lopez during the Greater New York 2005 exhibition at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens. By the time I wandered into the gallery containing her work I had seen quite a bit of the art Greater New York had to offer and I was starting to feel a bit like a glazed donut. Her work, an inspired installation describing wood cut, radio towers, old tires, buildings and other architectural elements and detritus seemingly crawling out of the ceiling and draping across the walls, caught me profoundly off-guard I think I squealed in a way that drew the guards. I was reeling through a range of pleasurable emotions. I have been following her print, installation, collage and drawing work with a keen interest ever since. Thankfully this has been a relatively easy task with her rising success in the international art world.
After trading correspondence, Nicola set aside some time during a residency in Berlin to answer some questions about her motivations and process.
P: Your use of space is so compelling. Your installations appear to have almost grown into the spaces they inhabit. How do you compose them? Do start with a pile of prints and follow an intuitive set of procedure; are they planned out ahead of time or somewhere in between?
N: I feel like nothing in (my) art-making sticks to any fixed formula…I often start out with what I think is a fairly solid vision of where things will end up—in drawings, installations, whatever—but the end point is always someplace unexpected. Sometimes a new installation will come out of pieces that are lying around the studio and somehow start to work together in an interesting way. Often, though, new installations will evolve through a couple of stages. The first stage is getting together the raw material—the printed elements that I’ll use to make the installation. Sometimes I will have an idea for a particular image/place/object that I want to build in an installation and I will create printed elements specifically for that piece. I also often ‘recycle’ printed elements, either using the actual pieces that were in previous installations or printing new copies from old blocks, etc.
As I am making the images for the printed elements (drawing on the woodblocks, preparing the transparencies for silkscreens or photolitho, etc.) I don’t know exactly how they will ultimately go together. Rather than being images that are destined for very specific places in a pre-planned installation, they are images that belong to the same ‘world’. It feels cheesy to say that the printed elements will eventually tell me where they need to go, but it does often feel like this is what happens. The second stage is all about production: carving, printing, cutting. This involves less creative thinking and is more about execution and technical skill (it would drive me crazy if it were all I did, but in smaller doses is totally satisfying for the Virgo in me). In the final stage, when I am putting the installation together, I start with piles of cut-out prints all spread out on the floor. I use them as building blocks to assemble the larger installation, pinning them into place on the wall with pushpins or temporarily tacking them with tape, draping and wrapping them around parts of the architecture, letting them rest on the floor. It feels very much like making a wall-drawing except that the ‘marks’ are pre-fabricated and it goes a Lot faster than the way I draw with pens and brushes. When something looks wrong, I take out the pins and move the piece; there is always a lot of adjusting and revision before the final configuration emerges. A large installation usually takes 3-5 days, which seems fast to me given the rate at which I draw and make other things. It is by far the most dynamic and dramatic stage and the one where I would say the most discoveries happen. As I said before, when I start installing a new piece, I might think I know what it will look like at the end, but it is always something different. The printed element will often not relate or fit together in the way I had envisioned, but will do something new and surprising that will end up dictating large aspects of the final outcome.
This might be a digression, but I think it is an important point and something that I have been thinking a lot about lately—this issue of when and how I ‘control’ the work and when and how I don’t—maybe ‘when it takes on its own life’. It seems to me that this issue of the relationships between control, risk, chance, order, accident and discovery is central in art-making (or maybe it’s just a conversation that I have been having with several artist-friends lately, one that is relevant in their studios as well). I think that the bottom line is that each artist ultimately has ‘control’ in the studio. We can decide to do anything in there…including setting the stage for total studio-chaos, for accidents and chance to happen. So in a way of course even the accidents/risks/chaos are within our ‘control’; it is all about what parameters we set up at the beginning and where we leave room for the unexpected/uncontrolled to take place. For me an installation is about setting up the parameters that allow me to go into territory where new things (maybe accidents/risks/chance—and hopefully discovery) will happen.
P: And are their any artist’s making/who made relief prints that bring you particular satisfaction or inspiration?
N: Albrecht Durer—of course. Talk about amazing large-scale woodcuts, The Triumphal Arch (Arch of Maximilian I) is so incredible.
Nancy Spero—her work with print installation has been especially important to me, in bringing images out of the confinement of the page and directly onto the wall; also in the political and emotional conviction and strength of her work.
Kiki Smith—I think that she has done so much within her work to push printmaking in new directions—in terms of collage, installation, becoming 3-dimensional. I think that her work (especially the retrospective of her print work at MoMA when it was in Queens) is one reason that many people who hadn’t been are looking at printmaking again as a dynamic medium with as much potential for innovation as any other medium has.
P: And in a larger sense, who are you looking at these days?
N: A comprehensive list would be too long…but four artists whose work I have been thinking about a lot lately are:
P: In the past few years you have worked at a number of very prestigious professional and academic print studios around the country, Pace Prints, Tandem Press, Hui Press, and Tamarind to name a few. As an artist with a background in making your own prints, what was it like to collaborate with a master printer in these situations? Did you get to work with any cool or unexpected tools? For example, I heard Pace has a printmaking robot, true?
N: Really thrilling and pretty intimidating. It has been a total thrill to work with people who are just so good at doing what they do, but what has really blown me away at every shop has been the enthusiasm that the printers have for making the projects happen. Having that much additional energy behind each project is a huge part of making things come to life and has opened the doors to levels of technical intensity, scale and refinement that I wouldn’t be able to touch on level of skill and patience that is involved in the work that master printers do. I also like to think that my print experience makes the communication around technical planning go more smoothly and that it allows me to push what I am doing further and—for better and for worse— take advantage of each shop more fully.
P: You paint a very compelling picture of collaboration. You have been traveling a lot in the past few years, with these print projects and other opportunities. What is it like to have a mobile studio? How do you re-establish your working practice in each new print studio or residency location?
N: Working in different places has generally been very productive and is also something that I just enjoy. I like the sense of being someplace new, with a new view, and new things to explore. It is also good to periodically have a fresh studio space where old habits and work are not hanging around; even the physical space of a new studio often triggers different ideas and routines.
Another thing that varies a lot from one studio/residency-situation to the next is the intensity and pace of production. In my studio at home in Brooklyn I tend to work in parallel and have many projects and pieces going on at the same time. This means that most work spends a lot of time just sitting around while I am focusing on something else. With some of the printshops where I have worked in the last couple of years, I have had a short window of around two weeks in which the whole project really has to happen. This is a completely different pace for me, where I am focused exclusively and intensely on one project and it gets pushed from start to finish in one straight go, without giving it down-time to just sit on the shelf in the background. There is something exhilarating about working on a project like this, but I would be exhausted if I did it all the time.
P: And with your work having a stake in questions of mobility and place, does your own mobility work it’s way into what you are making?
N: Definitely—everything makes its way back into the work sooner or later. Whether it is the scenery of the place, the way that I felt while I was there, the conversations had, things I seen or done. Sometimes it is obvious and I can point to a particular image and know where it came from, while sometimes it is less tangible and more about a general feeling or atmosphere.
Then there is the fact of Mobility in its own right, which is a large part of what my work is about. The way that landscapes mesh together and how impressions of one place influence the experience of the next are as relevant in my work as they are present in my life.
P: In past interviews you have mentioned Science fiction films and literature as an influence on your work. What works in particular have struck a chord with you? And are there any other books or films that you are drawing inspiration from currently?
N: Here an abbreviated list:
Movies: Brazil, Blade Runner, Metropolis, Road Warrior
Authors/books (not all sci-fi): J.G.Ballard Low-Flying Aircraft and Other Stories; Philip K. Dick The Penultimate Truth; William Gibson Idoru; Neal Stephenson Snowcrash; Samuel Delaney Dahlgren; Mike Davis Ecology of Fear; Ray Kurzweil The Age of Spiritual Machines; George Orwell 1984
P: What a great list of source material, I might assign that to my students this fall and see what sort of dystopic worlds they create.
It seems that science fiction is a speculative art, extrapolating possible futures based on current trends and beliefs.
Do you feel your own work operates with as a kind of future-casting?
N: I don’t know if I feel comfortable pinning my work down in one time frame. Sometimes it seems to me that it is indeed a sort of ‘future-casting,’ a guess at what our world might look like—physically or metaphorically—at some point down the road and other times I feel like I am talking very much about the world as it is right now. I believe it was William Gibson who said something like: ‘the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.’
P: Your work has a strong sense of ‘the hand’ and it seems drawing must be an important part of your process. In contrast what if any digital tools do you use in constructing your images and installations?
N: I really don’t use any digital tools in the direct making of my work…actually not totally true: I have used digital photographs as collage elements. Of course I also have visions of animation, projections, sound components that would involve digital tools…(but don’t we all?)
Nicola currently is based in Brooklyn, New York. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, I would encourage you to visit her website, where you can see many examples as well as read a bio and artist’s statement, www.nicolalopez.com.Bookmark / Share / Print