Stones and Maps
By Laura Peach, June 3rd, 2010
Tucker Nichols opens a solo show at ZieherSmith tonight where he explores our relationship to the city through Zen arranged rocks, skyscrapers of rocks, thoughtful maps and balls of blanket fuzz. We checked in with him this morning as the mid-career modernist walked to the gallery, talking art theory along the way.
CITY: A main component of the exhibit are hand-drawn maps from the perspective of a person who has been told about New York but has never been there. What were you trying to achieve?
Tucker Nichols: This was an exploration of the futility of maps to help a person understand a place.
Obviously maps are very helpful, but they have a certain breaking point. The experience of walking around a city, of seeing, hearing, and smelling it defies the two-dimensional form.
CITY: You have several sculpture pieces here, which is a departure from the drawings and interactive installation pieces you normally focus on. Where did your materials come from?
TN: Most of the sculpture pieces were objects that I had already owned.
I was always collecting rocks as a kid. Rocks fascinated me, and now I’m always finding things washed up on the beach that are somewhere between natural and man made, like an object that had a smooth edge which used to be sharp.
Slowly, I brought all this stuff over to my studio, spread it out, started to play around with it and see what associations came up. It was a process that was a lot like drawing, and is meant to explore the way the mind can pick up certain associations.
CITY: You lived in New York for several years, but are now a San Francisco Bay area resident. Tell a bit about your relationship to the city.
TN: There’s no place like New York, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Just walking from place to place on the street is totally overwhelming and dizzying. But even after a couple of days, I notice that I become blind to many things.
When I lived here, I couldn’t sustain my curiosity. I would rather have to leave and come back than to tear down those receptors.
CITY: And you don’t feel that in San Francisco or any other city?
TN: New York is just so many cities mashed into one place. New York is the most potent version of this that I’ve come across. San Francisco is more predictable, you go to a neighborhood and you know what type of shops and restaurants and people you’re going to find there.
CITY: Several years ago, you mentioned that you once thought being an artist meant trying to get as many people as possible to like your work. But you’ve since changed your perspective.
TN: It’s not that I want fewer people to like what I do, but it’s more gratifying to be speaking more intently to a small group of people than lightly to a larger group.
It’s amazing to talk to people who I haven’t met before, who like what I do, and I often try to think about what we have in common, a similar mindset or a background element.
Art is not life, it doesn’t come close. Art can never quite get to the intensity that I feel about life. I have an academic background, but I left after getting my masters [at Yale] because I loved talking about art, but I had the wrong tools. Everything was too regimented and linear. So I gave up being specific and get this tremendous freedom to say what you want. But to do that you have to let go and speak in vagueries that people can pick up and do whatever they want with.
All images courtesy ZieherSmith Gallery.