Jeremy Nichols is an artist hailing from Portland who creates graphite on paper works that he often refers to as “alien worlds.” In his youth, Nichols spent time traveling between upstate New York and Tokyo, which he says created a strong sense of displacement within him. He takes these memories of unsettled feelings to create worlds that feel otherworldly, using recognizable patterns and textures to create layered drawings of floating clusters of energy. Nichols wants his viewers to walk away questioning the beauty beyond their immediate world and take a closer look at the things that they see everyday – things they tend to overlook. Jeremy Nichols has new works currently on exhibit at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco.
HF: We’re curious to know about you as an artist and a person. Where is your studio located?
JN: Thank you for having me! I work in a cramped “office room” studio in my apartment. I have four animals that tend to share the space with me. We have two Boston-Frenchie dogs (Calvin the pup, Tito the grandpa) and two cats (Tofu, the white one, and Katoe, the old black one).
HF: How did you begin creating art? Was there a moment when it seemed to click, or become clear to you that you would always pursue a creative path?
JN: I always drew as a kid as far back as I can remember. However, it wasn’t until I was in a weekend art class for high school kids at CCAD (private art school in Columbus, OH) when things clicked. Being the unappreciative teenager that I was, I usually got bored in the areas that were less interesting to me: still life and figure drawing sessions. One day, this guy came in and asked if anyone wanted to learn etching. It sounded more fun than drawing pears, so I thought I would try it out. This was when I met artist and instructor Chris Daniggelis, who introduced me to Intaglio. I fell in love with the medium, process, and aesthetic. That’s the moment that things pretty much clicked. I continued to study under him for a year or two, which lead to him mentoring me through the rest of my time in high school and through college. Now here we are!
HF: Is there a lot of preliminary thought or sketching that goes into an idea before you begin a new piece?
JN: Not so much. In fact, I don’t think I really have a sketchbook anymore. If I do sketch for a piece, it tends to be a little chicken scratch scribble on a scrap piece of paper, which usually ends up in the trash shortly after. I generally start right on the paper with a rough gestural sketch that tries to capture the flow, energy and gravity of the piece. From there I just focus on one little section, dig in, and let it grow.
HF: What is the meaning or creative inspiration for your work? We’re curious what the narrative or story is to what you are producing.
JN: I am working on a larger body of work, where each piece is its own exploration. In these works, I try to explore the beauty, energy, balance, and harmony of the chaos in our environment. More specifically, they are about the relation of human existence versus nature. As a kid, I traveled regularly between upstate New York and Tokyo, all the while living in the suburbs of Ohio. The contrasting environments/cultures kind of confused me as a kid. It led me to not really understand where I belonged; and more-so not knowing where to call home. So, I try to reflect on this alienating feeling when I approach my artwork. I try to create something that contains fragments of recognizable patterns or textures, and layer them so they turn into this alien growth or world. I want to present something that may or may not be familiar to the viewer. I want viewers to see it as a foreign “alien” cluster, and take their own visual journey through the details. I want to take the viewer somewhere unfamiliar, much like how I felt as a kid growing up, not understanding the “normal” environment around me.
HF: As a visual communicator, there have to have been moments where you had to make some difficult creative or life decisions. What obstacles have you found as an artist, and what were you able to do to overcome or navigate those to become stronger or more effective?
JN: Around 6 years ago I become really burnt out and bored with what I was producing. At this time I was producing more character type work. I wanted to take my work in new direction, so I decided to take a hiatus, and just quit—hit the reset button in sense.
The hard part was letting go entirely, leaving your comfort zone and falling off the face of the planet, art-wise. Once I was able to let go, I was able to focus solely on my work for myself. There was no stress of shows or art deadlines. It was just me, and my work. It felt great to just zone out with out any pressure, and gain a different perspective. After a little while it became fun. I had a good time experimenting with new ideas and processes. I threw away a ton of bad things, but in the end it worked itself out. After producing a couple bodies of work I ran into a different struggle, of getting yourself back out there in the art world and picking up where I left off. I guess I am still trying to figure that part out. Nonetheless, I felt like taking those years off was the best decision I could have made.
HF: When we see your drawings, most often there is a complexity and balance that is often difficult to achieve. Is this the way they appear in your mind, or is there some degree of coaxing or allowing the scene to unfold that goes on as you create?
JN: It’s a little bit of both. I generally have an idea of the flow, and energy that will be in each piece. Once I start to dig in, it tends to grow and come together.
HF: Aside from your artwork, is there any other aspect of life that you find to be essential or valuable to the growth of your voice as an artist? In other words, what makes you happy and helps you be more creative?
JN: I’m a quiet dude. I like to get lost in nature, stare at things, pretend that I know how to fish, and most recently I have become very fond of snorkeling (although Oregon does not do so well catering to that pursuit).
HF: What is your day like – when do you create or feel the most creative? What time of day or night do you find yourself most productive?
JN: First thing in the morning is when I’m at my best. Typically I wake up, make a pot of coffee, get to work, and forget that I made a pot of coffee. By the afternoon, I tend to take naps, then wake up and do it all over again.
HF: What has been the most important lesson that you’ve learned as an artist the past year?
JN: I think being patient and taking my time with things. I’ve tried to not rush through any job, or piece. I felt if I just worked hard but take my time the outcome was much greater.