“Remote Sensing” by Nicole Gibbs



By Tom Hubbard

Curator Susan Li O’Connor met January exhibiting artist Nicole Gibbs when both were working on their 2009 MFA in sculpture at Ohio State.

“Nicole’s work interested me because she works in mixed media, collage with a variety of materials from newsprint to salvage from walks, manmade remnants, all types of material.”

“Her work is a rich layering of information.  It reads as abstract, but the more you look at it, you realize the work is about process, finding material and thoughtfully putting them together.”

Nicole Gibbs didn’t know she was composing a painting in her mind 17 years ago when she visited her mother at work reviewing satellite images of the burning oil fields in Kuwait during the first Iraq war.  She realized how devastating the damage was; it covered wide areas of the earth as seen from a satellite.

Nicole didn’t think of the oil field images again until she began working on her Ohio Art League member curated art show which you can see during its January exhibit, opening January 2, 2010.

She looked up the images on the Internet.  It was a surprising moment, her drawing “Boundary” is almost a verbatim rendering of an image seen once, a long time ago.  Her artist statement explains, “The pluming black ink, the shape of the newsprint, the red-orange accents, the dark blue pigment, even the four yellow markers are uncannily similar to the aerial images that I saw 17 years ago.”

In college, it took a lot of creative confidence to switch majors from biology to art, even before taking one art course.  She covered her bases with a dual major in art and art history.

Nicole followed the art history major for nine years at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Portland Oregon museums.

Nicole said, “When I got out of college, I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to approach a gallery.  I used my art history major in museums.  The Minneapolis museum was actively collecting ceramics.  It was an amazing experience.  I was helping build a collection, right out of college.  I learned how ceramic artists promoted themselves and how they got work into the hands of curators.  I realized that ceramic art involves more collaboration than painting.  So, I started my art as a ceramic artist.”

Nicole’s 2009 MFA from Ohio State is in sculpture, which she uses in non-traditional ways. “I think my approach is experimental, usually I have a selection of materials to work with.  I use newsprint which is very absorbent, with clay slip, which may include fabric dye.  The slip deposits the dye into the paper, as it dries, the clay pops off.  I sew little pockets for the crumbling clay.”

Nicole wrote her MFA Thesis on her graduate work, which is included in the Ohio Art League exhibition.  “Grad school is an intensive feedback environment.  For me, honest is to tell the truth with compassion.  Feedback is tricky, all have different motives.  Some feedback has really opened up things to me,” she said.

Much of the work is meant to be seen from both sides.  “We have to figure out how to hang them in the OAL gallery,” she said.  Nicole will be moving fast.  The show will be hung December 30 with a January 2 opening.

Nicole will be back in Olympia Washington January 4 for her first winter class as a visiting faculty teaching art at Evergreen State College.  She started in the fall and will be there through mid-March.  Her class is exciting.  She said, “It’s in a non-traditional college.  Students take one full-time class at a time.  We will be covering photography, stone carving, casting, field trips.”

She wants her art to say to the viewer that it is about a difficult personal relationship.  She is looking for a cool, removed, perspective, almost clinical, scientific.  In an interesting twist, she uses abstraction to achieve objectivity.

She now realizes that those curatorial years in Minneapolis and Portland were rewarding but something was missing.  She said, “I’m not a full person if I’m not making art.  I’m not my full range of colors if I’m not making art.  It’s central to my being.  It’s how I experience the world.  It helps me sort out the world.”

By Tom Hubbard

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