Sonorous feelings about its “need for being”

Untitled  (acrylic on canvas, 1974)  Enlarge
Jim Nickel  |  American, born 1943
Purchase: Eliza McMillan Trust Fund (20:1975)


Notes by Jack Cowart
Bulletin of the St. Louis Art Museum
September/October 1975 (XI:5)


The Museum has recently purchased a painting by one of St. Louis’ most promising young artists, Jim Nickel. For the last several years Nickel has been making large-scale structured paintings which derive from the artist’s deeply felt neeed for “organizing principles.” That is to say, the works develop through at least three different variable systems or layers of textures, geometry and color. First there is a loosely sprayed painting undercoat, then a middle-ground geometric form is painted so that it advances and recedes visually, and for the top layer, a hard-edge color design is applied. The artist is concerned with making a dense image construct which interrupts our vision and eventually loses itself back under many implied strata. The results are evocative paintings with shifting senses of color values and formal structures.

Since Nickel’s work is presently tied to the belief in modules it is necessary for all the elements and relationships in his paintings or sculptures to evolve out of given formal sets. Thus the viewer’s first contact with the Museum’s untitled painting is controlled by the work’s geometric boundaries. The thick interwoven pattern of steel blue color is calculated to appear as a random composition which is in contrast to the centrally placed large, reddish “X.” The red, yellow and blue soft-textured underpainting helps construct this “X” visually as well as giving the painting a general color tone. At least one visual trick occurs within the cross-weave pattern because the color and texture tensions make the absolutely parallel lines bulge optically. This gives the planar surface a slight illusory projecting volume of color and sensitive pattern.

However, beyond those technical matters, the painting supports in a rather convincing manner the viewer’s visual and intellectual probings. Complex artistic intentions are inherent to this work and perhaps most importantly the painting communicates sonorous feelings about its “need for being.”

J.C.

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