Artist of the Week: Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols lives and works in Los Angeles.  He holds a BA in Art Practice from U.C. Berkeley and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Matt’s work is currently being exhibited in the exhibition Young Curators New Ideas IV at Meulensteen Gallery in New York.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. My name is Matt Nichols. I make things. Frequently the things I make are bi-products of an ongoing investigation into critical cultural theory.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? The first thing I would do is try to misdirect the conversation away from my work. If that didn’t work I would say I’m a plein aire painter focusing on rural landscapes of the Pacific North West. If that didn’t work I would try to explain that I build things that exist in space that serve as a surrogate for the physical manifestation of theoretical ideals. If they asked me if I’m a sculptor, I’d say ‘kinda.’ Then if they asked me what I meant I would explain that I make objects, but that when I think of sculpture I picture Rodin or Maillol and that that is definitely not what I do. Then I would feel guilty and just say that I’m a sculptor.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I use a lot of materials that you would find in commercial fabrication and furniture building, like formica, wood veneer, lacquer, wood stain, carveable foam, casters, mdf, and various hardwoods. I also use a lot of aerosol paint, oil paint, and acrylic based mediums, delving into digital and analog modes of production depending on what makes more sense for each specific project. For the most part my practice is rooted in observing my surroundings, reading both critical essays and classic fiction, and constantly writing words or descriptions of things that I respond to in a sketchbook that I carry with me everywhere. Over the course of a few months (or the time leading to the end of the sketchbook) I edit the words and look for patterns or recurring trends within my descriptions. If a trend emerges I begin to question why it interests me and subsequently devise a plan of investigation through a project or piece of work.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? Language and reactionary impulses are a huge influence on my work at the moment.

How did your interest in art begin? This is a tough question to answer. I guess technically my interest in art started my Sophomore year at Berkeley. Or that’s at least the first time I had any formal art instruction. However, my interest in language, iconography, and semiotics began when I was a kid. The things that inform my practice have long been the focus of my life, but I didn’t understand how to frame them until halfway through my undergraduate experience.

How has living in Los Angeles affected your art practice? I am currently alive and call Los Angeles my home, although lately I’ve been frequenting New York and Chicago. The pace of life in LA has allowed me the opportunity to spend a lot more time digging into critical texts and fleshing out the ideologies behind my work. In a way it’s a bit ironic because Los Angeles is seemingly and arguably known as an aesthetically driven (art) culture when placed in context to the criticality offered by New York. Nonetheless, I really enjoy LA and find it fascinating. It’s a city comprised by a multitude of subcultures, with each one presenting it’s own specific lexicon for communication and involvement. Los Angeles as a whole is an example of the social structures that I’m interested in unraveling so I couldn’t imagine a better place to be for the time being. Additionally, I’m a huge fan of Larry Bell, David Turrell, Robert Irwin, Christopher Burden, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari. Ha ha, that kinda rhymed.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I have a lot of potential things in the works, but not too much set in stone at the time being. I’m currently doing a few private commission pieces and working through two new bodies of work. If everything comes together the way it could, I would be very busy, happy, and working incessantly through the end of the year and well into 2013.

If you hadn’t become an artist what do you think you’d be doing? If I wasn’t an artist I think I would have become an attorney, finding ways to bend language in the legal system. Sometimes I fantasize about becoming a writer of fictional novels.

If you had one wish what would it be? I’d wish for more wishes. Then I’d wish for the wisdom to know exactly what to wish for.

What’s your absolute favorite place to be? Too many good places, I could never choose one. Under the blankets with the air conditioner cranked to polar bear is a good start though.