Nora Maité Nieves (b. San Juan, Puerto Rico 1980) lives and works in New York. She places her interdisciplinary practice in the expanding dialogue of painting. Her work makes references to the memory of places: particularly the domestic space. She recreates ornamental details from the architecture, floor surfaces, tiles, concrete decorative blocks, and floor plans she interacts with and from her experiences exploring how we define space through domestic ownership.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I am an artist currently living in Brooklyn, NY since 2015. I am from Puerto Rico and moved to Chicago in 2008 to do my MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I lived in Chicago for almost 7 years. I am also a designer, I have a jewelry line called My nOma and currently work as an Assistant Art Program Curator at Centro For Puerto Rican Studies in Hunter College. I am a gallery assistant and social media manager at a gallery in Brooklyn called Fresh Window.
Top 3 favorite or most visited websites and why? Not sure if I can think of my most visited websites right now, but I can think of my most frequented podcasts. Here my top 10 (because 3 is not enough): Radio Ambulante, Latino USA, The Moth, The Conversation: Artist Podcast, How Did This Get Made?, Notes From A Native Daughter, Fresh Air, The Dumbbells, S-Town, and Oh No Ross and Carrie.
What is it like living and working in New York/Puerto Rico? I realized that I belong to a large wave of people that left Puerto Rico in the past 10 years, and now I am part of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. Even though I have been here for 9 years I don’t feel like I really left until just a couple of years ago when I moved to New York. I spent years trying to navigate the American life and find my place in it; the impact of it didn’t really hit me until recently. I still have one foot on the island, but I also have one here. Being part of the Diaspora is a situation which has allowed us to act as a bridge between the two. That said, my parents and brother are in Puerto Rico as most of my family and many friends. Many more friends left too and now are in Chicago, New York, California, Florida, and Texas.
What is influencing your work right now? I’m very influenced by my daily surroundings; while walking around the city my eye is continually drawn to architectural ornamentation, and the quirky decorative details of the structures we live in. I’m interested in their formal qualities and how I can use them as abstract form in a painting context, but also because of the relationships, personal or not, and histories they often carry. I have been referencing decorative floor tiles in my work for similar reasons, often these tiles are related to domestic spaces in Puerto Rico.
What are you reading right now? Recently, I started reading How To See by David Sally, and re-reading a play called Los Soles Truncos by René Marqués, which has inspired some of my new pieces. I just started to read The Culture Of Curating And The Curating Of Cultures by Paul O’Neill. Also, I like to go back from time to time to read Art-Talk: Conversations with 12 Women artists by Cindy Nemser. I learn so much and get encouragement by the experiences of others.
What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I am very excited about two group shows I’m curating, which are in conversation with each other at Fresh Window Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. The exhibitions are Horizon/Paisaje, opening on June 2, 2017 and Landscape/Horizonte, which opens on July 7, 2017. The June exhibition includes artists Edra Soto, Omar Velázquez, Carlos Rodriguez and myself. The July exhibition includes artists Frances Gallardo, Chemi Rosado-Sejio, Melissa Calderón and Fernando Pintado. Both exhibitions propose an approach to the idea of horizon and landscape to open a dialogue about illusory lines that define or describe limits and the intent to picture a panorama of a current, metaphorical landscape. The work of the artists describes a relationship and constructs a map considering the origin that all the artists share, Puerto Rico. Additionally, recently I got invited to be in a group exhibition in Chicago at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in collaboration with National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture; the show is called GALLERY Chicago and opens in October 22nd this year.
Who are some of your favorite artists? Favorite artists are something that change and evolve according to what is going on in your life and your work. However, my favorite artist of all time is Eva Hesse. She showed me how to think about painting in a three dimensional way and to be able to put myself in my artwork without just talking about me. Some other favorites are Donald Judd, Doris Salcedo, Rebecca Morris, Elizabeth Murray, Matisse, Henry Rosseau, Louise Nevelson, Rachel Whiteread, Amanda Ross-Ho, Ivelisse Jiménez, Alice Neel, and many more!
What is your process like? Whether I’m making something sculptural or a painting, I always think of myself as a painter. The process is usually a combination of material investigation, experimentation and a specific form or subject that I want work with. I do a lot of drawings to visualize what I am thinking about, and I occasionally have things fabricated if it involves complicated woodworking. Overall, my process is not streamlined and changes depending on each work.
Favorite New York/Puerto Rico hangouts? There are tons of nice spots in my neighborhood in Greenpoint. Calexico has great food and I spend a lot of time in Mcgorlick Park walking our dog, Gala. Honey’s in Bushwick is good place for drinks. I love the restaurant Dimes in Chinatown. In Puerto Rico, I have a long list but I would say of course the beach and Old San Juan. There is a beautiful little place to stay in Ocean Park called The Dreamcatcher, a bed & breakfast that you will fall in love with. In Old San Juan, there is Café El Punto on 105 Fortaleza St., St. Germain Bistro & Café on 156 Sol St. and a beautiful hand-made hat store called Olé Curiosidades on 105 Fortaleza St. too, ask for Heidi or Christian, they are the loveliest people. For the coolest bags and local designed products and fair trade, please make a stop at Concalma La Tienda on 207 San Francisco St, also in Old San Juan.
What do you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work? I hope my work will make the viewer pay attention to details from everyday life, maybe to connect with their own memories and experiences. My works are about collecting fragments of places, objects, thoughts and memories connected to a sense of belonging.
Describe your current studio or workspace. I currently have a studio in Long Island City, a shared space with other artists in a loft building. I love that my studio is full of daylight. It’s a little hot in the summer though, but now I will switch to go in the evenings when the sun less intense.
If you had not become an artist what do you think you would be doing? If I weren’t an artist or a designer, I’d love to be an archaeologist . . . but before I decided to go for the artist life I was considering becoming a lawyer like my dad, or an architect.