Richard Emery Nickolson

Artist Interview: Richard Emery Nickolson

Richard Emery Nickolson was born on 21 August 1946 in Washington, DC.   He has served as a Professor of Painting, Drawing, Foundations Studies and Critical Thinking at the Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University, Indianapolis, Indiana from 1973 to 2010 and as an Instructor in Art, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois in 1972-1973.  He received an MFA from Indiana University in 1972, and a BFA from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1968.  He attended the Yale University Summer School of Music and Art in 1967.  He was assigned to the Office, Chief of Military History and the United States Army Combat Artist Team XI in 1970-1971.  He has served as a Visiting Professor of Painting, Drawing and Journaling at the Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art in the city of Pont-Aven, Brittany, France in the summers of 1995, 1997, 2000, and 2007.  In the spring of 2010 the Board of Trustees of Indiana University voted to award him with the title of Professor Emeritus at the Herron School of Art & Design.

What's involved in your process of art making?

My most recent work has been drawn from and influenced by a variety of international travels over the last fifteen years.  In every instance, I was confronted by ancient, often pre-historic sites, which caused me to see things very differently.  Also, I discovered that I am a really bad tourist.  I need to sit and observe in silence, for way too long a time, at any historic site.  From the ‘alignements’ in Brittany, France, to the ‘four corners’ in the western United States, especially Newspaper Rock in Moab, Utah, and finally, to a small bay with petroglyphs in Wrangel, Alaska, I was confronted with examples of pure abstraction that always communicated, even thousands of years before language had been invented.  Upon the return to my studio, I would take quick sketches that I had completed on site and develop them into a new series of drawings/watercolors.

What are you excited about right now?

I have been collecting a variety of guide books and catalogues from museums I have visited:  archeological diagrams, Egyptian sculpture, pictographs and petroglyphs as well as other more local designs and images, such as Amish quilts and Shaker furniture.  Many of these books include a section in the appendix of signs and symbols from the various cultures, like a small dictionary of sorts.  My current drawings/watercolors are exploring simplified shape and imagery as a means of getting to an essence of a certain image, such as an Amish School House quilt pattern like many included in the Pottinger Collection at the Indiana State Museum here in Indianapolis.

What's next?

Out of many of these recent experiences I am working on a set of ‘runes and pictographs’ for the current time period.  An ancient sign for a ‘home’ or a yard could be used today, with a few changes and additions, as a contemporary warning sign, such as ‘Backdoor to Baghdad.’  It is both a process of seeing and inventing.  That is next.