Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SO Good Interviews Stephen Niccolls

Painter Stephen Niccolls is visiting Chester College of New England today, Tuesday, September 30, and will give a lecture at 2:30 in the Wadleigh Library conference room. His visit is part of the Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series.

SO Good: When did you begin creating art, and what inspired you to do so?

Stephen Niccolls: They say I started young. I have no evidence for this, but I'm told I was drawing on my own when I was three years old. Making images with my hands has been a lifelong habit. I was doing it before I was aware of "famous artists". I love it.

How do you go from a family of ranchers to artist?

Niccolls: My grandparents were in the ranching business. My grandfather on my mother's side was a true cowboy. He chose that life because it was what he loved, and he chose it over the objection of his elders. He went off on his own while still quite young.

When the time came for me to make a decision about my life, I chose art. This was not encouraged by my elders. I suppose they were thinking of the "tragic lives" of artists they'd heard of, like Vincent Van Gogh. So I went off on my own.

You could say that I was inspired by my grandfather, even though the life I have chosen is so different from his.

SG: You were raised in Texas and currently reside in Upstate New York. Has where you're located affected your creative process?

Niccolls: There is no question that location makes a difference...especially in this case. My current proximity to New York City means that I have access to all kinds of resources that are not available in Texas, or anywhere else. I'm sure Texans would squawk loudly if they heard me saying it. But it is hard to work the way I do in a vacuum. Every artist needs a receptive audience. That's more likely to happen here, where I am now. I have had some positive feedback since I've been here...and it has encouraged me to keep pushing the work forward.

SG: You studied at both the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and University of Massachusetts at Amherst. How was your time in those institutions?

Niccolls: School has been a mixed bag for me. The Museum School was a real crucible, since it demanded serious responsibility of its students. Students essentially had to craft their own curriculum. I'm not sure if it is still that way there. A few of the teachers there were incredibly powerful influences for me.

UMass is a University, so the dynamic is quite different from an art school. I was there mostly to work on BFA & MFA degrees, since I had not done any academic course work at the Museum School--but I also made a lot of paintings there. At the time, there were some great teachers at UMass (in several different disciplines) who helped me more than I can say.

Have you enjoyed your time as a professor at Marist College?

Niccolls: It's probably the nicest place I've worked since I started teaching. By this I mean that the professional academic environment is healthier than most others. I feel that I am well treated. There is a sense of mutual respect among the faculty...which is rarer than you might expect. The students are from a broad range of backgrounds, so that makes it very interesting, too. The Marist Art Department is about to expand, I'm told, so I am happy to be a part of that.

In addition to painting, you're also a photographer. Do you approach photography the same way you do painting?

Niccolls: My efforts in photography are just another way of studying the visual world. I don't consider photography to be the same kind of thing as my process in drawing and painting. It's much more immediate, obviously...it is hard to explain what makes me choose a particular subject to photograph--except that it is always something that I find interesting. Sometimes the photography feeds the painting, and sometimes it's the other way around.

Are there any contemporary artists you're a fan of?

Well, the list is long. Here are a few:

Amy Sillman
Albert Oehlen
Per Kirkeby
Squeak Carnwath
Fay Jones
Kerry James Marshall
Thomas Nozkowski
William Flynn

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