Nicholas Nyland, artist
Nicholas Nyland studied to be a painter for years, first as an undergrad at the University of Washington and then as a graduate at the University of Pennsylvania. But it only took one night for him to figure out that his heart belonged to ceramics. “I discovered ceramics through a friend who invited people over just to play around and make things,” says the Seattle-based artist. “It was like a light bulb went off over my head. It was the best combination of my interests in painting and color and surface, with the immediacy of sculptural practice and the ability to then glaze.” And while the majority of his practice is now devoted to ceramics — as we found when we discovered Nyland through his recent collaboration with Ladies & Gentlemen Studio — he didn’t give up painting completely. “I think of my ceramics as three-dimensional paintings. A lot of my more abstract sculptures have stripped surfaces with loose, gestural marks and that’s pretty much how I approach painting as well. And my abstract paintings tended to treat the brushstroke as object, where I’d build up the painting brushstroke by brushstroke. There’s a really rich space in between painting and sculpture that my work sits in.”
Describe your most recent project and how it was made:
I recently collaborated with my friends and amazing design duo Ladies & Gentlemen Studio (Jean Lee and Dylan Davis) on the Aura wind chime project. We’d wanted to collaborate for some time, especially since my art practice has increasingly overlapped with the world of design. For instance, I’ve been making candlesticks with glazed “wax” drips, jugs glazed as if they had been used as a painter’s palette, and even a chair that does triple duty as a table and a painting depending on how it’s configured.
Jean came up with the idea of wind chimes, and I have to admit I was skeptical when she threw that out there. My association with them is not necessarily as design object. But the chimes turned out to be the right project where our approach to materials could be combined in a complementary way. My part has been to make variously glazed and textured ceramic pendant pieces that I create using the same techniques and range of palette as I do in my other work; they are like small paintings! The pieces are then composed within brass rings along with various metal components. I’d describe the look as a kind of organic constructivism…and almost as revolutionary because they look as good as they sound, something you can’t say about a lot of chimes!
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it:
I have just started on a series of ceramic lidded vessels that are in simple geometric forms. I’m interested in the quixotic task of making platonic solids by hand. Like a lot of my ceramic work, they are hand-built with coils and slabs so they tend toward the rough and ready.
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring your lately and why:
Does Instagram count as one thing? I’ve discovered so many great makers through that little app. I’ve also been reading about the Omega Workshop — a short-lived experiment to collapse the false barriers between the fine and decorative arts. I respond to that ethos, and I also am inspired by that quirky Bloomsbury mix of Cubist and Post-Impressionist influenced imagery and designs. (Photo above, of Rafael de Cardena’s Hulk cabinet, is from Johnston Trading Gallery’s Instagram)
As far as other artists go, Matisse is one of my all-time favorites — the way he thought of the surface as a field in which to compose, like a textile; the way he mixed pattern and color; and the joy that’s present in the work.
Show us your home and tell us what you like about it:
I’ve been in the house for about a year now, it was so nice to consolidate my living and studio spaces. Now I can run out in my PJs to check on the kiln! My house was built in 1915. It’s a Craftsman, but very modest so the spaces and finishes are very simple which is what I like about it. It’s a great foil for my jumble of art and vintage furniture.