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Graham Nickson: Dual Natures

January 12 - March 29, 2002


The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu will present Graham Nickson: Dual Natures from January 12 through March 29, 2002. This exhibition of 11 monumental paintings and 10 charcoal drawings charts his involvement with bathers over a long career. Works from the 1970s and early 1980s are simple and serene, often featuring a solitary figure set against sky and sea. Over the years, Nickson's compositions have become more colorful and complicated. In the 1980s and 1990s, he produced ambitious multi-figure compositions painted in unusual, vibrant colors -- sometimes combining red or yellow skies with blue clouds. (left: Bather with Outstretched Arms II, 1983, Lascaux acrylic on canvas, 108 x 144 inches)

By drawing and painting bathers, Nickson places himself within a tradition of rendering the human form that began in the Renaissance and continues up to Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. He acknowledges both old and new approaches by combining accurate drawing reminiscent of the Old Masters with an imaginative, almost visionary color inspired by modern art.

The charcoal drawings on view reveal how the artist constructs these complex, theatrical images. While some drawings were made as independent works, many are studies for paintings. His whole approach is based on the practice of drawing, which he sees as a creative way to interpret the visible world. As a teacher, Nickson is responsible for starting the New York Studio School's now legendary Drawing Marathons. Held twice a year, they allow students to immerse themselves in drawing 12 hours a day for two weeks. These classes have earned him national regard as a highly influential teacher of figurative art.

Graham Nickson: Dual Natures was initiated by the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, with the support of the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc. The national tour is circulated by Pamela Auchincloss Arts Management, New York. Funding is provided by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.


Graham Nickson: Dual Natures

by Michael Zakian, Ph.D., Director, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art


For more than twenty years, New York artist Graham Nickson has focused on a quintessential Southern California subject: bathers at the beach. His large, often mural-size paintings-some measure ten by sixteen feet-depict people engaged in the cultural rituals of relaxing at the shore. Some figures strike rigid poses. Others appear to perform calisthenics as they bend to change or dry themselves. In Nickson's imagination, the beach is a stage and bathers are actors in a grand drama of recreation and self-conscious display.

Nickson began painting bathers in the late 1970s, selecting a theme with a long history in Western art. In order to breathe new life into a familiar subject, he explores novel poses, depicting figures who stand stiff and upright or who indulge in acrobatic postures. While most artists present the beach as an Eden-like realm of comfort and leisure, Nickson reveals a more complicated world. His figures seem hard at work, as if recreation was a difficult ordeal. While they partake of physical pleasures, they also acknowledge the inevitable Fall from Grace and the ensuing burdens of guilt, shame and labor. His bathers bear the weight of their indulgence. (left: Red Shirt, 1978-1981, Lascaux acrylic on canvas, 109 x 138 inches)

The artist is dedicated to the practice of drawing, which he sees as a creative way of interpreting the visible world. He draws constantly from life, developing studies that often serve as the basis for later paintings. Preferring to work in charcoal, he produces a broad range of pictorial effects using a medium limited black and white.

Graham Nickson was born in 1946 in England. He studied at The Royal College of Art in London from 1969 to 1972 and won the prestigious Prix de Rome for 1972-74, which allowed him to paint in Italy. In 1976 he moved permanently to the United States. He has taught at the New York Studio School in Greenwich Village since 1981 and became Dean in 1988, a position he holds today. He began the Drawing Marathon, a bi-annual course that has students draw intensively for two weeks. These classes have earned him national regard as a highly influential teacher of figurative art. His art is in the permanent collection of many public institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Albright-Knox Museum of Art.


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. Rev. 12/29/11

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