Beauty Emerging From Mystery
Visual poetry in the art of Philip W Nichols
By Gussie Fauntleroy
As the figures in Philip W Nichols' bas-relief sculptures emerge from and undefined space, their joyful, warm, or half-hidden activities are echoed in the lively movement of the background itself.
The air dances around the dancers; the tenderness of a mother's love is reflected in touches of luminous color added in pastel or gold leaf to the bronze or cast plaster sculptures.
The result is an animated aliveness, an ode to the universal delights of family, beauty and love. There is also a sense of the unknown, as portions of the figures dissolve into the background as into darkness or fog.
When asked to explain his attraction to this element of obscurity, the artist pauses for a moment, then smiles and quotes the nineteenth century French poet Mallarmé: "Everything which is sacred and wishes to remain scared envelops itself in mystery."
It's appropriate that Nichols turns to poetry to illuminate the impulses behind his art. His strong grounding in art history includes studying drawing and paintings as well as twentieth century genres such as abstract expressionism. Aspects of these diverse influences are combined in his work to produce a lyrical, narrative quality with classical suggestions, set in an expressive, abstracted space.
"It's a whole language." Nichols observes. "Some artists talk in nouns or verbs. I like the traditional idea of whole sentences, or poems, carved out of words. It captures something very human."
In visual poetry, whole sentences and poems may be equated to the fundamental yet often undervalued art of drawing, a continuing passion for the artist. His masterful drawings, to which he devotes as much time and care as any other medium, also serve as the basis for extending ideas into other forms, whether bas-relief plaster or bronze, or vibrantly hued paintings celebrating the spirited beauty of the landscape.
For his landscapes, Nichols works in soft pastel, applying the pure pigment to linen rather than paper in an original technique he developed some years ago after falling in love with the quality, smell, and texture of raw linen.
"I'm a sensualist," he explains. "I like to make things beautiful. I like to think there's a lot of love in my work. There's also a lot of actual work involved in it, and I think that if your concept of work is pure enough, you make something wonderful. That's what I want to do."