3.20 / Review


By Zachary Royer Scholz August 2, 2012

Thumbnail: Tucker Nichols painting Untitled (gd1201), 2012; mixed media on window and wall, Gallery 16, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery 16, San Francisco.

Tucker Nichols’s exhibition, Stockhouse, at Gallery 16 professes with a wink to showcase the diverse pattern-based investigations that informed and helped generate his recent wallpaper commission for Stage Presence at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).1 While the show does offer a glimpse into Nichols’s dexterous, improvisational practice, its richly varied and tightly coordinated works also generate a profound experience that is playful without being frivolous and formal without being aloof.

The exhibition is fronted by two site-specific, wall-sized works whose whimsical bands of colored tape are visible through the gallery’s windows. Behind them, smaller works fill the bulk of the gallery’s light-filled industrial space. Though smaller in scale, these pieces are not smaller in content. They include an array of brightly painted sandwich-board sculptures; paintings on panel, cardboard, and paper; diptychs; collages; and large conglomerated works in which many small overlapping pieces are pinned to bulletin boards. Though Nichols generated the bulk of the material that comprises the show for his SFMOMA wallpaper commission, Stockhouse also showcases material that he created during his recent residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts, as well as patterns he previously produced for stationary, socks, and women’s underwear.

Though the works on display range widely in both medium and scale, they all cleave to Nichols’s distinct and recognizable aesthetic. This familiarity is expected in works that employ motifs that have surfaced in Nichols’s work before, but it is surprising in pieces that draw on previously unused designs. His new patterns are at times baroque and reminiscent of African textiles traditions or Celtic knotwork. Their intricate complexity sharply contrasts with the Zen simplicity common to past work, yet his distinct color sensibility and seemingly effortless line quality bring these new influences harmoniously into the fold.

As in previous work, few of his pattern-based investigations use recognizable images. Vessel-like forms surface here and there, and sets of intersecting lines at times suggest city maps, bricks, or branching roots, but overall, images play a subordinate role in the works on display. The notable exception in Stockhouse is a series of socks drawn in colored pencil that could almost be mistaken for a middle school art project.


Tucker Nichols. Untitled (gr1202), 2012 (with detail, right); mixed media; 288 x 48 in.; installation view, Stockhouse, 2012. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery 16, San Francisco.


Tucker Nichols. Untitled (gd1202), 2012; tape on wall; installation view, Stockhouse, 2012. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery 16, San Francisco.

Entitled Untitled (socks) (2012), the drawings were originally created by Nichols for a Japanese design commission that was never produced. Drawn simply on sheets of copy paper that are Scotch-taped to the wall, the socks dangle comically like Christmas stockings. They are laughable but for their masterfully coordinated interplay of colored banding and subtle variation of proportion and positioning. Like the other works included in the show, they are just stupid enough to be profound. And while they stick out for being images of things rather than abstract ruminations about pattern, it takes only a glance to see how they connect to the color combinations and stripes that flit playfully throughout the rest of the exhibition.

Though the sock drawings contribute an overt pictorial facet, the logic that underpins the show is largely sculptural. Like much contemporary sculpture, Nichols’s pieces exist as things in the world. The shape and color of the pushpins he uses are just as important and considered as the lines he draws or the paint colors he chooses. This physicality is magnified by the way many of the pieces engage the space they occupy within the gallery; Untitled (bu1109) (2011), a small acid-green painting divided by a brick-like collection of lines, is almost hidden where Nichols installed it on a section of raw brick wall, yet it colonizes the wall’s structure and brings a viewer’s attention to the curious color difference in its bricks. Nichols takes his playful spatial engagement a step further with Untitled (gd 1201) (2012), one of the two large wall works visible from the street, by affixing red duct-tape to an interior wall and painting green spots on the window in front. The two layers can only be viewed together from outside the gallery. The bizarre setup allows visitors inside to strangely become a temporary part of the artwork.

Nichols’s conflation of design and fine art production, coupled with his holistic consideration of every detail, links all of his works to the less valorized objects that populate everyday life. The banal materials Nichols favors and the humble methods he uses reinforce this quotidian quality, as do the structures he chooses to investigate—whether they are maps, textiles, home wares, or building techniques. His deadpan sandwich-board pieces humorously embody this lowbrow sensibility by being paintings and sculptures, but also signs that advertise themselves.

Through simple materials and processes, Nichols manages to reveal the continual push-pull relationship between structures and the contents they hold. This dynamic permeates our lives, and we break ourselves against its limitations more often than we soar to new heights. But in Nichols’s hands, the space that exists within patterns becomes a playground for the eyes in which scale, color, line, and form teasingly bounce off one another.


Stockhouse is on view at Gallery 16, in San Francisco, through August 4, 2012.



1. “Stage Production by Tucker Nichols is a multi-format work commissioned by SFMOMA for the exhibition Stage Presence, on view at the museum from July 7 - October 8, 2012. For the commission, Nichols has designed a temporary performance space on the fourth floor of the museum. Oversized printed wall murals, hand-painted signage, and printed programs and posters are all components of the work. While most museum performances take place in anonymous lecture halls, Nichols’s Stage Production presents a lively alternative venue within the museum galleries. For each element of the work, Nichols has identified a particular theatrical icon and transformed it in his own way.” Gallery 16, “About the commission,” http://www.gallery16.com/index.php?page=exhibitions.

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