Patrick Nickell at ACME.
by Lorraine Heitzman
If you are looking for sanctuary from the heavy construction on Wilshire Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue, you can’t do better than by stepping into ACME. Tucked into a jewel box of a room off the main gallery space is a beautiful exhibit of work by Patrick Nickell. Seated upon simple white wooden pedestals are knotted glass sculptures in various twisted incarnations. All of the sculptures are blown glass, effectively bathed in cool light to accentuate their form, translucence and materiality; shadows exist like phantoms limbs. The initial effect of these organic forms is one of serenity but these are elegant scribbles made dimensional and they possess the duality of being both calm and playful at the same time. Glass, though inherently fragile, does not appear delicate in these forms. The quality of strength and frailty are happily exploited. They exude a tensile strength so that we can believe in the solidity of their shapes without fearing their collapse.
If you are familiar with the artist’s earlier sculptures, it is easy to trace the linear progression that led to this new body of work. Nickell, who until recently was represented by the Rosamund Felsen Gallery, has often used organic and sinewy forms to great effect. His past sculptures were colorful, playful and unconcerned with the type of refinement expressed here. The work in this exhibit was made during a 17-day residency at Pilchuck, the renowned glass school in Stanwood, Washington, founded by Dale Chihuly and others. This was a brilliantly conceived match-up between artist and materials because glass has transformed Nickell’s preoccupations into a level of refinement not seen before. Refinement doesn’t always indicate a better expression of art, but in this case, the apparent ease of the forms that is inherent in glass allows for a more natural realization of Nickell’s sensibilities. Because the material expresses the fluidity of the sculptures so effortlessly, the essence of his work is more fully captured; the elements existed in his earlier work, but glass allows for a more clarified expression of the artist’s complex organic forms while introducing a classicism that is welcome.
Although there have often been figurative elements in Nickell’s sculptures, they aren’t as prominent here. Rather than referencing the body directly, these sculptures bring to mind the gestures of drawing. They recall the photographs of Picasso drawing with light but light and lines are made manifest in three dimensions. The gesture still connects to the figure, yet now the emphasis is on the action rather than structure. Capturing movement in a resolutely static material like glass is an interesting contradiction, one of many in this exciting new work on view through October 22.