Collage show opens at Hoshour

(no author given, 1979)

Robert Nickle walks the existentialist's line in his art. "I knew as far back as I can remember that I had to walk where nobody else walked, even if it weren't the broadest path," says the Chicago collage artist. "I was already awatr that I was much more able to discern something good than I was able to make something good. The collages gave me a way out of my shortcomings."

Nickle has learned in his art what the existentialists saw in the world at large: only by recognizing limitations is one ultimately free. At Chicago's Institute of Design, where he studied from 1946-1948, Nickle came to realize that he "had more strength when working manipulatively and comparatively." So he devoted himself entirely to collage and hasn't altered his course in 30 years. Twenty-three of those collages will be on exhibit in Albuquerque when Hoshour Gallery, 417 Second S.W. opens a one-man show of Nickle's work at 5 pm Tuesday. The exhibition, Nickle's first in the Southwest, hangs through March 30. The Tuesday reception marks a departure for the gallery, which previously has held regular Sunday openings. Gallery hours suring the course of Nickle's show remain the same, however: 12 noon to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Nickle admits he was pretty naïve to the medium when he started. "I had never heard of Kurt Schwitters," he told Chicago Tribune art critic Alan Artner. "Everybody in the world had heard of him and his collages, but not I. Just by chance I picked up a sketchbook in the I.D. library, and it contained a page of Schwitter's collages, with notes… I felt a great kinship." Born in Saginaw, Mich., Nickle had spent four years at the University of Michigan and nearky four years in the U.S. Navy before coming to Chicago in 1946. He studied at the Institute of Design and the Illinois Institute of Technology and was immediately attracted to Bauhaus principles of design. "Design is a universalizing thing," he told Leon Upshaw of the New Art Examiner. "It's always trying to hunt for universals and to eliminate what is personal." The universals Nickle most often speaks of in his own work are "integrity" and "commitment."

He most often thinks of Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee when he considers his own work, and feels that he never is finished with a collage until it could hang next to their work. "My way of working is to funnel myself into a track where I can hit highs," he says. "Then perhaps I can touch a spot that someone like Schwitters hasn't touched. I know that if I decided to be a Picasso-type-person, doing a little of this and a little of that, I would have been miserable because I am not that good. I am just good enough that if I force myself into a narrow enough track, the power I've got will take me way out." Nickle determined his "track" some 40 years ago. If people think it's a limited one, he says, so be it. It's rights for him, and he has "a great appreciation for rightness." Rightness told him to work on some collages for years. Nickle, in fact, would not exhibit until 1963, when he was certain "the continuity was fixed."

At 60, Nickle now works on as many as 50 collages at a time. He spends four or five hours with them at a sitting, then works on his special stainless steel frames. A Nickle collage is a pure and total creation from border to border. His frames are unique in that each has a rear window which reveals the artist's signature and a photo portrait taken near the time the collage was begun. All of his collages are made from found and weathered objects. "I began by taking any two or three entities that seem to have no particular relationship to each other or value in themselves," he says. "My role is to say, 'Look at the relationships that never were.' When I get going tight, I'm working with my feet off the ground - the piece leads me." Nickle uses everything from cellophane, cardboard and mailing tags to ticket stubs and McDonald's cup covers in his work. Often he will keep an unfinished collage on his work table of "beginnings" because it "feeds" him with inspiration. Other collages he moves to a larger table, making few changes but "reserving the right to return" to them. Even pieces Nickle started in the 40s he still will work on of he thinks they need something more. "I feel good about the fact that I am helping people to see materials," he says. "I was part of t he Bauhaus movement to strip everything down to a bare minimum, so the more organic world of my collages was a kind of antidote."

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