of Illinois Gallery 400
Robert Nickle brought his experience as an artist, educator and designer to his remarkable art work. Nickle's vision was the crystallization, synthesis and assimilation of a number of twentieth century artistic principles and movements. His work grew from Cubism and the use of the found object, DaDa techniques of collage and the disruption of conventional forms, Bauhausian methodologies of functional design and the organic and spiritual sensibilities of Abstract Expressionism. He also discovered an affinity with the works of Mondrian and Klee. The resulting interplay of art historical influences were foundations on which Nickle created his virtuoso, deeply subtle collages.
Nickle spent many years accumulating and collecting materials for his artwork. He often worked on numerous pieces at the same time waiting years before he found the solutions. Twenty to thirty works were kept sandwiched between glass in his studio in order to be adjusted at any given moment. Like simultaneous chess games, this method of working allowed him to shift his attention when he reached a temporary obstacle on any given work. The compositions are like jigsaw puzzles; interlocking components only completed when that last missing segment had been found.
Robert Nickle created sublime collages out of the mundane and the found detritus of our culture. Nickle shifted scraps of discarded paper and perishable fragments from the materials of life into materials of art, aesthetically cleansing them of their former context, transcending their origin. He left each scrap in the state in which it was found, without alteration. Nickle's self-imposed discipline eliminated the temptation to cut or paint any of the found materials he had chosen for his collages. While the "found" objects show use and imply a previous existence, one is not so much aware of the earlier life of the object as of its present function as part of a structured organism. The process of the paper's decay has been disrupted only temporarily by the artist.
In these collages, "found" papers have connotations which unmarked or unweathered materials lack; they create a situation where meaning and materials merge. Nickle's compositions assume a metaphysical and poetic character. Incorporated in the art work, fragments surrender their former discarded junk status and undergo an aesthetic transformation. Nickle conceived of his work in the tradition of 'truth to materials' and his choice of materials dictated the composition of the structures. In a simple, direct manner, the artist created exquisite juxtapositions while responding to their innate characteristics.
In the monochromatic work, it is the subtle color values augmented by textural effects and organic matter in the papers which create these mosaic-like collages. In addition to his usually preferred earth times, Nickle occasionally showed a willingness to use swatches of primary and secondary colors. The art works balance straight edges against ragged, tonal sections against tidy patches of color and texture against smoothness. The abstract compositions are a delicate balance of harmonies and visual counterpoints. There is a rhythmic quality with pauses and interruptions represented by paperclips, string or holes. Each wrinkle, speck, hole or flake in the paper is important. Depending on the particular composition there is a shift in works from the simple to the baroque.
Compositionally, the collages adhere to a rectilinear or square grid format. Nickle combined the formal stability of the grid with carefully plotted movement through lines, color, texture or a change in material that enliven their geometry. In a number of the works he uses a bold number, letter or text as a pictorial element denying conventional meaning. Since Robert Nickle was trained as a graphic designer, his sensibility allowed him to expand on the formal qualities of typographical elements.
Nickle confronts the viewer with profound and powerful work that reawakens our interest in the medium of collage in an artistic language that remains distinct and independent from any category or "ism". He was a master of collage achieving a combination of integrity and beauty in his work which remains powerful and inspirational to present and hopefully future generations of artists.
Robert Nickle's work is included in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The David and Alfred Smart Gallery, The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Carnegie Institute Museum, the National Gallery in Washington and the Indianapolis Museum among others. It is a privilege to present a selection of collages from 1957 to 1979.