Robert Nickle came to Chicago from Michigan in 1946 to study with Lazlo Moholy-Nagy at the Institute of Design.  He went on to teach there from 1949 to 1952, and from that time to present has taught at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois.  Although remaining close to his home base, there is nothing regional about his work.  It speaks a very universal human language.

His work was included in New Realities (Paris, 1947-8), Carnegie International (1958), Assemblage (Museum of Modern Art, 1961), The National Collection of Fine Art (1974), and at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art (1976).  Richard Grey Gallery of Chicago and Acquavella Gallery of New York have help several one-man exhibitions of his work.  The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Carnegie Institute and the Art Institute of Chicago include his work in their permanent collections.  We are privileged to present a selection of twenty-four 1977 and 1978 collages.

My search for substance and a continuing need for the language of collage drive me on and on with each work, probably long after one should rightly stop and begin anew.  I concentrate completely on this medium.

For me each collage becomes from its beginning a separate evolving world, one that by its nature is constantly challenging and demanding consideration, able to instantly and unexpectedly shift back and forth from being led to a thing that leads.  The infinity of each of these worlds is always both my delight and frustration.

The materials I use are the scraps found blowing along the streets or lying in the doorways of the city - preferably after they have lost some of their pristine character as the begin a return to the earth.  I'm not quite sure why I prefer to use materials of this sort but probably for the reasons that I feel kinship to the more subtle and humble qualities of a much worn pair of shoes or a well weathered board fence.  I select elements not as a kind of archaeologist of commonplace artifacts, but as one who simply seeks out rather anonymous bits and scraps with which to build.  Discarded envelopes, tags, wrappers, crumpled carbons or scrawls may become interwoven into the fabric of the collage.  I try always to avoid those findable elements of exceptional interest, knowing that the inter-relationships provided by me must dominate - that fragments themselves can never be allowed to threaten the oneness of the image.

The predominance of gray tones and the limited range of low key colors in my work roughly reflects the cross-section of material that the streets offer.  Scale of the work is related to my way of working.  I prefer to keep my image field within the area that my eye can encompass completely at eye-to-hand-work distances.  This enables me to read each movement instantly and totally in relation to the whole.  Image size varies on the average from 1 to 6 or 8 square feet.  The near square form of many of my collages is an indication of my respect for the intensity of this field in which all forces are most dynamically inter-involved.

In making a collage I begin with a discovery peculiar to the elements at hand.  Sometimes three or four fragments come together in such an unexpectedly right way that nothing can be added or removed.  At other times they may be only the beginning of a much more complicated event.  While some pieces develop quite rapidly, most must go through a changing state that runs for months or even years.  I try to keep some fifty or more images in an evolving process all of the time, working on them somewhat as a person playing simultaneous chess games.  When any of one of them over a period of time ceases to demand movement and change, I know that the evolution has stopped and I must make a critical decision - to accept or destroy it.

A work is complete only when framed, a kind of integral final relationship of space and color.  I make stainless steel frames for my pictures.  It is unlikely that any frame maker would endure the impracticality of the materials and processes required.  Signature, dating, self photo and notations are part of the visible backside of each collage.  The signature on the backside helps to protect the image from additional visual force not present in the picture making process.

If I have succeeded by some measure in my work, it has been the result of a long and relentless pursuit of my own way.  I have chosen to ignore the tides of fashion in art and avoided the rituals of cultivating a public personality.  My work must speak for itself and for me.

Robert Nickle